Even though he celebrated his 42nd birthday in 2020, it seems like Kenan Thompson has been a part of the pop-culture landscape for a lot longer than his age would indicate. That makes sense when considering he got his start on Nickelodeon’s All That when he was just a teenager, and went on to enjoy a successful career in TV and film.
While All That was clearly his big break, an even bigger one came in 2003 when he was hired to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. Thompson quickly earned a reputation for his ability to make a lame sketch funny, and a funny sketch hysterical. As SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels told The Washington Post, Thompson has become “the person I most rely on in the cast,” likening the actor to a comedy “metronome” who can “[adjust] the pace” of a sketch to deliver maximum laughs — all under the pressure of performing on live television. “He’s a master in that studio,” Michaels explained. “He knows the best way to do just about everything.”
Whether fans know Kenan Thompson best from his Nickelodeon days or his work on Saturday Night Live, they might be surprised by how much they don’t know about this talented and versatile performer.
His first attempt at stand-up comedy was 'terrifying'
When Kenan Thompson auditioned for Saturday Night Live, he’d already accumulated years of acting experience. As his IMDb page demonstrates, he’d appeared in several movies, honed his sketch comedy chops on All That, and had even starred in his own TV series, Kenan & Kel, as well as his and Kel Mitchell’s spinoff movie, Good Burger. The one thing he hadn’t done, however, was stand-up comedy — which was a compulsory part of the audition.
“I had to do stand-up, and I’d never done stand-up before,” Thompson told Rachael Ray during a 2019 appearance on her daytime talk show. “I was just a working kid actor.” In advance of his audition, he went to a New York comedy club to give it a shot. “I just didn’t understand how to engage with, like, ‘Don’t you hate airplanes?’ or ‘That bathroom splash is really annoying,'” the comedian said, admitting he became so nervous that his mouth became parched. “I kept drinking water, but I was never quenching my thirst, so I was drinking out of the bathroom sink. I was panicking so hard.”
Whatever Thompson did in his audition won him the job, of course, but he still recalled that first stand-up performance was “terrifying.”
Kenan Thompson's the longest-tenured cast member in SNL history
It’s become something of a Saturday Night Live tradition for cast members who blow up on the show to eventually depart to pursue bigger, better things. Kenan Thompson, however, bucked that trend by choosing to stick around. In 2017, NPR reported that he made SNL history as the cast member with the most seasons under his belt.
In a 2021 interview with Variety, Thompson admitted he doesn’t see an SNL end date on the horizon, but revealed that there was another milestone he’d like to reach on the legendary sketch comedy show. “I have a certain number I would love to get to,” he said. “I think 20 is a good, round, even number that I’m close to. I feel like that is in reach, but also it would be respected if I don’t get there.”
While 20 seasons on the show would indeed be an impressive achievement, Thompson has hinted that he might stick around even longer than that. “That’s the forever plan,” Thompson said in his 2019 profile with The Washington Post. “To never have to leave that show.”
He's still grateful to Nickelodeon for launching his career
When Kenan Thompson was cast in Nickelodeon’s kid-themed sketch comedy show, All That, in 1994, he was just 14 years old, per Entertainment Weekly. The series launched him on the path to stardom — something that, more than two decades later, he doesn’t take lightly.
“They’re my extended family and they gave me my first television work. I owe a lot to Nickelodeon,” Thompson said during a 2011 interview with Digital Spy. All those years later, many of his longstanding Nick connections remain intact, as he added, “I’m very close to a lot of the people that run these shows. Dan Schneider — the writer of iCarly and Victorious — has been my friend for 15 years.”
Looking back at those early years of his career, Thompson reflected on his time co-starring with All That castmate Kel Mitchell on their spinoff show, Kenan & Kel. “I think we were just kids having a good time,” he recalled. “We weren’t trying to put too much on it. He and I were very close, and I think that’s pretty apparent when you watch the show. So it was just a good feeling all the way around when you tuned in.”
The raunchy advice Bill Cosby once gave Keven Thompson is now even more cringe-worthy
Among Kenan Thompson’s numerous film roles has been playing the title role in Fat Albert, the live-action comedy based on comedian Bill Cosby’s iconic Saturday morning cartoon, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. While making the 2004 movie, Thompson had the opportunity to work with Cosby himself — well over a decade before the man once known as “America’s dad” would be publicly accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women and subsequently sent to prison.
“There were little indicators of things that happened that you just go, ‘Hm, that was a little different,'” Thompson said of his interactions with Cosby during a 2015 appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “And one of them was this story that he told me where he was like, ‘You know, life is good in the movies or whatever, but you just be ready, because when this movie comes out you’re gonna need two d**ks because women are gonna be all over you.’ I was just like, ‘No. What? I’m sorry, Dr. Huxtable, what was that?'”
