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The Untold Truth Of Kenan Thompson

If you've caught a single episode of Saturday Night Live over the past couple of decades, you've definitely caught sight of Kenan Thompson, who has been a member of the cast since 2003. There's always a ton of turnover at Saturday Night Live; in the show's storied history, cast members like Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Dana Carvey, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and more have come and gone, but some longtime players, like Thompson, have stayed the course to make Saturday Night Live lively and hilarious week after week.

Thompson has worked in sketch comedy for his entire extensive career, but if you think you know "all that" about Thompson, there's probably still plenty of stuff that you have to learn about this incredibly funny actor. From his start on Nickelodeon to his work outside of Saturday Night Live and every record he holds at Rockefeller Center, here's the full untold truth of Kenan Thompson.

Kenan Thompson got his start in news

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Kenan Thompson started his long acting career at the age of five, appearing in a local production of The Wiz in which he didn't even have any lines. During his childhood, the young comedian developed a love of The Price is Right, which he watched obsessively; as he told Vanity Fair, the game show earned a place in his heart because "it's just very joyful viewing," and as he moved forward as a funnyman, he "always wanted to emulate that in some fashion."

Ultimately, the future SNL star got his start in a pretty appropriate fashion, appearing on a children's news show. Thompson's first real screen role was on the CNN series Real News for Kids, where he worked as an entertainment reporter. Since Thompson would ultimately go on to lampoon the news rather than report it, this start feels especially prescient for this future comedy star.

The beginning of Kenan & Kel

If you're a '90s kid, you probably met Kenan during his appearances on All That and Kenan & Kel, where he played alongside a bunch of other talented young performers in what was basically a kid's version of his future job on Saturday Night Live. On Nickelodeon's All That, Thompson played memorable characters like Pierre Escargot, but he proved much bigger than All That itself. On the strength of his chemistry with his fellow co-star Kel Mitchell, Thompson and Mitchell earned themselves their own show, Kenan & Kel, which itself led to a feature length spin-off film, Good Burger, based on one of the pair's most popular sketches.

You might be pretty well versed in Thompson and Mitchell's work history, but even so, you might not know that the duo first teamed up not on All That, but a completely separate platform. The two actually started their partnership on The Steve Harvey Show, which is especially amusing when you realize that one of Thompson's many signature impressions on SNL is none other than Steve Harvey.

Kenan Thompson earned new fans with Fandango

Plenty of actors and stars work in commercials or become brand ambassadors as a side gig; think of Matthew McConaughey's Lincoln ads, Terry Crews serving as the face of Old Spice deodorants, or the veritable rotating door of famous faces representing Old Navy, from Amy Poehler to Busy Philipps to Neil Patrick Harris to Billie Lourd. Though Kenan Thomspon is definitely plenty busy with his work on Saturday Night Live, he's also found time to work as the public face of a huge entertainment company.

In 2015, Thompson signed on to become the face of Fandango as a part of their We Love Movies marketing campaign, although he wasn't playing himself. Instead, Thompson appeared as the original character Miles Mouvay, a fanatical movie buff who was actually born in a movie theater and didn't truly emerge into the world until his mother finished the film. Thompson played Mouvay over nearly 20 videos and other appearances, giving him even more visibility across a new platform.

Kenan Thompson got his hands dirty with The Splat

Nostalgia is always a sure bet, and though Kenan Thompson has been working on Saturday Night Live for years, he still has plenty of fans who fondly remember his Nickelodeon days. In 2015, Thompson made his first tentative return to his All That days on the Splat, Nickelodeon's official "nostalgia" channel.

To celebrate the 22nd anniversary of All That, Thompson and fellow former cast members Danny Tamberelli, Kel Mitchell, Josh Server, and Lori Beth Denberg made a triumphant return to Nickelodeon's orange couch for a special block of programming that not only included All That reruns, but reunion scenes where those original cast members discussed their time on the show. Though they might have been missing other old-school All That alumni like Amanda Bynes, it was certainly exciting to for classic Nickelodeon fans to see so many of their favorites reassembled, especially considering how difficult Thompson's schedule can be during grueling SNL seasons.

