When Kenan Thompson first joined the cast of “All That,” he said he and his fellow cast members felt like rock stars.
“Until we would go to the mall, and no one knew who we were,” Thompson told The Temple News yesterday.
Last night, Thompson visited Main Campus as part of XFINITY’s Professor of Entertainment contest, where students from multiple colleges voted to win a performance from Thompson on campus. At 7 p.m., the 13-season cast member of “Saturday Night Live” took the stage at Tomlinson Theater and talked about his life—“but in a funny way,” he said.
When he first landed a gig with the children’s comedy-sketch show in 1994, Thompson said he was shy around his co-stars. It seemed like everyone on the cast was already friends, and he was nervous.
But as soon as he got to work, Thompson said his reservations disappeared.
“Once we got on set, it was like a free-for-all,” he said. “Whenever we would go to work, it was like a giant play-land.”
Last night, Thompson wasn’t just a child star or a stand-up comedian—he was a professor, true to the show’s title.
At the sound of his new title, he laughed, cleared his throat and straightened an imaginary tie.
“I’m going to lay down the life knowledge,” he said.
“It affords me a way to kind of just tell my story,” Thompson added. “It’s what I’ve been going through, what it’s like. Funny little stories, hopefully.”
Thompson’s story started in Atlanta, where he was born and raised. While there, he said, there weren’t a lot of luxuries. He watched TV to keep himself busy, and he knew when he was 3 years old that he “wanted to be involved in that world,” Thompson told an audience of about 400 students.
But there’s a difference, Thompson said, between being famous on TV and actually working as an actor.
“The difference is there are bills that need to be paid,” Thompson said. “There’s real life out there. I’ve been through all that.”
“There’s a lot of starving artists out there,” he added. “Different people get different opportunities.”
Melissa Rakiro, a senior theater major with a concentration in acting, said Thompson’s performance was “hilarious,” but also inspiring. Rakiro said as an aspiring actor, she sometimes worries about her future in the industry.
“I liked it because it touched on a black actor’s struggle,” Rakiro said. “It had a positive message.”
“If they don’t really know what it’s like to be a for-hire actor, hopefully this will shed a little light on that,” Thompson said. “It’s not all glitz and glamour. It’s a pretty tough grind for most people throughout their entire careers.”
It was great, Rakiro said, to get some perspective from a successful, long-standing SNL cast member.
“There’s no one road to success, which he sort of touched on,” she added.
Thompson said he got where he is today “piece by piece by piece.” Each role, from one of his earliest as a broadcaster on “Real News for Kids” in 1994, to his 2006 part as Troy in “Snakes on a Plane,” is like climbing a mountain.
“It’s cool to always climb that mountain,” Thompson said. “You don’t know how things are going to come out, you know?”
Thompson’s stand-up ended with a Q&A session with students. When they registered to attend the event online, students had the opportunity to submit questions for Thompson to answer. About 40 were chosen, and those students asked Thompson their questions directly.
Mary Cosentini said her question for Thompson touched on a personal issue. As an undeclared freshman, Cosentini isn’t yet sure what she wants to study, or which career path to choose.
“Clearly he has an idea of what he likes to do,” she said. “I wanted to know what his second choice for a career would be.”
“SWAT team,” Thompson answered immediately. “I would want to be a kick-a– sniper.”
Thompson told the audience he enjoyed performing at Temple and answering students’ questions.
“I’m glad it was a nice, intimate gathering,” Thompson said.
“I hope you learned something.”
Michaela Winberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mwinberg_
Video by Harrison Brink.