Kenan Thompson—Sit Down Shut Up, Saturday Night Live—02/27/09

Kenan Thompson broke out (alongside Kel Mitchell) on the Nickelodeon sketch show All That, followed by Kenan & Kel. Now he's a regular on the sketch comedy mothership, Saturday Night Live. He has appeared in seventeen movies, including Snakes on a Plane, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, and Fat Albert (in the title role). Most recently, he took on the role of Principal Sue Sezno on the animated FOX sitcom Sit Down Shut Up. We spoke at San Francisco's Moscone Center on the occasion of the 2009 WonderCon.

G: You’ve played a woman before.

KT: Yes. Of course. A few times.

G: A few times. What’s the key? What’s the trick to passing that off? You’re a manly man—

KT: Yeah.

G: How do you transform yourself?

KT: I guess you just gotta lady it up, you know what I mean? You can’t be a man in lady’s clothes, you know? You kind of got to get into actually being as much of a woman as possible so that people can believe the jokes, I guess.

G: Are there observational things that you’ve picked up that maybe you use as a kind of hook to make that work?

KT: No, it usually just happens whenever I put a bra on, you know what I mean?

G: (Laughs.)

/content/interviews/284/7.jpgKT: I just start to just feel it. Put the heels on and all that shit, and you see yourself in the mirror, and, like, you’re a lady. And they dress you all the way up at SNL. Lipstick, nails, you know what I mean? The whole works. And once you can’t walk normally because you’re wearing heels, you have to walk like a lady. So it kind of just does it for you...

G: In the promo reel that’s making the rounds on the internet, you’re in a wig at the table read.

(Chuckling.) Mm-hm.

G: My theory is you’re the only one who’s really demonstrating his commitment.

KT: That’s right. (Laughs.) We’re trying to make it believable for people that watch that trailer. So I had to wear a wig.

G: I guess it’s important to ask you to explain your character a little bit since we haven’t seen the show yet.

/content/interviews/284/9.jpgKT: I’m—she’s like a vice-principal lady who was kind of happy with that position—not really too much responsibility—but something happens where, like, the principal doesn’t show up for work so she becomes the acting principal, and she’s got all this responsibility all of a sudden. And she’s like, you know, "Do it, do that, do that"; it could all be like the wrong information, but you can’t tell her that she’s wrong. You know? She’s that person. A lot of attitude, a lot of sass. She's a little scandalous: she’s always trying to like scam money out of something, for the school or whatever. I guess she’s a little—she’s slightly incompetent, but she’s funny. She’s cool.

G: What sort of experimentation went into developing the character or the voice? Or did it just come right to you?

KT: Well, I just did this voice that I thought sounded like a lady, I guess, and they thought it was funny. It’s kind of like one of my "go to" voices when I do ladies. I haven’t really used it as much as I thought I did 'cause it’s still pretty new and people haven’t really heard it. So it worked for this character. And hopefully we're gonna stick it on that character for awhile.

G: There’s thirteen episodes so far that are in the can? Or how does that work?

KT: I think so. I know we did, like, a lot. And last time I looked it was like ten or eleven, so we might have done a couple more. But it’s not all done. 'Cause they have to do the animation, and we have to re-dub it to the animation and stuff like that. I think we did the first one over, just now, so it’s a long process.

/content/interviews/284/2.jpgG: What kind of merchandising products do you think we might expect to see from your character? What would you like to see?

KT: I would like to see maybe her hair become like a thing for—

G: Foam?

KT: Yeah, like she could take different hairpieces and put them on—stuff like that. She’s a big lady. Maybe she has some Lane Bryant gift certificates or something in her purse. (Laughs.)

G: What kind of bosses are Josh [Weinstein] and Mitch [Hurwitz]?

KT: Great. They’re great. Josh is the sweetest guy in the world. He’s this totally cool dude. He’s always like—he never has anything bad to say about a performance. He’s just like “Let’s just try it one more time. Let’s try to get it this way.” And it’s awesome. He’s super-funny and super-talented. He kind of does all the work by himself. And we’re all really lucky that we have a writer like Mitch on this one. You know, we’ll feel good about coming up with, like, a little two-second ad-lib that might help the situation, but he’s got this ninety-percent back-story for the whole cartoon that he does all by himself, so he’s a really incredible writer and he’s a cool dude. And we have a lot of fun here. You know, they have a lot of history, because Arnett and those dudes did that show with him. And Arnett’s [Amy] Poehler's husband, so I’m really close to Will. And we’re all like very close, and I just got lucky. You know, [Will] Forte's on the show and Cheri Oteri. It’s a very, like, familiar cast of people that know each other and stuff like that and have worked with each other. So it’s very exciting.

/content/interviews/284/5.jpgG: Do you have any teacher horror stories from your past that were sort of relevant experience for the show?

KT: Teacher horror stories? No, my teachers didn’t like me so much because I was, like, never in class, but I was always ahead of class. So I’d just go to home schooling while I was working out of town, and then I’d come back and I’d, like, be done with the semester. I would just sit in class and like distract people. But other than that, I didn’t have like any crazy, specific teachers that did anything crazy. No sir.

G: Any inspiring teacher you want to shout out to to redeem yourself for doing the show?

KT: (Laughs.) Yeah, I mean this principal lady is kind of modeled after this lady that’s like the principal at my school now. She's tough. She used to be the head of security at the school, and then she became the principal, so that will let you know how big and tough she is. But yeah, should bow to her because she’s cool.

G: Alright, very good.

KT: Yeah, man. Absolutely, hey, thanks.