Students caught a glimpse of one of the most notable television stars of the ‘90s on Tuesday night, as Kenan Thompson, a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” who has also appeared in movies such as “Snakes on Plane,” spoke in Irvine Auditorium.
The event, hosted by the Social Planning and Events Committee Connaissance & Film, was moderated by English and Cinema Studies professor Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve.
“I want to do work that resonates with people ... that’s what makes me the most happy,” Thompson said. “If they did do a book on great black comedians and left me out, well, I would clearly have to crap all over that book because they clearly didn’t do their research.”
Before the event, College Junior and SPEC director Austin Borja praised the choice of Thompson as a speaker.
“I think he’s very intersectional. He’s an African American man in media,” he said. “He’s also very nostalgic ... a lot of people are here to see their childhood and potentially their hero.”
The interview was wide-ranging, and at one point touched on Thompson’s start in the entertainment business. He recounted his experience as a movie reviewer, and how he reviewed the movie, “The Mighty Ducks.” After meeting the actors, Thompson auditioned for and was hired to appear in the second and third “Mighty Ducks” films.
Thompson also described how he came from humble beginnings.
“When they asked me to send them another tape, I was like ‘I can’t afford all these tapes,’” he said.
Thompson said his mother was incredibly supportive from the start, when he acted in his kindergarten production of “The Gingerbread Man.”
As his career progressed, Thompson described his work at Nickelodeon as “school,” and working for SNL as “college.” When he joined SNL he said he remembered thinking, “Oh crap, I have to write a sketch for myself.”
Despite the long hours, Thompson said he is “afraid” to leave SNL because he thinks it is such a special job.
“It’s rare to have Mick Jagger sitting there eating lunch [asking] ‘Do you know where the loo is?’” he said.
Since President Donald Trump’s election, SNL has gained continual notoriety for a series of sketches mocking the Republican president and his advisors, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was played by actress Melissa McCarthy in recent sketches. Thompson said the current political climate energized the show’s writing. Trump, before becoming a frequent critic of the show, appeared as a host on Nov. 7, 2015.
“Back then the Trump we all knew was just egotistical; it wasn’t like he had control over all of our lives ... he was just being his typical self,” Thompson said.
Regardless of who hosts or appears on the show, Thompson said the cast always has fun with it, including during Trump’s appearance.
During the question-and-answer period, a young child was first in line ahead of over a dozen eager Penn students to ask a question. He asked Thompson to name the funniest person he had ever met. Thompson said Anthony Anderson because of his “super contagious laugh.”
“He made me laugh so hard I popped out a tooth,” Thompson said.
Another attendee later asked about how his identity affected his journey as a comedian.
“For me, I speak from the black perspective. I speak from the male perspective. Now, as a dad, hopefully I’ll start telling dad jokes,” Thompson chuckled. “I’m not a huge fan of categorization ... but it’s not that you can get around it; it’s a part of life. You just have to be responsible with it.”