Kenan Thompson was not that funny, but he was really, really cool.
About 20 minutes before the now-grown child star was supposed to go on stage, I snuck into Dodd Auditorium and snooped around the place, looking for a glimpse of the big man. I spoke with his manager, who told me that interview requests needed to be at least a week in advance. Luckly for us, nobody stops the the Bullet from getting the interviews we want. I sweet-talked Kenan’s manager into giving me a few minutes of the SNL star’s time. As the auditorium filled, his manager led me back behind the stage and and down to the building basement to a few unfinished basement rooms that apparently served as our dressing rooms for musical and comedic guests.
She put me in one of the rooms that contained only two small chairs, like the ones they put in third grade class rooms, and told me Kenan would be there shortly. A few seconds later, a large black man walked into the room and said, “Alright bud, you got about two minutes.”
Kenan reached out his hand to give me what I thought was a normal hand shake but turned out to be a more hip greeting than I expected. What ensued felt like an eternity of inappropriate hand touching and near-back patting. His hands were soft but his fingernails were kind of long.
He rolled in wearing mirrored sunglasses, some baggy Jordan sweat pants and a clean pair of basketball shoes peaking out from underneath. He never took the sunglasses off, which made him seem a bit intimidating, even though his baby face was still under there.
At this point, I was quite nervous. Kenan was now the most famous person I’d ever met, although my dad did go to high school with Tony Danza. I summoned my most reporter-like voice and began to ask him a few questions.
Before going out on stage, Kenan jokingly said that he, “usually panics to death, cries, throws up and then goes out there.” This may speak to Kenan’s stand-up style. I think most of the audience would agree that Kenan’s style was very different from most comedians, and different from what they expected.
From what Kenan said, and his presentation, it seemed like he was new to stand-up. As a child star, he was more used to doing movie and TV shows, but was very inexperienced just doing stand-up comedy. For that reason, it seems like Kenan was probably more nervous than your standard comedian. Nevertheless, he said that every time he has to go on stage, he “just has those nerves, those butterflies. You have to turn them into butterflies.”
Kenan’s favorite comedians, and those who influenced him were “probably every black comedian before me,” he said. “Dave Chappelle, Damian Wayons, all the Wayons really, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy. Even people who don’t look like me. From Steve Martin on down.”
Kenan, who has had the most success on TV shows, said he actually preferred making movies. “Movies are a lot of fun,” he told me. “The big budget stuff. Everyone’s got trailers, drivers and stuff. It feels like the big time.”
My biggest question of the night pertained to a late night guilty pleasure of mine from about 10th grade. Around midnight on weekdays, a little-watched show called “Dance 360” came on. “Dance 360” was a precursor to popular dance shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew,” but was hosted by Kenan’s former comedic partner, Kel Mitchell. The show was completely ridiculous and I regret to say that I ever watched it, but it was good material to talk to Kenan about.
“Haha, yea, I’ve seen it. I thought it was pretty funny, but Kel took it all serious. I don’t know why. But it just kind of fizzled out like I expected.”
If you went to the show at Dodd, you already know the rest of the story. Kenan was personable on stage, but as one Giant Productions employee put it, “basically read off his IMDB page.” However, what really made Kenan an enjoyable guest at Dodd was the time he took after the show to meet students and fans. After a substantial question and answer period, Kenan took a seat on the edge of the stage, and talked to and took pictures with fans for close to an hour. He even remembered me, although not by name but by the affectionate “Newspaper Boy.” He did seem genuinely flattered when I told him he was the most famous person I’d ever interviewed.
Then I left. It felt almost morally wrong to leave a room with a celebrity in it. Usually at events like Kenan’s show, the celebrity always leaves first and then the audience trails out. In Kenan’s case, it looked like he planned to meet with every last person who wanted to talk to him before he was ready to leave.