Sunday night saw a mostly-filled Bailey Hall play host to former child star-turned Saturday Night Live mainstay Kenan Thompson, as the sketch comedian extraordinaire held court for the better part of 90 minutes.
Thompson, who had just spent the previous evening schmoozing with the likes of Sandberg, Wigg and Sedakis on the SNL set, split his time on the Bailey stage into halves. The latter half served as an open mic session during which the audience peppered the guest with a wide array of questions (though quite a few revolved around Thompson’s earlier years on Nickelodeon sets). During the first 45 minutes, Thompson retold his career odyssey, from landing his first role in Hollywood as the pudgy knuckle-pucker in Mighty Ducks 2 to reaching the mecca of sketch-comedy that is SNL. Seeming to lack any stand-up routine or prepared jokes, Thompson leaned heavily on the notoriety of his early Nickelodeon work to draw favorable reactions from the crowd. And sure enough, the roomful of college students, who had spent their prepubescent years dieting on the comedic stylings of All That and Kenan and Kel, responded with uproarious applause to each reference Thompson made to the golden age of Nickelodeon. The majority of the audience seemed simply hungry for references to Good Burger and impersonations of Pierre Escargot, and that is exactly what Thompson served them.
In recollecting his journey from anonymity in Atlanta to prominence in Hollywood, Thompson played it safe, refraining from revealing anything too scandalous (or overly interesting) about his career. One rather amusing anecdote involved Thompson revealing the intimate details of his one-on-one conversation with Bill Cosby on the set of Fat Albert. It was rather neat to discover that the perceivably wholesome Cosby advised the young star to arm himself with another dick in order to handle all the ladies who would soon be coming his way.
The Question and Answer session better showcased Thompson’s spontaneity. About 20 questions were asked, spanning from the hilariously revealing, “Did you ever do a sketch on Nickelodeon high?” (Yes, all of them) to the hilariously confusing “Am I the prettiest girl in the whole wide world?” (Which drew a “WTF” reaction from Thompson).
Someone inquired as to how frequently Kenan talks to Kel. It was slightly saddening to discover that the two no longer speak to each other. Sad because it’s quixotic to think the two fictional buddies who partook in hijinks and rampant tomfoolery at the corner grocery would remain tight into adulthood. Though as we all find out, real life isn’t all pranks and orange soda, which Thompson unintentionally made apparent by mentioning that Kel Mitchell auditioned for the spot on SNL at the same time Kenan did.
Thompson’s humor touched a bit on race, as he commented how he was “the new blackness on SNL” after Tracey Morgan left. One questioner dropped the “n-word” (referencing Ni**as in Paris), which caused an unsettling murmur to fall over the audience, but Thompson placated any potential controversy by answering the inquiry without hostility (although he did comment that only certain people should use that word).
Expecting Thompson to arrive fresh with new material was a bit unfair considering he had finished his taxing weekly commitment just 18 hours earlier in New York City. Instead, Thompson brought the audience on a nostalgic journey back to one of the only time periods that the college-aged crowd was old enough to feel nostalgic about. And the sentimental crowd got what they came for, though not too much more.