If you're anything like me, you love Kenan Thompson. You grew up watching him light up the boob tube on various shows on Nickelodeon and as an adult you giggle uncontrollably every time he takes center stage on SNL. Yes, you love Kenan Thompson, some would say to an unhealthy degree, but not me. I say you love him just enough, which means you'll totally dig this interview in which Mr. Thompson talks about his roots as a dramatic actor, what it's like dealing with the pressure of doing a weekly, live show in front of an audience of millions, who kisses better Lady Gaga or Madonna, his new movie Stan Helsing and the possibility of a Good Burger sequel.
How did you get your start in comedy?
I didn’t really start in comedy; I started in drama, basically, but I always kind of had a funny bone. I was doing a lot of theater for a long time in Atlanta. I went to a performing arts high school where we were doing a lot of dramatic plays that we’d write, but I got hired to be the new black kid on The Mighty Ducks. That was my first job. I guess that was a comedic kind of role; I had some funny lines and stuff. They introduced me to the Nickelodeon people, and there was some more comedy there. It’s been comedy from then on out. But all my training has been in drama.
How did you make the transition from kid-oriented fair on Nick to Saturday Night Live?
I guess, I grew up. You can’t stay at Nickelodeon forever. I would have loved to have stayed, but at some point you have to move on from being a kid to being an adult. I was already an adult, paying bills and dealing with drama like anybody else. Luckily enough, I had a chance to audition for SNL and that’s all it took.
What’s it like in the Saturday Night Live writer’s room?
It’s fun. We have half of a floor at NBC, so it’s a bunch of offices and usually people share an office with a writer and collaborate with different people, pitch your ideas to different people. If they like it, they’ll help you write it and if they don’t, they’ll be like “Yeah that sounds great,” then walk to their office and close their door. It’s a funny place: it’s a super stressful environment but we’re all young, and we’re all in it together, so we band together and get through it. It’s kind of an amazing experience.
Who are some of your favorite people to work with on the show?
I don’t know. I like working with everyone. I keep telling everybody that my favorite sketches are when everyone can be in them. Everybody has something weird or quirky or funny to do; those are my favorite times. Even in rehearsals, it’s a bunch of us hanging out, laughing and joking and playing around. So, any sketch that involves most of the cast… those are the funniest ones.
So, what’s it like performing for an audience of millions each week?
Well, the good thing about that is, it’s really only an audience of a couple hundred people who are actually in the theater. The theater is surprisingly small when you see it. It’s like, “Really? That’s the only amount of seats you guys have in here?” Yeah, it’s a small space but it goes out to so many people, and the feedback that you get is after the fact, you know? It’s already after, so what’s done is done. You take it or you leave it. That’s the one good thing about it. You can hear the feedback, but what’s done is done. You got to move on to the next week and try to do something better or ignore it and continue doing what you’re doing.
That’s a lot of pressure.
It is a lot of pressure, because Saturday Night Live is one of the more immediate type feedback situations. It’s a live show and people are on it so heavily that you start getting feedback on Sunday morning before you’re even ready for it. It’s like, we just did the show the other night! It hasn’t even sat around for twelve, thirteen or fourteen hours before people are already ripping it apart. It’s funny to see how people from an outside perspective say they can do things better, or “I would have done this, I would have done that.” When you’re in the pressure cooker and you’re just thinking of an idea on Monday and have to really perform it on Saturday, it’s a different story. I would challenge anybody to get on that show and act like it’s not a pressure cooker. It’s a stressful situation, even for the best of the best of them. Even Will Ferrell didn’t really click on the show for a while, and he was one there but people weren’t really paying attention to him until all of a sudden, it exploded. That’s how it goes: the show has a rhythm when you come to it; you have to figure out that rhythm, and then take it and make it your own. It takes a while for everyone to do.
Who’s a better kisser? Madonna or Lady Gaga?
I don’t know. It’s funny kissing both at the same time. I’m a big fan of kissing two ladies at the same time, but I think Madonna was a little more down with the kissing part and Lady Gaga was adding a lot of sounds to it. I think she’s kind of noisy in bed. I don’t know how freaky she is.
Tell us a little about your new movie, Stan Helsing.
I’ll tell you a lot about it. Number one, it’s great. It’s hilarious. We have the great Leslie Nielson in it. It’s basically the story of four friends who are headed to a Halloween party, take a wrong turn and wind up on an adventure being chased by the monsters of the 80’s slasher films. You know, the Jasons, the Chuckies, the Mike Myers, the Freddies and stuff like that. But we call them different names, like “Michael Cryers” and “Mason” and “Fweddy”—which is my favorite. Basically, they’re chasing us throughout the film. It’s a parody. Bo Zenga, the director and writer, wrote a great script and that’s what got everyone involved in it, especially when they heard Leslie Nielson was going to be in it, and it was a chance to work with a legend.
It was a fun experience. It was strong, and it was different. My character was a lawyer. I thought that was interesting enough. At least [my character] wasn’t a gang banger!
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m going back to the show [Saturday Night Live], I guess, in a couple weeks. We have Taylor Swift coming up. That should be a fun show. She’s a nice girl.
Any chance of a Good Burger II?
I don’t know. That’s a Dan Schneider question and he’s the one who has to write it, but I would do it. I’m not opposed to doing it. But that’s between Dan and Kel, and good luck trying to get that reunion back together. They kind of went their separate ways. But for the record, me? I’m already signed on. It’s not up to me. You guys talk to those two. Get them in. Work it out. Maybe buy them dinner? Toast them to a new reunion.