According to HuffPost, Thompson — who’s known for his longtime Cosby impersonation on Saturday Night Live — reportedly referred to the disgraced actor as a “monster” during a 2015 stand-up set.
Kenan Thompson wants to take 'the Tom Hanks approach' in his movie career
There’s no question that Kenan Thompson is one of the funniest performers to ever set foot on the stage at Saturday Night Live‘s famed Studio 8H, but his ambitions actually extend beyond the boundaries of comedy. As Thompson explained in an interview with Deadline, he wants to model his movie career after that of a fellow actor who became a star thanks to a series of wacky comedies, before clearing a path that led him to become one of the most acclaimed Oscar-winning actors of his generation.
“I would love to take the Tom Hanks approach,” he said in reference to the celebrated star, who’s also known as the nicest guy in Hollywood. “Do a bunch of comedy and then turn into the biggest movie star ever. That would be so awesome.” According to Thompson, just because he’s not known for dramatic acting, doesn’t mean he isn’t good at it. “I mean, I could totally do it,” he added. “I grew up doing very serious theater in high school, it’s just my on-camera persona has always been very jolly and comedy.”
Fatherhood completely changed Kenan Thompson's approach to life
During his long tenure on Saturday Night Live, Kenan Thompson got married and started a family with wife Christina Evangeline. According to TMZ, the couple welcomed daughters Georgia and Gianna, respectively, in 2014 and 2018.
During a 2020 interview with People, the father-of-two marveled at the “immediacy” of parenthood. “One day you’re not a dad and then the next moment you are. You’re just a dad from that point on,” he explained. Thompson went on to joke that his “coolness just got sucked right out of [him]” when he became a father. “I didn’t even feel it, but I just immediately started wearing black socks and shorts and just being really corny at stores and over-asking questions about items that are super obvious and in my face,” he quipped.
Speaking with Fatherly in February 2021, Thompson admitted that being a dad means “everything” to him, although he said he felt added pressure to be a provider. “It’s my daily focus — is everybody taken care of? And then my other focus is, how am I taking care of everybody?” the comedian explained. “That’s what probably drives me to work like such a maniac.”
Kenan Thompson didn't write an SNL sketch until he'd been on the show for several years
Kenan Thompson’s earlier experience in sketch comedy with Nickelodeon’s All That certainly gave him the skills to excel on the Saturday Night Live stage — but it didn’t necessarily do him any favors when it came to actually creating the sketches he nailed.
“The writing part of it, I found that really difficult, ’cause I didn’t have to write at Nickelodeon,” Thompson admitted to host Seth Meyers during a 2019 appearance on Late Night. “We would just ad-lib and they would throw stuff in the script.” In fact, Thompson said that it “took me a while” before he actually wrote a sketch for SNL. “The first sketch I wrote was, like, in my fifth season or something,” he added.
Thompson elaborated on the extent of his sketch writing when he answered the question, “Does Kenan Thompson write for SNL” in a Cameo video. “That’s a great question,” he replied, showing off his name plate on his office door. “But yeah, I write a lot with people. We collaborate mostly. But they do most of the writing, I’m not gonna lie.”
His comments on Black female comedians stirred up backlash
Kenan Thompson hasn’t typically been the kind of celebrity who’s become embroiled in controversy. However, that changed in 2013 thanks to some ill-considered comments he made about the scarcity of Black women in the Saturday Night Live cast.
While speaking with TV Guide (via Entertainment Weekly), Thompson addressed the fact that — at the time of the interview — there hadn’t been a Black woman in the cast since Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007. “It’s just a tough part of the business,” he said. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Thompson was hit with backlash on social media. Summed up in an opinion piece in Jet magazine, the outlet dismissed his comments as “ridiculous, and it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be backpedaling.” Also writing for Jet, Black comedian Erica Watson shared her perspective: “Ultimately, it is time for Black women to stop waiting to be validated by the world, and start creating, writing, directing and producing creative projects on our own that speak our truth. We must get off the bus, and get in the driver’s seat.” Adding that “the question is are we ready?” she answered, “Yes Kenan, we are!”
Kenan Thompson has ventured into hosting
While Kenan Thompson has demonstrated an impressive degree of skill at sketch comedy and acting in general, he showcased a whole new side of his talents when he hosted the 2019 NHL Awards. In his monologue, reported The Undefeated, he joked that most people recognized him from Saturday Night Live or Kenan & Kel. “But, let’s be real! You don’t,” he told the audience. “This is a hockey room. So you only know me as the kid from The Mighty Ducks 2 and 3!”
