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Kenan Thompson Knows Why 'Saturday Night: Live' Won't Die

By Andrew Sanford | Celebrity | June 18, 2024 |

By Andrew Sanford | Celebrity | June 18, 2024 |


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Kenan Thompson is the longest-tenured cast member on Saturday Night: Live. He’s been on the show for close to twenty-one years. That’s almost half as long as the show has existed. That’s a long time! It isn’t even the first sketch show he ever did. Before SNL, Thompson was a cast member of All That, a sketch show aimed at children. It was wildly successful and led to Kenan getting a spinoff show with comedy partner Kel Mitchell. Kenan knows what he’s talking about, so it makes sense that he would have a good idea as to why SNL is still chugging along.

Saturday Night: Live will hit its 50th anniversary next year. The comedy show has seen ups, downs, and everything in between. It has weathered storms with aplomb and is arguably as popular as ever. It’s a cultural touchstone and often a king and queen maker of new talent. The show likely isn’t ending anytime soon and would instead see a change of leadership. But how has the show made it for so long?

Thompson said at Cannes Lions that part of the show’s success is that it is “constantly changing.” He explained, “Every week there’s a new host, every season there’s a new cast, also it’s weird how the crowd all seems to stay young, and I keep getting older.” The format does allow for freshness on the show. Sometimes it can feel like retreading old ground, but all it takes is a new person (host or cast member) to liven things up. Kenan also credits the show’s embrace of diversity.

“It’s more than format changes, it’s reach,” Thompson explained. “For decades, SNL had only one maybe two Black cast members. Today, I’m one of five, and we also have Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ members in our cast. It’s just not about appearances; it allows the show to do comedy, which it never could before. With a sketch like ‘Black Jeopardy’, it only works if we have enough Black cast members to make it feel authentic to the community. Sketches like ‘Black Jeopardy’ open up the show to a whole new audience who never felt the show was for them.”

Kenan also credits the man who created SNL for knowing how to appeal to a wide base. “My boss Lorne Michaels likes to remind us that we’re on in all 52 states. It’s his way of saying we’re a big tent show and our mission is to appeal to all ages and ideologies, just one night when we Americans and all of us across the globe come together and laugh at stuff. The big tent that Lorne Michaels always talks about just keeps getting bigger.”

Something else that helps SNL stay in the zeitgeist is its penchant for viral moments. The show has had these before. They were “water cooler” moments. Now that the internet is one big water cooler, these moments happen more frequently. When asked about it, Kenan claims that it isn’t easy to explain. “I don’t know. This past year, SNL did many sketches about people in the national spotlight - Taylor Swift, George Santos - and yet the biggest sketch of all was about Beavis and Butthead, two cartoon characters from 30 years ago.”

Kenan continued, saying, “You can’t manufacture a cultural moment. All you can do is maintain a level of quality and consistency that opens the door for those moments to happen. I was taught how to be consistent by greats like Maya Rudolph and Bob Newhart.” The man knows what he’s talking about! It’s almost like he’s been doing this for decades. He may be doing it for decades more.