Catching Up with Kenan Thompson

We talked Southern roots, celebrity impersonations and being a dad with Saturday Night Live star Kenan Thompson.

Interview by Lacy Morris
Kenan Thompson
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Home Base: Tampa, by way of Atlanta
Occupation: Actor and comedian
What's on His Plate: The 40th anniversary of TV's Saturday Night Live (NBC) and being a first-time dad after the recent birth of his baby girl, Georgia
The Real Kenan: "I am very quiet. Not shy, just more so observant of the situation."

Working at SNL is incredible. It's all surreal. I walk past the headshot wall every day. Eventually I get to mine, and it's just mind-boggling.

It's an awesome accomplishment to hold the record for the most celebrity impersonations; I should celebrate it more. In my mind, I'm up there just having a good time. It's not like I overly study these people I'm doing impressions of; it's just my take on them in my mind. To make that funny to people—that's an awesome thing.

Every SNL skit is a triumph, but "What Up With That?" was definitely a favorite. I'm in my 12th year, and I still want to pat myself on the back a little bit when I give them something they can use.

I like to laugh, but it's not like I tell jokes necessarily. Things strike me as funny when I'm watching TV and give me an idea. I enjoy when a funny moment arises naturally. My daughter, Georgia, really makes me laugh. She started that very early on. I think she could [be a comedian]. We'll see.

My mama taught me my manners. It's hard to work with lots of different kinds of people without them. You can have your personality, and that's cool, but when you're from the South, you respect everybody. She always taught me to be very polite. If you ask people who really know me, manners—and having a love for family—come first.

My last meal would be a cheeseburger of some sort. I was a fast food kid growing up. [These days] people want to eat good food and know where it's coming from—it's not just fast food or soul food.

Speaking properly and being educated were very important to my mama. I let her down because I left college. It's not my fault. It is my fault, but it's not. I went to film school for like 2½ years, and it was just way too hard. I was working the mornings and going to school at night. After 2½ years, they told me I was still a freshman, and I was like, "Okay, well, this is not working out."

Being from Atlanta means everything to me. It's amazing that Atlanta had its time in hip-hop like it did, a real reckoning with street and whatnot. Everybody who grew up in that era is so proud of that. I remember always going somewhere like a restaurant turned into a nightclub, and somebody would perform. The place would go crazy, and then we'd go to Waffle House after. We did that for years, and then all of a sudden it became a real business.

I cannot cook. Under surveillance, yes, if [my wife] is telling me what to do. But as far as looking in the fridge and then coming up with something, I'm not good at it.

Since becoming a father, I've become insanely more focused. I thought I was focused before, but there are so many things to remember now. And I've embraced the mornings. I thought I would miss sleep a lot more than I do because I used to hate the morning. But now it's kind of beautiful and it's quiet and people are in good spirits. There's no stress yet. I'll take Georgia out and let her mom sleep, get those extra couple minutes. It's an interesting perspective.

"Y'all come back now" is a good expression. That and, "God bless your soul, God bless your mind, your heart, and your body."