Earlier this week, the Huffington Post posted an article entitled, ‘After 14 Years, It’s Time to Give Kenan Thompson the Respect He Deserves,’ imploring critics and longtime Saturday Night Live fans to give the veteran cast member recognition as one of the show’s greatest performers.
I have been watching Saturday Night Live for 15 years. I’m a huge fan. I’ve obsessed over every facet of the show, from the sketches to the sordid and endlessly fascinating ‘behind the scenes’ politics. My parents raised me on the works of Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Hader and numerous other legendary cast members who bought a dynamic, versatile and unique range of impressions and characters to show.
Kenan is in no way on their level.
Kenan is always Kenan. His trademark mannerisms and quirks never seem to change no matter who he is playing; he doesn’t disappear into a role the way Phil Hartman or Dan Aykroyd or Will Ferrell or Bill Hader did. His Al Sharpton, his Steve Harvey, even his Bill Cosby carry much of the same peccadillos, even though they are three very distinct personalities. As the article correctly points out, Kenan doesn’t have the prestigious sketch comedy training of The Groundlings or Second City; he is a t.v. actor, and has always been one, and his acting skills aren’t all that advanced from his time on All That. His bug-eyed mugging, exaggerated reaction shots, and contorted facial expressions are not the mark of a truly experienced actor; they’re novice at best. At his most obnoxious, Kenan’s portrayals harken back to the unsavory and thankfully long gone Steppin Fetchit minstrel acts of the 1940s’.
Even if you want to play on SNL’s notorious racial politics and how Kenan could be seen as the first African American performer to really hold a commanding presence in the cast, it still doesn’t make him better than Tim Meadows, Garrett Morris, or numerous other more talented former cast members who are far more diverse and dynamic than Kenan. Chris Rock, as underutilized as he was during his time in the cast, was still a more original and unique voice. Hell, even Tracy Morgan, while not the most technically gifted performer, was funnier, more original and more dangerous than Kenan. Leslie Jones brings me more to the table now, comedically speaking, than Kenan has in his 14 seasons. His most popular sketch, What’s Up with That?, got old after about three installments, because it was built around a thin premise that never changed much from one to the other.
Does it sound like I have a personal vendetta against Kenan? Well, kind of, yea. As an SNL fan, Kenan has kept the show in a limbo stage where it can’t transition from one era to the next. While newer, talented cast members still struggle for airtime, Kenan is out there taking time from cast members who could bring something far more original to the table than his bug eyes and shouting.
No performer should stay on SNL for more than seven years, maybe eight if you’re an MVP (Hader, Hartman, Jason Sudeikis). Darrell Hammond was a waste of space his last five years on the show. Fred Armisen has 11 seasons to his name, but it was clear by his 7th year he had run out of ideas and became a shadow of his former self. Kevin Nealon went from being a prominent cast member to a glorified extra in his final season. It’s time for Kenan to bow out gracefully. He’s not adding anything to the show. He never really has.