The length of Kenan Thompson’s tenure on Saturday Night Live has become a running joke on Saturday Night Live. And he knows it.
During Donald Glover’s recent monologue, Thompson acknowledged just how long it’s been since he first auditioned in 2003. After entering his 15th season in 2017, he became the longest-serving cast member, dethroning previous record holder Darrell Hammond.
The fact that he’s stayed on is impressive — but the consensus is that if you’re not leaving SNL, you probably don’t have anywhere better to go. Or something else is holding you back
In a Hollywood Reporter interview, Thompson explained what his long tenure came down to.
“I think about leaving and I fear it,” he said. “This is such a special place, you want to do your part here, but you also want to make room for people that are coming behind you.”
It’s an understandable fear. Working in Hollywood is a perpetual struggle to stave of unemployment, and Thompson has found one of the most consistent, high-profile gigs that also plays to his strengths. ’90s kids will remember that Thompson came up in the kids equivalent to SNL, Nickelodeon’s sketch show All That.
There were even rumors back in 2014 that Thompson might be leaving, but SNL boss Lorne Michaels convinced him otherwise. In a 2017 Huffington Post interview, previous SNL writer Tina Fey said, “Back in Season 35, I put a fatal flaw in the system: If you take out Kenan Thompson, the studio will explode.”
Though Thompson isn’t the loudest talent on the show, he aptly describes himself in the THR interview as “well-rounded” and a “team player,” meaning he’s known for focusing on the success of the overall sketch rather than just himself.
But now, he’s starting to doubt that:
This was the first year I really started feeling like, ‘OK, I could push out of it now.’ Chris Redd is super-duper strong, and I really look forward to his potential on the show. That was the first time I thought, ‘Maybe I should give this dude more room.’ If that’s the case, then it might be time to move on.
While that’s a noble sentiment, it also does raise questions about why it feels like SNL is only willing to make room for one to two black male actors at once — but has limitless spots for white dudes.
Thompson says he does not have any actual solid plans for moving on. And, he admitted, “I’m not overly excited about going back to auditioning.”
Ultimately, Thompson has been an essential and long-running cast member because he does the job without much ego.
“I’ve also known that I need people. If I was able to sit down and type a sketch all by myself, I might be more of a dick,” he said. “I’m humble enough to know that I do well when I’m working with others.”
H/T A. V. Club
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