Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan actually gets some words in with the brainchild behind the “What Up With That?” sketch, SNL veteran and 2020 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series nominee, Kenan Thompson.
Can you believe it’s been 8 years since we were last blessed with a “What Up With That?” Saturday Night Live sketch, the most previous one being in December 2012? This sketch has a special meaning to SNL star Kenan Thompson, since he was the creator of it and it was one of the first original ones he got on the air.
Thankfully this past April, Thompson resurrected Diondre Cole for his Emmy-nominated episode “At Home #2,” where he proves to be the episode MVP (sorry, Brad Pitt!), because he’s not in just one funny sketch—but three, including playing David Ortiz and OJ Simpson.
Thompson is probably SNL’s most reliable player along with fellow 2020 Emmy nominee Kate McKinnon, as you can place him in most sketches and he excels. And despite the pandemic, he brings the same level of energy to his kitchen that he does to 30 Rockefeller Plaza stage, which is quite the feat.
Thompson and I laughed throughout our entire conversation, which included talk about the behind-the-scenes work he put into recording these sketches, what his family did when he was being silly, and why he found that an audience isn’t always necessary for a sketch to be funny.
Awards Daily: You’re nominated for “At Home #2.” In this episode, you play David Ortiz, in what I’m assuming is your own personal kitchen, and you talk about your overhead camera. In addition to your acting work, what kind of camera work and setting up did you do?
Kenan Thompson: Yeah, I did. We had to do basically all of the camera shots and all of the recording, uploading the footage and audio and stuff like that. By the time the second show came around, it was much easier. They sent us out live mics attached to an iPod, that way it had an audio Dropbox already attached to it. They made it as easy as they could for us. We did our thing. But yeah, we set up lights and all kind of stuff. That camera shot was an insert that our great director Osmany Rodriguez did at his house. He made that look pretty seamless. (Laughs)
AD: He did! That looked great. So you did more than just acting. You’re setting up everything. That’s a lot of work.
KT: Yeah, I just trying to make sure I can have any kind of life I want in case things don’t go according to plan! (Laughs)
AD: (Laughs) This was the “Brad Pitt episode.” What was rehearsal like with everyone for that? Did you even know that Brad was going to play Fauci?
KT: No, I had no idea. I feel like the producers and the people who were hands-on with the molding of this show probably knew, but thankfully I stayed blissfully ignorant of stuff like that, because I like to be a fan of the show, too. It was an amazing surprise to see Brad Pitt, knowing that I had “What Up With That?”coming and Big Papi coming and OJ and all that stuff that I was hoping would make it on to the show. It was already going to be an awesome opportunity for me, but to be intro-ed by one of the people who I’ve always mentioned should come host when people ask me that question and my beloved “What Up With That?” sketch, my second original sketch idea I ever got on the show and probably my most beloved sketch I’ve ever created from my own brain, was right after that. I watched Brad Pitt, like holy shit, we’re awesome for having this guy on. He was awesome for doing it, and he did it with passion, just in the moment type of ad-libbing when he said “Live Kind of from All Over.” That was amazing. Then a monologue, where I had my baby in the monologue, and I’m sitting there watching with them, and my daughter is just smiling seeing herself on TV. And then my sketch comes on that I haven’t been able to do, just out of love for my brothers that have left the show. I was able to do it because we were able to get a lot of them back. I was almost crying, too.
AD: That’s so great. I love the “What Up with That?” sketch. In the “At Home #2” episode, you bring the same energy you do in your home that you do when you’re on stage. Was it challenging to bring that live energy to that? How did you get that level of energy up?
KT: It was very challenging. We 1 million percent feed off the energy of audiences. Luckily, that was comfortable shoes for me, so I know where the volume knob is on that sketch energy-wise. Thank god my wife took the kids out for the day, so I could run around all through the house and free to do it at the top of my lungs, without feeling shy about it. That was the best thing for that. That sketch needs all the energy in the world, because of the craziness of it.
AD: It’s a sketch that doesn’t necessarily need a crowd. I love this sketch, but I found it funnier than normal because of Charles Barkley’s expressions.
KT: He did such an amazing job with it, and shout-out to DJ Khaled. It was just amazing. Another tip of the cap to everybody thinking that this is something that’s funny, and it doesn’t matter if I have anything to say or not, which is kind of the point of the sketch.
AD: I was also thinking what other sketches could you have revived. I was thinking of the T.T. and Mario sketch. How would you have done that one around your family? You’d have to have your wife leave with the kids again.
KT: Absolutely. That’s a little “mature” subject matter. Shout-out to the legendary Maya Rudolph.
AD: I’m guilty of being a fan of OJ Simpson’s Twitter feed, and you nailed it with your impression. Where were you filming at the time? You looked tropical.
KT: OJ was on the front porch and yes, shout-out to the legendary Michael Che—I’m surrounded by so many legends. He wrote it, and we’d touched on that a couple of times before, so I knew exactly tone-wise where he was headed with the jokes. Yeah, we were able to pull it off with a Ring light from a front porch. (Laughs) To make it look like a golf course, cause luckily I was in Florida.
AD: That’s awesome. You have so many projects coming out. The show Kenan, Home Alone. You’ve been on a roll, so what was it like to have everything shut down?
KT: It was a mixture of things that shut down and things that I could actually keep going. We started a podcast, me and my buddy, and we had the bigger idea to start a podcast company. I gotta plug the podcast, it’s called You Already Know. There will be other pods, and there’s a plan for that, stuff that I can actually get rolling without having to use people or a whole bunch of other gatherings of people. Just trying to stay busy with that, with voice-overs, and basically continuing to set up meetings for other pitch ideas and stuff like that.
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