In addition to hosting, Thompson also branched out into the world of TV reality competitions when he signed on to be one of the judges on Bring the Funny, in which he, model/Twitter superstar Chrissy Teigen, and comedian Jeff Foxworthy evaluated up-and-coming performers. “Bring the Funny is the ultimate comedy competition show, in my opinion, because we are including all genres of comedy. It’s not just stand-up, it’s not just sketch, it’s all of it,” Thompson declared in an interview with ET Canada. “… It’s all about the response from the audience.”
In 2021, the former Nickelodeon star came full circle when he agreed to take on hosting duties for the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.
The lifestyle changes Kenan Thompson made to lose weight
Even as far back as his All That days on Nickelodeon, Kenan Thompson had always been on the heavier side. That changed in the late-2010s when he decided to make some lifestyle changes that resulted in significant weight loss.
When Thompson appeared on The Wendy Williams Show in late 2018, it did not escape host Wendy Williams’ notice that there was less of him than there used to be. Asked how much weight he’d lost, Thompson admitted he wasn’t really sure, saying, “It’s not like I was planning on it, necessarily, I just made some changes that have caused it.” One of the modifications he outlined was his decision to ditch soda from his diet. “I was a soda kid growing up, so I cut out sugar and stuff like that,” he explained, also pointing out that having two young children kept him active. “Chasin’ around my babies … and yeah, it just started melting off.”
He’d kept the weight off when he visited Late Night the following October, leading host Seth Meyers to tell his “fit” and “trim” guest that he “looked like a million bucks.” Thompson quipped, “Spanx is working.”
The one thing his wife 'didn't love' about his Kenan sitcom
Starring in his own TV sitcom has long been a dream for Kenan Thompson — one that finally came true with the February 2021 debut of his NBC series, Kenan. “Especially for anybody that’s been put into the comedy category, a sitcom is kind of like the Holy Grail,” Thompson told Variety at the time. “It was always one of those achievements as far as like, will this ever happen?”
It did happen, of course, with Thompson playing a character who shares his name and, like the real deal, is the father of two daughters. However, the character isn’t a sketch comedy superstar, but rather the host of an Atlanta morning show. He’s also a widower mourning the unexpected death of his wife.
While promoting the show on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Thompson admitted that latter aspect of his sitcom didn’t go over all that well with his real-life wife. “She didn’t love it!” he said with a laugh, before going on to joke, “She was like, ‘Oh, so I’m dead?’ But I mean she was just giving me a hard time. But I was like, ‘Yeah … it’s not you, you know what I mean? It’s a show. It’s a different thing.'”
Being funny has bolstered Kenan Thompson's bank account
Kenan Thompson has been a working actor since he was a child. As a result, he’s been able to save up a few dollars over the years — okay, more than a few, with Celebrity Net Worth reporting that he’s amassed a nest egg estimated at $13 million. That amount, however, is likely to rise considerably if his sitcom, Kenan, becomes a hit and is renewed for a second season.
Plus, he’s also doing double duty, maintaining his role on Saturday Night Live while starring in his eponymous sitcom. This, Thompson admitted in an interview with Forbes, presented a bit of a juggling act — but one he said he’s more than capable of handling. “It’s always been my goal to stay busy. I couldn’t have pictured it necessarily being the way it is, but I’m definitely enjoying the ride,” he said.
Even if Kenan goes on to long-lasting success, Thompson insisted he planned to stay put at SNL: “There used to be a time when people would leave the show and go into their careers, but I’m of the thinking, basically, I’ll do both as long as you can.”
SNL's creator believes Kenan Thompson is a GOAT
Not only is Kenan Thompson the all-time longest-lasting member of the Saturday Night Live cast, the man who created the show back in 1975 believes Thompson is also one of the best performers he’s ever hired. “There’s nothing he can’t do,” SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who’s also a producer on Thompson’s sitcom, Kenan, told Variety in 2021. “He’s one of the greatest of all time … Kenan may be a genius.”
Thompson also exhibits a level of comfort onstage that seriously impressed one-time SNL co-star Bill Hader, who’s opened up about the extreme anxiety he experienced during his time on the show. “I would point to Kenan Thompson as the performer that I would watch and hope to attain that kind of confidence and ease and fun when he was performing,” Hader told The Washington Post in 2019. “He was like the safety net.”
As Thompson himself told the latter outlet, appearing comfortable onstage may look easy, but it’s something he works at. “Part of that is me not wanting to feel like I’m at work every single time I’m performing, because that’ll stress you out,” he explained. “And that panic can just take you out of a natural, good performance.”
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