If you are child of the 90s, there is a good chance you know who Kenan Thompson is. Thompson hit teen stardom in Nickelodeon’s All That and Kenan & Kel. Now he’s achieved widespread fame as a nine-year player on Saturday Night Live. The Sun sat down with Thompson after his nostalgic show at Bailey Hall on Sunday to talk about the old days, starstruck compliments from Tom Hanks and the answer to our country’s economic woes.
The Sun: You hold a unique place in our generation’s culture and upbringing. We grew up with your Nickelodeon work and bridged the gap to adulthood with you on Saturday Night Live. You really are an icon of our childhoods. How is it like to be such an enduring figure of this era?
Kenan Thompson: It’s great, I mean it was a situation I ended up landing in so I try to own it. Honestly I just try to do the job that is in front of me. Right now, that is Saturday Night — coming up with sketches, coming up with material. I’ve always been committed to doing good work, so I am glad people appreciate that.
Sun: You have weathered the jump from kids’ shows to popular comedy. Do you plan on continuing this for the rest of your life?
K.T.: Sure, I mean it’s not the only thing I am interested in; I grew up doing theater and basic drama, where we wrote our own plays and they were all very downtrodden ... about kids with AIDS, stuff like that. They really pulled the heartstrings. I like drama but I like shoot-em-ups too. I just like the business; I like movies. Great TV shows as well — I love Sons of Anarchy.
Sun: We have to ask: How’s Kel?
K.T.: From what I heard, he’s doing alright. He just got married and my mom went to his wedding. He’s living in California and still auditioning for individual roles. You know, it’s a tough business. I have been very fortunate.
Sun: You just got married.
K.T.: Yeah, I got married in November. [The Sun fawningly exchanges “Congratulations” with Kenan.] It was fantastic. I’d suggest it for everyone.
Sun: Your colleague Seth Meyers came here last month. He was very nice and gracious. Have you ever seen another side to Seth?
K.T.: Not really. I have seen him mad; I mean he’ll get flustered or whatever but within two seconds he’ll be back to: “So, how are we going to fix this?” He’s just a really cool, nice guy. [SNL] is not a place for assholes, necessarily, because there is so much history there, like “Who do you think you are to be an asshole?” It’s not really that kind of place; it’s a place where everybody needs each other, every department needs to be on their shit for a live show to happen. A lot of egos go out of the door in the beginning, but we grow so close because we spend so much time together and are all under so much pressure and scrutiny, that it draws us that much closer. They are all very sweet people.
Sun: SNL occupies an increasingly political role for a lot of young people. There are plenty of teenagers and twentysomethings that don’t follow the news, but religiously watch SNL. How do you feel about this shifting audience and does it affect the way you guys write and play sketches?
K.T.: I know it affects how Seth writes, because he focuses on the political talk. I’ll do a character because it is funny, but not to drive an agenda, necessarily. But I feel bad ripping on people when they are being genuine — just because they’re crazy and they believe the crazy things they say. I don’t want to mock them straight-on but rather super exaggerate them. They are crazy, but we are super crazy, so laugh at us and not at that person. That’s a hard line to walk. The best thing [those mocked] can do is own up to it and use that rock star status to keep promoting themselves, like Hillary and Bill Clinton. Every President really. Election years are funny years. The power is in the hands of the writer.
Sun: What’s your favorite SNL character to play?
K.T.: I have a few. I like Lorenzo McIntosh [from “Scared Straight”]. He has a sketchy backstory. But my favorite skit to do is “What’s Up With That?” It’s fun, super musical and I do love music. It’s got a churchy feel to it, very down-homey. We always get great guests. We had Morgan Freeman and Ernest Borgnine — that dude [Borgnine] is so great, he’s been in the game for like 90 years but he was so happy and asking, “What’s your name? Nice to meet you! Thanks for having me!” It is nice to see people like that, famous for such a long time, and still so sincere. Some people come through from Twitter fame and act like dickheads for six days and it’s a pain in the ass.
Sun: Well, “What’s Up With That” has so far been employed eight times. Why is that a go-to sketch for you and the writers?
K.T.: It’s fun, people like it. It is fun to explore something that is working and see what else we can do with it, to the point where Bill Hader plays Lindsey Buckingham and then we get the real Lindsey Buckingham. You just do that to see how the sketch is going to grow.
Sun: What is your craziest encounter backstage?
K.T.: They are all crazy. It doesn’t matter who’s on the show, anybody could be backstage. Tom Hanks pops up all the time like it’s nothing. He’ll call you out by your name, saying, “What’s up, Kenan, how’s it going? Man that show last week was great!” I’m shocked, like, “God, stop Tom Hanks, you are the best!” Spielberg has been around, even last night for Laser Cats. You’ll see literally everyone who is majorly major. Paul Simon is always around. Paul and Lorne [Michaels] share a backdoor apartment, like literally a back door that leads into each other’s apartment. They are bestie friends, for real. That’s really cute, I mean it’s these two historic figures still being boyish. It’s precious.
Sun: You’ve played Theodore Roosevelt, Herman Cain and Cornel West, so we’re going to go ahead and assume you’re an expert on American politics. Our economy is still suffering.What needs to be done?
K.T.: They need to fix it! [laughs] When I wake up in the morning and I have my Cheerios, I want everything to be fixed!