Getting back into "All That"

Kenan Thompson's return to the orange couch in 2015 was just the beginning of his ultimate return to All That: In February of 2019, Nickelodeon announced it was fully rebooting All That with an entirely new cast of young actors.

Some of the old skits, including "Good Burger" and Lori Beth Denberg's signature "loud librarian" (who constantly contradicts herself by screaming at library patrons to be quiet), are alive and well in the reboot, but during a profile about the new show just before its premiere in the New York Times, Denberg said the show would absolutely have a modern sensibility, even if younger viewers wouldn't be able to quote "Good Burger" from memory. Naturally, Thompson serves as an executive producer on the reboot, making it clear that he respects and fondly remembers his sketch comedy roots even as his star rises on Saturday Night Live.

A young new SNL star

Anyone even vaguely familiar with Saturday Night Live lore knows how long the show has been around; a weekly television fixture since 1975, SNL clearly isn't going anywhere, giving young comedians across several generations a goal to work towards. As it turns out, Thompson, one of SNL's most valuable players for decades, almost didn't make it onto the show at first thanks to his youthful demeanor.

The first SNL cast member to be born after the show's premiere (Thompson was born just a few years later in 1978), he tried out for Saturday Night Live multiple times, only to be told he was a little too fresh-faced. After making the Good Burger film at 18, Thompson told Vanity Fair he waited four years to even send in an audition tape, saying, "I kept sending tapes when I first left Nickelodeon, and was like, 'I would like to graduate now!'" However, SNL played hard to get at first, responding, "'you look a little young. Check back with us.' It was a couple years' worth of that."

Finally, at 25, Thompson got his first real audition for SNL and never looked back; despite a disastrous attempt at stand-up comedy for his audition (which he had never done before), he joined the cast in 2003.

Kenan Thompson stood up for diversity on SNL

SNL has definitely always dealt with a pretty serious diversity problem. Many of SNL's most famous cast members have been white, and while stars like Eddie Murphy and Kenan Thompson are obvious exceptions to the rule, the show didn't add its first Latina star to its full repertory cast until Melissa Villaseñor was hired in 2016, and only hired the show's first Asian-American cast member, Bowen Yang, in 2019. Throughout the years, Thompson has done his part to make sure the show's representation is up to snuff.

In 2013, with just three people of color in the main cast — Thompson, Jay Pharoah, and the Iranian-born Nasim Pedrad — Thompson was often forced to dress in drag to play pop culture icons like Rihanna and Oprah, and revealed to TV Guide that he was simply refusing to do it anymore until the show hired a black woman. After Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007, the show went without any black actresses for years, and though Thompson did controversially say the pool of applicants might not have been up to the job, his refusal to don a dress likely helped contribute to Sasheer Zamata's casting in 2014.

An SNL stalwart

Stars may come and go on Saturday Night Live, but nobody has stuck around as long as Kenan Thompson — literally. Thompson is no ordinary SNL cast member, and actually holds a ton of records on the show after decades working at Studio 8H.

By the 2013-14 season, in the aftermath of Seth Meyers' departure, Thompson became the most senior member of the cast, and he eventually beat out former cast member Tim Meadows' ten-season run to become the longest-running African-American cast member in the show's history. He has also beaten SNL legend Darrell Hammond's number of impressions, with 139 celebrity spoofs to Hammod's 107. By the time 2018 rolled around, Thompson was officially the longest-serving SNL cast member in the show's entire tenure. Even as Saturday Night Live adapts to new political administrations and a changing world, one thing is clear: Thompson is in it for the long haul to keep cracking jokes week after week.

