Theater Review: Kenan Thompson

Comedian Whitmer Thomas, known for appearances on “Ben and Kate” and “Workaholics,” opens up for comedian Kenan Thompson Wednesday night at Stephens Auditorium. 

Melissa Garrett

Comedian Kenan Thompson performed for an intimate audience of a couple hundred people last night at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. Of the people who attended, the majority were ISU students, who were happy to fill the front rows of the theater.

The event, sponsored by SUB, lasted roughly an hour and 45 minutes, with Whitmer (Whit) Thomas as the opening comedian.

SUB president Hannah Nation opened the floor for Thomas, who strolled out from behind the stage carrying a small spiral notebook and wearing a powder blue oversized sweater with loose jeans extending toward his exposed ankles, leading to his red scrunchy socks with black dress shoes. Thomas paired this all with his infra-red zip-jacket, hipster glasses and messy, light brown hair, which he could not resist running his fingers through during his performance. 

“My name is Whit and I’m from Alabama, and those are the most important things about me,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ style of humor was largely to poke fun at himself and his life, which the audience found highly amusing. 

Of his recent need for glasses, Thomas joked about how unrecognizable he is to passersby on the street who knew him prior to his glasses-wearing days.

“I’ve been diagnosed with glasses,” Thomas said. “So, I’ve got about 60 years to live.” 

Reflecting on his childhood, Thomas describes himself as “a pretty cool guy.” Thomas told a tale (which he claims to be true) of an elder gentleman stalker he had when he was a kid. Claiming that the stalker took Thomas home with him and had a bathtub full of dirty water and multiple photos of him, from the day he was born up until later in his childhood, needless to say Thomas surprised the audience when he joked that his stalker was like his first big fan. 

After this, Thomas joked that for the longest time he was afraid of being murdered, so he developed a “murder prevention plan” involving a knife and ketchup. In his mind, a “big, fat murderer and a tall skinny murderer (like Home Alone-style guys if they were murderers)” would come to his home and attempt to kill his whole family, but since Thomas would cover himself in ketchup and lie on the floor with the knife next to him, he imagined the murderers would think they already killed him and leave him alone. 

Some of the other highlights of Thomas’ performance included a debate on southern rednecks versus Californian “bros,” dissing his dad, and impressions of Blink 182’s two main singers singing “I Miss You”, Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective,” Wanda Sykes (“The key to this impression is, “OOOOOOOO!”), and multiple Donald Trump movie synopses (“Titanic”, “Deadpool”, “Dark Knight”). 

Thomas joked that his impressions were ones “anyone can do” and said, of his comedy style, “I don’t mean to offend anybody or ever make a point about anything.” 

After roughly 40 minutes, Whitmer turned the stage over to “the man you’ve all been waiting for… Kenan Thompson!” 

Loud cheers erupted from the audience, who excitedly clapped and watched as the spotlight veered to Thompson, who smilingly strutted out in a head-to-toe grey sweatsuit with bright green lettering on the sweatshirt and black and white sneakers. 

Smiling and engaging the crowd, the first thing Thompson said, after shielding his eyes, was, “That’s a bright-a** light. Are there black people here? (Cheers are heard in the crowd.) Where have you been all my life? I’ve been looking for you… unsuccessfully.” 

Setting the crowd up for a night filled with laughter, Thompson went ahead and told the audience about his journey from his humble roots to his regular Saturday Night Live performances. 

Introducing himself, Thompson said, “My name is Kenan and I’m a little boy from Georgia.” 

Saying he comes from “very humble beginnings,” Thompson said when he was a little kid he enjoyed watching TV a lot with his grandma, mystified by “The Price Is Right”. 

Thompson said there were a lot of opportunities for “the business” in Atlanta and joked about how his first job was for a fried chicken restaurant commercial.

At just 10 years old, Thompson was supposed to be fishing with his “fake gran-dad” in the commercial and his first line was, “The fish ain’t biting today, grandpa,” to which his fake grandpa responded by offering him fried chicken instead. Thompson was instructed to take a bite of the chicken, which he did, but he was told, “No, take a bigger bite!” to which he remembers thinking, “This is racist as hell.”

The audience lapped up his story, as Thompson launched into his experience on “Reel News For Kids,” in which kids were supposed to give the news for other kids, which Thompson joked, “Because kids watch the news…” Thompson’s job on the show was a movie critic, where he would go see G-rated “kids” movies and rate them on a scale from 1-4 popcorn. Thompson loved the job and got to interview kids, notably from Disney’s “The Mighty Ducks” movie about a youth hockey team. 

Enchanted by the ice arena and the cool “Mighty Ducks” kids, Thompson auditioned for the sequel and secured a role in the sequel and in “D3: The Mighty Ducks” with his iconic “knucklepuck“, which he said was a “fun time.” 

