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Kenan muses on life as comic

Marcela Berrios | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Live from DeBartolo Hall, “Saturday Night Live’s” Kenan Thompson delighted students with anecdotes from his years as a child actor and a full-grown comedian Monday night as part of the Student Union Board’s “SNL” lecture series.

“I’m in my fourth year on ‘SNL’. Chris Rock only did three,” he said – and with that he drew the crowd’s laughter in his first minute in the spotlight.

Taking students on a walk down memory lane, he also drew nostalgic sighs from those who wanted to know if he was still in contact with his former “Kenan and Kel” co-star, Kel Mitchell.

“I only get to see [Mitchell] every now and then, and he’s well, but I don’t know about Good Burger 2,” Thompson said, referring to the movie the pair produced while their hit Nickelodeon show aired in the late 1990s.

After graduating from Nickelodeon comedy, Thompson said he went on to star in a number of film projects, including “Fat Albert” and “Barbershop 2” before landing a recurring role in NBC’s variety show.

Born in 1978, he became the first “SNL” cast member born after the series began in 1975, according to the show’s Web site.

While his experience in Nickelodeon’s sketch series, “All That,” and his work alongside comedian Ben Stiller in “Heavyweights” prepared Thompson to join “SNL”, he said he was still nervous about auditioning and giving suggestions to his experienced co-stars during his first season on the show.

“I don’t consider myself an expert in comedy or anything, but you just have to feel comfortable pitching your ideas,” he said. “Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.”

Thompson admitted he had never written a full comedy sketch until he joined “SNL” in 2003, but he said he was proud of the progress he has made as an actor and a writer from his time on the show.

He walked students through his first appearance on the SNL stage – a Bill Cosby impersonation – when his palms were sweating and his heart was racing, and he prayed he didn’t forget his lines.

“And then you say your first words, and they get a laugh, and it’s the most wonderful feeling,” Thompson said. “As a comedian, as someone who enjoys making people laugh, that is the most gratification I could ever get.”

Since that day, he has played Star Jones, Patti LaBelle, Don King, Rev. Al Sharpton and Colin Powell, among other celebrities and fictional characters.

And despite his established presence in the show and having shared the stage with actors like Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson and Steve Martin, Thompson said humility and good manners go a long way in any setting – a lesson his mother taught him and reminded him of constantly.

“There are other people out there who could be doing what I’m doing and maybe two times better, but none of that really matters if you’re a prick,” he said. “That attitude won’t get you anywhere.”

The comedian said he has befriended SNL’s camera crew and “the guy you’d think is only pulling cables around” because he recognized their contributions to the show and their value as human beings – and getting their nods during the tapings help him curb his jitters onstage.

Those jitters, however, are not caused by any pressure to be the black comedian in the cast and bring the expected hip-hop humor to the show, Thompson said.

“Whatever you consider yourself to be, is what actually pigeonholes you,” he said. “I’ve found that I am capable of making 68-year-old white dudes laugh, and if I can do that, I think I can do anything.”

He immortalized knuckle pucks in “Mighty Ducks 2” and amused children in the 1990s as Pierre Escargot in “All That.” And in the future, Thompson said he hopes to further solidify his career in Hollywood.

“I like Eddie Murphy’s life. That’s a good life,” he said. “He’s been around for many years, and in that time he’s made so many movies we will never forget. That’s what every actor wants to accomplish. Maybe somewhere down the line I could do something like that. Maybe I could be in Doctor Doolittle 17 some day.”