In 2013, when Kenan Thompson was one of two Black cast members on Saturday Night Live, he gave an interview in which he was asked about the lack of Black women on the show. He was quoted, in part, as saying, “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
The way it came across — that Black women aren’t funny — bothers him to this day.
“I was answering based on the knowledge that I had and however it was written was not what I said… This is what I’ve noticed, basically, and it’s because of these things and blah, blah, blah. What it was taken as is, ‘Oh, you don’t think Black women are funny.’ And that’s egregious,” Thompson said on Monday’s episode of the podcast Jemele Hill Is Unbothered. “Why would I bring my sisters down like that? My queens. Why would I ever do something so crazy and drastic, like, just coming out my mouth, saying that Black women are not funny?”
Thompson said that, up until that point, he had never resented the fact that such questions were often given to him and not the people with the actual power to change the cast. But he said his feelings were really hurt. It affected how people saw him before they’d even met him.
That’s what happened when Leslie Jones, a rare Black female cast member, joined the show in 2014.
“People twisted my words up or whatever,” Thompson said, describing the first day he met Jones and the incoming cast members. “So I saw her, like, looking me up and down, sizing me up… just, like, trying to check me on, ‘Did you really say that f***** up shit or whatever?’ and I’m like, ‘No,’ in the eyes, and within two seconds, we just [were], like, kicking it and just having fun laughing. Every day we would kick it and hang out and laugh.”
Jones’s dressing room was next door to Thompson’s and she “just became my sister,” he said. “She knew that that’s not my heart and, unfortunately, that whole message got twisted, but the outcome is she ended up getting on the show and she did a great job. And now the world knows on a bigger scale how great she is.”
Jones left the sketch show in 2019, one of many cast members Thompson has seen come and go since he joined in 2003. He’s currently SNL‘s longest-running cast member ever, which he said is hard to fathom, especially since he’d hoped to leave for his own project years ago. Finally, after several attempts in development, his sitcom, Kenan, premieres Feb. 16. But he’s changed his mind and now intends to stay at 30 Rock, at least for now.
“As long as my wife is not overly upset about all the travel or the back and forth or not being at home enough of it all, I’d like to keep working, man,” Thompson said. “It’s not that much of a burden on me like that. Like, I’ve been doing it for so long, like, I know how it works. So the challenge is kind of on myself, however much I want to, you know, give to it or try to create new things and stuff like that. But as far as jumping in and everybody’s kinda got stuff for me to do, I can do that in my sleep. So I would love to get to 20 [seasons], I think. You know what I mean? It’s so close, and that’s a cool number.”
He joked that he might change his mind “if people start just, you know, throwing millions and bajillions of dollars at me.”
Thompson also dished on the most impressive hosts on SNL over the years: “Between [Tom] Hanks and Dave [Chappelle] and Eddie [Murphy], I would say.”
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