Also talking about “Heavyweights” with Ben Stiller, Thompson said, “Overall I would say I had a good Disney experience–you know what I’m saying? I can’t say the same for everybody.” 

Thompson said the “D3” people introduced him to what many fans know him from: Nickelodeon’s “All That”. He immediately engaged the cheering crowd by inviting them to sing the “All That” theme song, famously sung by TLC. 

Thompson recalls all the free chocolate available to him on the “All That” set and how there was a lot of “free and sticky” orange soda for him on “Kenan & Kel”, his Nickelodeon spinoff show with fellow “All That” costar Kel Mitchell. 

Saying he also had a good Nickelodeon experience, Thompson said, “After I left Nickelodeon sh*t got weird and I had to prove I could entertain adults.” 

Thompson took odds and ends jobs, such as an episode of “Felicity” and a minor role in “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” among other jobs. 

Amidst his jobs, Thompson said he heard that Tracy Morgan left “SNL” and “there was room for more blackness… So I got my stick and satchel… (and mimed walking toward SNL).” 

Thompson said his audition was terrifying for SNL, given that he had never done standup comedy before and was not used to engaging the audience. In his audition, he did a sketch of a phone call between Al Sharpton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, “since they would have something to talk about, apparently.” 

After a call back and then going back to L.A. for an on-camera call back, Thompson heard nothing for a week, but he was called up for a live audition in New York, so he went there and wound up getting the job. Thompson said he is now wrapping up his 13th season on SNL, which he seemed wow-ed by. 

As the night went on, Thompson touched on his filmography and how he coveted the role of “Fat Albert”, where he worked with Bill Cosby, who he admired at the time. Cosby gave him some weird advice and said, of Thompson’s blossoming career, “When the movie comes out, you’re gonna need two d*cks because the women are gonna be all over you.” 

Humorously appalled and cringing, Thompson said to the laughing audience, “Can you imagine?”

Thompson said multiple times that he loves SNL and has most enjoyed playing “What Up With That” dude, “Scared Straight” dude, Al Sharpton and David Ortiz on the show.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” Thompson said, wrapping up the night. “I’m a proud husband and father now.”

After his formal performance, Thompson opened the floor for Q&A as the lights lit up the audience:

Q: Does he hang out with Kel still?

A: Thompson said he didn’t for a while, but now he does.

Q: What’s your all-time favorite SNL character?

A: Landshark

Q: If you could have any sandwich right now, what would you have?

A: Chick-Fil-A.

Q: Have you ever had a regular job?

A: Cutting grass–but Thompson said he was not good at it. 

Q: Favorite SNL host of all time?

A: Thompson recalled Ashlee Simpson hosting, with her famous lip sync fail, and also said he was surprised by Liam Neeson and Matthew McConaughey.

Q: Is it hard to keep a straight face on set?

A: Thompson said, “It’s hard to sit there when it’s immensely funny.” He tries to wait to laugh until his mic is off, but “sometimes you just can’t help it.” 

Q: Were there any characters he refused to do?

A: Thompson said he backed out of the Kissing Family pretty quickly. 

Q: Have you ever thought about a career as a rapper?

A: Yes, but he realized he couldn’t freestyle.

Q: Any tips for aspiring actors?

A: “Ignore the word ‘no,'” and, “It’s a tough road–not an easy road.”

Q: Who is your dream host for SNL, alive or dead?

A: Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-Pitt (together), Will Smith or Dave Chapelle 

Q: Have you ever met anyone you’ve impersonated?

A: Whoopi Goldberg (She thought it was cool he impersonated her); Steve Harvey (Harvey told him to cut it out); Al Sharpton (He thought Thompson’s impersonation was great). 

During the Q&A a bartender from Es Tas offered Thompson the chance to “relive his love for orange soda” at the bars, to which Thompson said, “Drinks on me, everybody! I’ll meet you all there!” Everyone cheered, but by the end of the show Thompson admitted that he was tired and was going home. 

Another girl asked Thompson for a high five and wound up getting to go on stage and getting both a high five and a hug from the comedian.

Gracious toward the audience, Thompson said, “I want to thank you dearly for coming out… Remember no means no, and yes means twice…(laughs from the audience) Nah, I’m just kidding.” 

Continuing with his winning sarcasm, Thompson parted with, “Thanks for coming out in the cold–I know there’s a lot of stuff to do in Ames.”

Grinning and waving, Thompson took a little bow as the audience rose to their feet in loud applause and cheers as Thompson walked in fake slow-motion off the stage, laughing and smiling as he went. 

Growing up watching Thompson on “All That” and seeing him live on Saturday nights, seeing him perform live was no letdown. Thompson gave it his all and provided a narrative description of how he went from being a kid on a comedy show to a beloved regular comedian on SNL. Though the theater could have been fuller, having an intimate audience was perfect for Thompson and Thomas’ performance, especially for the surprise Q&A at the end.