Kenan Thompson Talks His 'Saturday Night Live' Legacy and Hosting 'Studio C – Live from NYC'

Emily Aslanian
Q&A Mike Coppola/Getty Images for BYUB

Kenan Thompson onstage at Studio C Live from NYC

Kenan Thompson is one of the hardest working men on TV. He's been on Saturday Night Live since 2003, which no one will deny is an exhausting gig — and perfecting your sketch comedy chops to bring laughs week after week sure ain't easy either. That's not even mentioning all of the television experience he gained as a kid on Nickelodeon's '90s series All That and spinoff Kenan and Kel.

TV Insider sat down with the seasoned funnyman during the dress rehearsal of Studio C's live-taped special Studio C – Live from NYC (airs tonight on BYUtv!) in the Hammerstein Ballroom to chat about his legacy, what he wants to do with the rest of his life (hint: it isn't all about comedy!) and his time working with the Utah sketch group. Thompson tells it like it is.

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I wanted to start by saying congratulations, on like, everything. You and your wife just had another baby, you just got your first Emmy nod as a performer—how does it all feel?

Kenan Thomspon: It’s been the best summer ever. It really has been. It’s been unbelievable. I mean, besides my wedding this has been the most incredible summer I’ve ever had.

That’s awesome. And now you're hosting this event with Studio C. What do you think so far?

They’re great. Everybody is so nice, and the cast is great–they’re just as focused as we [the SNL cast] are, you know what I mean? They’re just kids with dreams and ideas of what they think is funny and they have a platform to get it out there, which is great.

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What can you tell me about some of the sketches we’ll see you in during the special?

One is like a frat boy type of sketch in like an apartment, just a bunch of bros trying to figure life out. And then we’re doing like a Harry Potter - Star Wars type of commentary sketch, where we comment on similarities between the two (below).

Matt Meese, Jason Gray, Kenan Thompson

What do you think is the most important thing that you’ve learned over the past 15 years doing SNL?

I mean, it’s not anything that I learned necessarily, but I knew that the most important thing was always the show. The show has got to go on no matter what. You know what I mean, it’s like, Lorne [Michaels] says it all the time. We don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30. When 11:30 comes we’re going out there – rain, sleet or snow. So it’s like, the most important thing is just to be aware that you have to be here to serve the show every single Saturday. Through hurricanes, through snowstorms, through all of it.

...through sickness.

Oh, for sure, sickness is like way down on the list. They've got a whole nursing staff.

Is there ever a week when it’s like Saturday at 11:30 and you feel like you’re not quite ready? Do you ever have those moments, or are you such a pro at this point that it doesn't happen anymore?

Any time you’re trying something for the first time, and you never really know how it’s going to play. There’s no real guarantee. I’m not good with every moment until it goes great at least once. You know, we’re tweaking and adding jokes all week. But Saturday is when you really start seeing it with the wigs, and the whole sets and everything. Our crew's a pretty good indicator. Somebody is usually paying attention and you’ll hear something audible that will tell you if you’re on track or not. So, when I don’t hear that, I start really worrying and rewriting jokes and stuff like that.

You've mentioned recently that you are interested in becoming a producer one day. What kind of stuff would you be interested in doing?

I mean, anything. I’m into action flicks as much as the next person, even though I do comedy mostly on camera. You know, I liked Fast & Furious and I liked Bad Boys and all that stuff too. TV-wise, Power, they’ve got a great thing, Empire, you know, whatever. I’d even catch a game show and produce it or something to just be a player and put some good ideas out there. And put some good people to work.

That's great. What're you watching on TV right now? Do you even have time to watch TV?

I watch a ton of TV. On streaming it's all about Season 2 of Ozark and Orange Is the New Black. But all of the good shows right now are on Showtime like The Affair and Who Is America.

Ruth Wilson as Alison in The Affair (Season 4, Episode 6). -Photo: Ali Goldstein/SHOWTIME -Photo ID: The Affair_406_0148

Ruth Wilson as Alison in 'The Affair'

A lot of past SNLers have a character or a sketch that they are known for doing, even after they’ve left the show. Is there one character or impersonation that you want to be known for?

I hope not just one. I’ve always wanted to be known for variety. When I was still like in my early college years watching Will Ferrell’s "Best Of" DVDs, I always wanted something like that. I do have Top Ten-type lists, but really anytime it goes well it’s kind of my favorite moment. It’s so hard to get everything to go right. So anytime it actually makes it to the live show and turns out good, like the lobster dance was great, you know what I mean, sh-t like that. But also, David Ortiz and Steve Harvey, and Al Sharpton.

Who’s your favorite non-SNL-related person out there doing comedy or in the comedy world?

Wow, there’s a lot. I mean, Bill Burr is not really related. He’s one of my favorites. [Jerry] Seinfeld too, you know. He’s not related to us but he’s around us, I guess through Larry David. So, he’s a huge one. Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle, for sure. I have a long list. There’s a lot of great stand-ups out there, Tom Segura, Demetri Martin, Hannibal Buress [who used to write for the series], Sarah Silverman, Michelle Wolf.

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If you could guest star on any show, what would it be?

I would love to do a bit on Who Is America, but along with Sacha [Baron Cohen] like, kind of pulling the wool over somebody. I think that'd be pretty funny. And also Game of Thrones, probably.

What are you most looking forward to about next season of SNL?

Just getting it going again. It’s such a long grind that by the time we’re done we feel like we just started. Any time we look back at the pictures of the hosts, it’s like, 'Damn, all that was this year? Crazy.'

Do you guys see each other in between? 

Everybody is usually like, catching gigs, pretty much. The people that are all usually in LA at the same time will go to some dinners and stuff like that.

Kenan Thompson, Beck Bennett on 'SNL'

Nice, I love that. It's hard not to be close when you’re working with someone 24/7.

Speaking for myself, I just appreciate everybody’s blessing. They’re all so gifted in different ways and it’s so beautiful to witness on a weekly basis. Especially when people start really holding and believing what their tone is at the show, it’s nice to watch. Like watching  Aidy Bryant bloom, or Leslie Jones coming to her own. It’s dope to watch.

Did you ever dish out advice to the newcomers? Or do you kind of just let them do their thing?

If they ask. Everybody’s experience is very different, so you have to let people figure it out for themselves, but when we’re rehearsing if I see, maybe that shot would look better as a close-up, I’ll say something like that, or maybe I’ll offer a different joke. So, unless they’re like, looking for joke suggestions, I try not to step on those toes, but when I see people turning their backs to the camera and stuff like that, I kind of just like quietly shift them. It’s awkward to do like bizarre world reality. It’s like you’re living behind a filter.

Are there any sketches over the years that just stand out to you as being that was one of the best sketches you ever did?

Lots. I mean, any "What Up With That," "Black Jeopardy." They’re all epic. When "Black Jeopardy" is kicking, like when it’s hitting on all cylinders, it’s like a concert. Every single phrase gets a response and it’s just that great thing for a comedian to hear.

Studio C – Live from NYC, Monday, September 10, 9/8c, BYUtv
Saturday Night Live, Season 44 Premiere, September 29, 11:30/10:30c, NBC

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