Interviews: Kenan Thompson on Barbershop 2

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Kenan Thompson was the new kid on the block in Barbershop 2: Back in Business. “I mean, you know, you get your little rookie gitters, but everybody made me feel real comfortable so I wasn’t too out of my league. I didn’t want to disturb the herd to much. I just came in trying to be professional, try to be a little funny. Once they saw that, I guess everybody was happy that they didn’t have to worry about me doing my part. We had a good time from then on.”

He gets to do lots of ad-lib on Saturday Night Live every week, but for the film he respected the writers. “I know they spend a lot of time doing it, staying up late, smoking cigarettes. You try to give them their words, and then you ad-lib. Most of the stuff toward the end of the scene was probably ad-lib.” He got the Saturday Night Live gig right after his role in “Barbershop 2”. His audition for the TV show was quite a challenge.

“I had to do stand-up comedy,” he says about the tryout. “For some reason everybody thinks that I’m a comedian. I’m pretty funny, I guess. I know what funny is. But I didn’t grow up doing stand-up. I grew up doing TV. It was my first time doing standup comedy, I’m like, ‘That’s my audition? My one chance?’ So I came up with like five minutes of material and did it on this stage smaller than this table in front of old people. For some reason they laughed at it and I’m on the show now. I did like Al Sharpton calling Jesse Jackson because he was stuck in Afganistan. Just something really dumb and lame. But, they liked it so, hey.”

Thompson does get to contribute to the sketches every week. “They encourage you to write pretty much, especially me having such a child-oriented background. Having such a young face and all of that. If I don’t write for myself, I’d probably be playing like somebody’s daughter, somebody’s son, nephew, somebody’s brand new baby boy. I played Bobbi Kristina. I did that already. They had me dressing up, putting on wigs and carrying on. That’s how the sketch world goes. They have three girls, four girls, but Tina only likes to do “Update” pretty much. She’s been doing more sketches lately.”

He says he was a fan of Cedric the Entertainer before joining the sequel. “Yeah, running back into Cedric was great. I worked with him before on the Steve Harvey Show back in the day. We did a couple of episodes of that and they were always real nice to us then, coaching us and letting us know what’s funny, and to try this and try that. Seeing him again, it was just like, me and him in a couple of scenes. It didn’t make the movie but it was still funny. But that was cool. It was a real honor and privilege to be a colleague of someone who was so funny. It’s like, I must be kind of funny, I guess.”

Funnily enough, Kenan is now rumored to be up for the lead role in Bill Cosby’s big screen version of Fat Albert. Before that was known, we asked him what people inspired him to become an actor. “I was born right when cable came out. So cable really inspired me to want to be on TV because there were all these movies on all day. You just sit there and soak in all. Like Bill Cosby kept coming on, and I really started looking up to Bill Cosby and following him stuff, and going back further, I got the book and started learning about Fat Albert and all of that. Eddie, whoever did it. Marlon, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, you name them. Jamie. I watch them all, learn from them all. Really learn their styles. Then you learn and develop your own style.”

He adds that the success of his series Kenan and Kel kept casting directors from being able to look past his character from the show. “That’s exactly what happened. I ain’t been on Nickelodeon since 2000, and it’s 2004 now and we’re just now coming out with the Barbershop thing. That’s been my biggest opportunity since leaving Nickelodeon, pretty much. The thing about it was was ‘Where your buddy at? Why aren’t you with him?’ I was like there’s really no point of us working well together for 8 years and then not being able to get another job in the business again, so we parted ways to really establish ourselves in the business as individual. I think we’ve both been doing that. But it was tough for them to see me outside of him, number one, and then outside of a child, number two, and take me seriously, number three.” Kenan and Kel are still friends, of course. “I’m Godfather to his first born.”

Many people are probably interested in what a SNL weekly schedule is like. “We spend all night Tuesday night writing till like 8 o’clock Wednesday morning. You gotta turn right around and be back Wednesday at like 3 o’clock to do a read through. It’s emotional because you don’t know if your sketch is gonna get on, then if it gets cut, you shake it off or whatever. Then if it gets accepted and it moves all the way to Saturday and it may only get cut at 10:30, that’s emotional again. You gotta show to do at 11 and you gotta shake that off and then go be funny. It’s hard. It’s rough because it’s like a Monday through Saturday job. You party all night Saturday then you sleep Sunday away, pretty much. Then you just working. While I’m in New York, I’m always just working, work, work. I leave there just to get some peace of mind. That’s why we probably have like, we’re on for two weeks, then off for a week, then on for three weeks, off for – because it’s high stress.”

So what’s next for Kenan? “I wanna do a comedy album that’s got some songs on them, it might have a rap on it too. I wanna be just versatile, like I can move into drama or theater or whatever. That’s what we did before the comedy thing started. It wasn’t really something I worked at until I got on the shows and had to start paying attention to it. But I want an Oscar, but they don’t really give Oscars to comedians. Not for a comedy movie. I don’t even think there’s even a comedy category, actually. If you want that, you gotta get into heavy-hitting stuff so, I’ll get into it.”

Barbershop 2: Back in Business opens nationwide on Friday, February 6.