The Life and Career of Funnyman Kenan Thompson

Kenan Thompson has spent the majority of his life in front of the camera. Over the years, he’s worked his way up from having a small show on CNN, to becoming one of Nickelodeon’s favorite celebrities. Today, he’s the longest-tenured performer on the acclaimed show Saturday Night Live. He’s starred in both television and feature-length films and never fails to make his audiences laugh. But what is the funnyman like off-screen? Take a look into Kenan Thompson’s struggles, successes, and some interesting facts about his life.

Stand-Up Wasn’t Really His Thing

Stand-up Wasn't His Thing
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When Kenan Thompson arrived in Los Angeles, he didn’t exactly fit in like most people might assume. He described himself being like a lost puppy, trailing behind the heels of more successful and older black comedians.

While he frequented the Improv, a famous stand-up comedy joint, watching all of the successful comedians like Aries Spears and Mile Epps intimidated him. As a result, he was hesitant to take the stage. But it wasn’t just that because was nervous — it was also because the established comedians weren’t exactly welcoming since he worked on TV.

Kenan & Kell Was Almost Named Something Entirely Different

Kenan & Kel
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While the show All That was taking a break from filming, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell began filming their spin-off show Kenan & Kel. But according to Thompson, that wasn’t always going to be the name of the show.

Initially, the show was going to be called Me and My Friend or Me and My Homeboy along with some other potential names. Yet, at a meeting, someone suggested that they just call the show Kenan & Kel since it was both their names and made the most sense. The name stuck.

He Started Acting At a Young Age

Acting At A Young Age
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As a young boy, Kenan Thompson’s parents encouraged him to pursue acting and sports as a way to keep him off the streets. It also helped that his mother worked the phones at the local acting school because classes for Kenan and his brother had discounted pricing.

Eventually, his classes led Kenan to book regional commercials and even score a job reviewing movies for kids on television. Ironically, the first movie he ever reviewed was The Mighty Ducks in which he starred in the sequel just a year later.

His First Seasons On Saturday Night Live Were Hard

First Seasons
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When Kenan first started on Saturday Night Live, he had a hard time. He claims that he had no idea how to write and also struggled to form a relationship with the writers. His first skit, which was about a babysitter, totally bombed along with one of his first acts as a bellhop.

He relied on parts that he could step in and act for if a bit fit his acting style. At times, there were weeks when he was left out of the show entirely, which created some off-screen tension between him and the producers.

He Got Into Trouble With the Press

Trouble With The Press
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Early on in his career, Kenan got into trouble with the press. Kenan accused a reporter of misquoting him when he was discussing an issue involving black female cast members of SNL. He claims that he never said that the black women on the show weren’t ready to be cast members on the hit show.

Instead, he said that by the time auditions opened, most talented black female comedians already had something else going on. He also commented on how hard it is to get cast on Saturday Night Live saying, “You have to be at the top of a lot of different games.”

He Did an Al Sharpton Impression During His SNL Audition

Al Sharpton
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The years in between when Kenan was a childhood star and when he started acting on primetime television were hard for him. Luckily, his audition for Saturday Night Live couldn’t have come at a better time. While shooting a small scene for Barbershop 2, he got a call from Lorne Michaels who wanted him to come in and audition for the show.

Unfortunately for Kenan, he was forced to perform a stand-up set twice, something that he’s never done before. He then performed an act that was a phone call between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Sharpton which wasn’t well-received but he still made it onto the show.

He’s Reviving All That

All That

After the success of All That in the 1990s and early 2000s, Nickelodeon decided that it’s time to reboot the series. Kenan Thompson is returning to the show but this time not as a cast member, but as an executive producer.

Nickelodeon has announced that they will have past cast members make appearances from time to time and Kenan certainly being one of them. On the series, Kenan said, “It means everything to me […] It was my first job that I ever had. It gave me an opportunity.” While he’ll have new responsibilities as an executive producer, he’s not quitting SNL anytime soon.

He Was a First On SNL

SNL First
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Kenan Thompson first joined the cast of SNL in 2003. However, when he started the show, he was also making history. Saturday Night Live first premiered on television in 1975 and Kenan was born in 1978.

At the time, he was the first cast member on the show to be born after the show had already premiered. Over the years, younger talent became more common, but Thompson was the first!

He’s Still Friends With Kel

Friends With Kel
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Kenan made a name for himself in a handful of Nickelodeon television series movies like All That, Kenan and Kell,and Good Burger. But none of these roles would have been complete without Kenan’s wingman, Kel Mitchell.

Even though the duo stopped working together and Kenan moved on from Nickelodeon, the two remained friends throughout the years. He and Kenan even reunited to do a Good Burger sketch on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

He Had an Interesting Interaction With Bill Cosby

Kenan And Bill
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Before Bill Cosby was arrested on allegations of sexual misconduct, Kenan worked on the movie Fat Albert with him. During filming, Cosby made a comment that caught Kenan off-guard and showed the actor in a new light.

