Many people hold down two jobs. Not many have a 3,000-mile commute in between, as Kenan Thompson does.The longtime "Saturday Night Live" star has b
Many people hold down two jobs. Not many have a 3,000-mile commute in between, as Kenan Thompson does.
The longtime “Saturday Night Live” star has been making a weekly cross-country trek between New York – with “SNL” back in Studio 8H – and Los Angeles, where he’s filming his new NBC family sitcom, “Kenan” (premiering Tuesday, 8:30 EST/PST).
Fortunately, Thompson, who plays a widowed Atlanta morning TV host raising two precocious daughters in “Kenan,” has company on the plane rides: “SNL” buddy Chris Redd, who plays his brother and not-so-savvy manager.
Thompson, 42, the longest-tenured “SNL” cast member with 18 seasons and counting, isn’t coasting on either coast. He’s in almost every scene of “Kenan” (which also features Don Johnson as his character’s father-in-law), and he appeared in an impressive six segments on the Feb. 6 “SNL,” including a Super Bowl cold-open sketch and a “Weekend Update” appearance with Redd.
If that’s not enough, the Atlanta native, who now lives in New York, filled in last summer as a judge on “America’s Got Talent” and appeared in a Super Bowl commercial that made the USA TODAY Ad Meter top 10. He will host the Kids’ Choice Awards on March 13 on Nickelodeon, where he became a teen star in the 1990s on “All That” and “Kenan & Kel.”
Thompson, who shares two daughters, Georgia, 6, and Gianna, 2, with his wife, Christina Evangeline, spoke to USA TODAY about his busy career (edited and condensed for clarity).
Question: How’s the commute?
Kenan Thompson: It’s going well. Do I look tired? Tell me. I think I’m all right. I’m doing good. Right now, I’m only doing “SNL” on Saturdays because I’m shooting Monday through Friday and I’m usually in 95% to 98% of the stuff on (“Kenan”). So, we’re getting out Friday nights (on a red-eye flight) and coming back Sunday mornings, basically a blink-of-an-eye trip.
Q: How do you rehearse for “SNL”?
Thompson: They send tapes of the rehearsals on Friday when they do it with somebody standing in for me and I take a look at that. We come in at, like, noon on Saturday and do every (sketch) one at a time, full out. And that gives me my run at it. I usually would have the week to do it, but I’ve got to speed up my professionalism right now. And I’ve been doing it long enough to get what needs to happen and then just make sure I stay on the (cue) cards and reading things in the way that makes sense.
Q: Does it make a difference having Chris Redd go along for the ride?
Thompson: It’s the best, man. I couldn’t have asked for a better brother to play my brother besides my real brother. Me and Chris have such a strong bond that I feel invincible in a scene next to him, like as far as, are we going to find something funny in this moment.
Q: Have you learned anything playing the father of two daughters on “Kenan” (real-life sisters Dani and Dannah Lane) that will help you raise your real-life daughters, who are a few years younger?
Thompson: Yeah. I’m going to be eyeballing (their) phones, for sure. It’s so unprecedented. This is the first generation of parenting that’s had to raise children with social media as a thing. I think everybody’s kind of learning on the fly, and the overall thing that I’ve noticed, like the common denominator, (is) everybody feels like (children are) better with less time. So that’s what I’m going to be focused on.
Q: You hold the record for “SNL” impressions (more than 140). Do you have a favorite?
Thompson: They all have a special place. I enjoy doing Steve Harvey, David (Ortiz), (Charles) Barkley. I had fun doing (Al) Sharpton. I try to bring a certain amount of joy to all these characters, even if they’re off-putting to some. I try to show the humane part of every person and then it’s my job to also make it funny.
Q: You’re the go-to host for game show sketches. Do you have a favorite?
Thompson: “Black Jeopardy!” might be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever experienced. Shout out to (writers) Michael Che and Bryan Tucker. What we were able to build, to be able to do it enough times for Tom Hanks to do it and then for Chadwick (Boseman) to do it. I’m beyond blessed to even be in the room (when) those things happen.
Q: Is the show better off with former President Trump out of office, since he was the subject of so many sketches?
Thompson: (Laughs). I think we’re all better off, but now we’re allowed to do non-political cold opens like those (Super Bowl) dudes. It’s refreshing to be able to move on past the muck we were stuck in. It allows for the silly to come back and be explored at a high level, which is always fun for me. I’m big on the silly.
Q: You’ve said you love being on “SNL,” but have you thought about departing?
Thompson: I don’t necessarily have an end time, but I would love to get to 20 (seasons). I feel like I’m very close to that number and that’s a really cool sounding, rounded, even number. At that point, I might be able to let it go a little easier. It’s a very special place to me.