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Kenan Thompson attends the American Museum of Natural History's 2010 Museum Gala in New York City on November 18, 2010. Credit: Courtesy of TNS
Kenan Thompson attends the American Museum of Natural History's 2010 Museum Gala in New York City on November 18, 2010. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Kenan Thompson shares his story to a sold-out Ohio State crowd

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Students might know him from his years of acting and writing for “Saturday Night Live,” or may have grown up watching him on Nickelodeon’s “All That” or “Kenan & Kel.”

In an event hosted by the Ohio Union Activities Board, Kenan Thompson brought some comedy in sharing his life’s story to a sold-out crowd at the Ohio Union on Monday night.   

Thompson took the stage following a performance by Fishbowl Improv group. He noted that this visit to OSU was a return to his roots, as he was born in Columbus. However, he was raised in Atlanta, where he said he developed his love for television by watching “The Price is Right” with his grandmother on their black-and-white TV.  

As a child, Thompson acted in commercials before landing a role in the second and third installments of Disney’s “Mighty Ducks” franchise. From there, opportunities opened for him in the form of Nickelodeon’s “All That,” a sketch comedy show intended for a children’s audience.

He simultaneously starred in Nickelodeon’s “Kenan & Kel,” a sitcom about two teenage best friends in Chicago.

These shows landed Thompson in the number 40 spot on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Kid Stars.

“I had a great Nickelodeon experience, but I can’t speak for everybody. Poor Amanda. We’ll pray for her,” Thompson joked, referencing Amanda Bynes.

Thompson is also known for starring in the quirky ‘90s cult classic “Good Burger” alongside his “Kenan & Kel” co-star Kel Mitchell.

For Thompson, one of the most interesting parts of his career was transitioning from his role as a child star to that of an adult actor.

“Life as an actor hasn’t always been easy,” he said. “I had to prove I could entertain adults as well as kids.”  

Thompson had a few roles in adult television shows, but he said his career was changed when he joined the cast of SNL in 2003.

“I got the call that Tracy Jordan had left SNL and there was room for more blackness,” he said. “The auditions were the most terrifying three weeks of my life, but now I’m going into my fourteenth season on the show.”

Thompson is currently the senior cast member of SNL after the recent departures of Seth Meyers and Fred Armisen, and holds the record for longest-tenured black actor on the show. He also holds SNL’s record for most celebrity impressions performed at 122 different impersonations.

“I like silliness,” Thompson said. “It’s one of my favorite things to do, and be.”

Thompson shared personal anecdotes about his career with the audience, from smoking marijuana with Snoop Dogg to performing his favorite SNL sketch, “What’s Up With That,” with Robin Williams.

“(Performing with Williams) is a piece of film history I get to keep in my heart forever and ever and ever,” Thompson said. “It’s a reflection of how magical SNL is for me.”

Before taking questions from the audience, Thompson explained the success behind his long, illustrious career.

“I try to approach my projects with passion, even if they’re kind of silly,” Thompson said. “I can’t complain about my job as an actor. I don’t take anything for granted.”

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