Apparently, one day on set, Cosby came up to Kenan and said: “When this movie comes out, you’re gonna need two [expletive] because the women are gonna be all over you.” This surprised Kenan who now has no problem making fun of Cosby and the situation that he’s found himself in.

He’s Done Over 100 Celebrity Impersonations

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Kenan has set not only one but two records in Saturday Night Live history. While he was the first cast member to be born after the show had premiered, he also holds the record for doing the most celebrity impressions.

Some of his most notable impressions include Martin Luther King Jr. Whoopi Goldberg, Herman Cain, Ice Cube, Steve Harvey, and Raven Symone. On the show, he has done over 100 impressions which is a lot more than the average cast member.

He Got His Start on CNN

MediaPunch/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Although his work on Nickelodeon helped make Kenan Thompson famous, he actually got his start in television on CNN before landing the role on All That. The CNN headquarters is located in Kenan’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, which gave Kenan the opportunity to work for the station.

There, he scored a job working as a young entertainment reporter for the television show Real News For Kids. This helped get his name out there and prepared him for his future on Nickelodeon.

His Life When He Was Younger Was Like a Kenan & Kel Episode

Real Life Kenan and Kel
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As it turns out, both Kenan and Kel spent just as much time together off-screen as they did on-screen. Both of their mothers were friendly, so the boys spent a lot of time at each other’s Florida apartments. Kel admitted, “We would just hang out at each other’s houses and stuff like that and get into all kinds of crazy trouble.”

Kenan backed up Kel’s claims, admitting that one time they even switched the dishwasher soap with laundry detergent. He said, “It was like an episode of Kenan & Kel but real life. It was pretty funny.”

He Wishes They Did “What Up With That” More Often

What Up With That

In 2009, Kenan pitched his idea for the bit “What Up With That?” — a skit about a talk show host that couldn’t stop signing his own theme song. After some time, the result was the character Diondre Cole who hosts the show of the same name.

The sketch was an immediate success and appeared on the show eight more times. In 2015, it was revived for the show’s 40h anniversary. Unfortunately, Kenan wishes that they did the skit more often. But after Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen left the show, too many components were missing.

Kenan and Kel Appeared on Other TV Shows

Sister Sister
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After becoming an audience favorite on All That, Nickelodeon gave Kenan and Kel their own show which was aptly named Kenan & Kel. The show was created by Kim Bass who was also the co-creator of the show Sister, Sister. Bass has said that she based the show on “the exploits of mine and my best friend when growing up.”

Since Bass worked on a handful of other shows, Kenan and Kel made numerous guest appearances. You can catch them on an episode of Sister, Sister, as well as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Steve Harvey Show, and Cousin Skeeter.

He’s Debating Taking on More Serious Roles

Serious Acting
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Although Kenan is best known for his work on Saturday Night Live and his performances in comedy films, he isn’t against taking on more serious roles. He says that he’s not a complete stranger to serious acting, as he did a lot of it in high school theater.

While he claims that he prefers what he calls “jolly acting,” he stated that if doing comedy ever became a chore for him then he wouldn’t have a problem changing up his acting style.

He’s Seen Some Incredible Musical Performances

Musical Performances
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Working on Saturday Night Live,Kenan has had the opportunity to see countless musical guests that have performed on the show over the years. One of the performances that stood out to him the most was seeing U2 and watching Bono swing around a glowing microphone.

He also was lucky enough to see Paul McCartney and was there when the former Beatle played extra songs for the cast after the show had ended. Those are just a few of the legendary people Kenan has seen during his time on SNL.

He Prefers Sketch Comedy

Sketch Comedy
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It’s no secret that Kenan loves and has an innate talent for sketch comedy. As the longest SNL tenure, he’s demonstrated his skill for the genre. He’s also explained his hesitation towards other kinds of comedy, claiming that he enjoys sketch comedy because it doesn’t affect his personal life.

“I feel like stand-up is such a personal thing, and a lot of great stand-ups like Jerry Seinfeld kind of just spend their time talking about what bothers them, you know what I mean?” Kenan says. “It seems to be occupying a lot of their day.”

Will There Be a Reboot of Kenan & Kel?

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Back in 2015, both Kenan and Kel came together on The Tonight Show where they did a reboot skit from Good Burger. Of course, this excited audiences who began spreading rumors that the duo might be getting back together again. When the two then appeared in a Fandango Ad, this only added fuel to the fire that they were getting back together.

Kenan stated, “Filming these new ads with Kel brought back warm memories of going to the movies together and riffing on memorable scenes from our favorite flicks.” While there hasn’t been an official announcement, neither actor has turned down the idea of a reboot.

Kenan’s Dad on Kenan & Kel Was a Horror Legend

Horror Legend
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Before he played Kenan’s father on Kenan & Kel, actor Ken Foree played Peter in the famous 1978 horror film Dawn of the Dead. Not only were the show writers aware that Foree was in the horror flick, but they were big fans and wanted him on the show for that exact reason.

But even though the writers wanted him on the show, he wasn’t guaranteed the role. He still had to still audition in front of 25 people where he landed the part. In 2004, he acted in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead where he played the role of The Televangelist.