Kenan Thompson supports SNL from within

Producing an hourlong sketch show once a week is no small feat, but Saturday Night Live is a well-oiled machine, helped along by Kenan Thompson's sheer talent. In a piece for Slate written to commemorate SNL's 40th season in 2014, the show's head writer at the time, Bryan Tucker, told the outlet the true secret to SNL's success: Thompson's quick wit. As Tucker told Slate, "Here's a secret. If you're a Saturday Night Live writer, and you want to get an extra laugh in your script, just add this line: 'KENAN REACTS.' Sure, it's sort of cheating. But we still do it sometimes. Because it works."

Tucker continued, "Kenan has been one of the few cast members who writers lean on. Put him in your sketch somewhere, anywhere, and your sketch will get better. Because Kenan knows how to take ordinary lines and make them funny, and take funny lines and make them special." Clearly, Tucker isn't the only one to appreciate Thompson's talent; after multiple Emmy nominations for his time on SNL, Thompson finally picked up a statue for writing "Come Back Barack" in 2018 alongside Chance the Rapper.

Kenan Thompson brought back another Nickelodeon classic

Even though Kenan Thompson cut his teeth on shows like All That and Kenan & Kel, he's clearly aware that Nickelodeon is what made him the star he is today, which is likely why he agreed to help another classic Nick show come back from the dead in the 2010s.

In 2018, Entertainment Weekly reported that Thompson would team up with Kel Mitchell to revive Double Dare, one of Nick's most popular — and messiest — game shows. Hosted by television personality Marc Summers, the original iteration of Double Dare featured a super-sloppy obstacle course with plenty of goo and even a giant, running nose, while the new version cast YouTube personality Liza Koshy as the show's new host. Meanwhile, Thompson and Mitchell appeared on the show as two contestants facing off against each other, which went as hilariously (and disgustingly) as you might expect.

Kenan Thompson is beloved behind the scenes at SNL

Fans of Saturday Night Live definitely love Kenan Thompson, between his pitch-perfect reaction shots and uncanny celebrity impressions, but rest assured that nobody loves Kenan more than the team behind the scenes at SNL. In a 2019 profile in The Washington Post, SNL head honcho Lorne Michaels went so far as to say that Thompson is "a master in that studio... he knows the best way to do just about everything," before giving the ultimate compliment to Thompson by saying the performer is "the person I most rely on in the cast."

Similarly, a 2019 profile in Vulture positioned Thompson as the "heir apparent" to legendary SNL comedian Phil Hartman, who was known as "The Glue" during his time on the series. In praising his versatility, his ability to save any sketch, and his incredible presence, the piece presents a now bittersweet compliment, saying that Thompson is "like Kobe Bryant if Kobe Bryant were also the consummate team player."

As far as Thompson is concerned, he's perfectly happy to keep basking in the love at SNL; in that same Washington Post, profile, he called SNL his "forever plan," which is a relief to his many fans both behind the camera and in front of the TV on Saturdays.

A new political gig

In recent years, the White House Correspondents Dinner has become somewhat fraught in the nation's capital; though the so-called "Nerd Prom" was always popular during the Obama administration, it has fallen out of favor during the Trump administration. After Thompson's former SNL castmate Seth Meyers ferociously lampooned Trump during the 2011 proceedings, the Apprentice host and future Republican president soured on this typically good-natured roast. As if things couldn't get testier, Republicans complained about Michelle Wolf's now infamous 2018 hosting gig where she took his administration to task, and the following year, it seemed as if comedians were persona non grata at the Correspondents Dinner, especially since Wolf was followed in 2019 by historian Ron Chernow.

However, that all seems to have changed in just one year, as early 2020 brought news that Thompson, along with former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj, would share hosting duties for the 2020 dinner. After Meyers and Cecily Strong, Thompson will be one of many SNL cast members to take the stage, but at least he likely won't have to worry about the President's ire in person that evening; Trump has not attended the Correspondents Dinner since taking office.