During his decade or so on Saturday Night Live, Kenan Thompson has participated in a lot of great sketches. His “Scared Straight” parody with Charles Barkley is one of my favorite SNL moments ever. A case could be made that he’s one of the more underrated cast members in the history of the show, but for those who work in Studio 8H, his greatness can be defined by one story, one epic moment none of them will ever forget.
Five years ago, Kenan Thompson, current co-head writer Bryan Tucker and writer Rob Klein came up with the idea for “What Up With That?”, a bizarre take on the talk show genre that would involve the comedian sweating, rambling, singing, ignoring his guests and bringing out a barrage of weirdos to do things in the background. Until the moment the sketch started, Tucker and Klein were pretty sure it would be too weird for the general public and could possibly bomb. It did not. The audience ate it up and then a funny thing happened.
Watch it below…
Here’s how Bryan Tucker explained it to Slate…
”After the sketch was over, everyone stopped working and lined the backstage hallway to give Kenan a high-five or a pat on the back. Hairstylists, costume designers, PAs, and other cast members clapped, treating the moment like it was a high school football game, and the home team had just won.”
By all accounts, Kenan Thompson wasn’t particularly blown away by the outpouring of support. He apparently high-fived everyone, gave credit to the writers who helped him put it together and then went back to work. It’s not the way most of us would have handled that situation, but then again, I’m not sure there’s a single person reading this article who has been on television in some form or another since they were 15-years-old.
In a recent article, Grantland writer Rembert Browne referred to Kenan Thompson as an ”absurdist master”. He’s right. Kenan is the master of the strange, and whether you like him or not, he’s a good reminder of why the show has worked so well for decades.
Saturday Night Live has always been a mix of different comedic styles. One sketch might be a pretty straight ahead commentary on recent political or pop culture events. It could be followed up by a middle finger toward some minor personality quirk a certain percentage of people do. Following that, we might get a slice of absurdity and irreverence that really doesn’t mean anything. That’s just the way it goes, and the great thing is, all three of those genres score their own hits and misses.
Word is Kenan Thompson may leave Saturday Night Live at the end of the season. Personally, I hope he stays, but if he doesn’t, at least he gave us so many great moments like this.