Chance the Rapper had nothing but love for Kenan star and Emmy-nominated Saturday Night Live icon Kenan Thompson at SXSW. Referring to him as the G.O.A.T. (as it should be), Chance had a nice Inside The Actors Studio-esque talk with Thompson about his career, his new NBC series, his historic 18-season run on SNL as well as his comedy journey.
From All That to Kenan & Kel, Thompson helped shape a very formative era on Nickelodeon and also starred in The Mighty Ducks — another iconic franchise. Now with the show Kenan (which he should have had a long time ago), Thompson talked to Chance about how doing Kenan & Kel and SNL isn’t much different from his new sitcom — one of the main differences is that there is no live audience.
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“It’s different not having that live audience element,” he said. “That’s when you know you can stretch certain moments. People are kind of responding to something so you can just keep going a little more and the other way is more about the writing and how it feels to us.”
He said that Nickelodeon was the biggest training ground for his adult career because he starred in a sketch show and a sitcom on the popular kid’s network and that’s exactly what he is doing now with Kenan and SNL.
Chance then went on to ask Thompson where he discovered that he was funny. “I remember at a very young age enjoying comedy and enjoying making people laugh or capitalizing on a funny moment,’ said Thompson. “It started with me and my brother quoting movies.” He said that when they were growing up, cable just had hit the mainstream and he was able to watch movies like Trading Places, 48 Hours and Coming to America over and over again, which would give them fuel to quote these comedies repeatedly.
Surprisingly, Thompson leaned more into acting rather than being a comedian. He told Chance that comedy was personal to him. “I was doing plays and as I grew up. I was involved in theater groups and serious plays,” said Thompson. “I always had the comic relief part in all of those plays, but the comedy thing wasn’t on the forefront of what I was doing craft-wise… it was very much a thespian-type of upbringing.”
Thompson never really did stand-up like comedians like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock or Dave Chapelle. He said that stand-up was one of the main ways to establish yourself as a “sitcom guy” or go-to funny guy for movies. But Thompson established his comedy identity by going through acting on kids television — which was fairly new at the time. “You were either a child actor in movies…or you just were a TV kid and that’s all you did,” he explained. “You aren’t a working person that goes from job to job to job and just has a career. That was a new-ish type of thing. Our generation was focused on getting other jobs and other gigs.” He said he never wanted to be that “child star” and worked for years to break that image. He just wanted to work.
Thompson then mentioned his friend, actor Jaleel White, who many know as Urkel from the classic sitcom Family Matters. He said White wants to act because he is a great performer, but people won’t allow him to because they only know him as Urkel.
The two talked about the sketch comedy institution known as SNL, which Thompson has been on since 2003 and Chance has guested on many times. Thompson talked about all the hard work that goes into one episode and how it is indeed an iconic series.
“We’re on Season 46 right now — I’ve been there for 17 [years],” he said. “It’s a wild place! That’s why I am never in a rush to leave because I have never seen anything like it and number two, there aren’t many live shows left. It never gets old because it’s sketch comedy and it changes every week.”
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