Kenan Thompson will make his Emmys hosting debut Sept. 12. And if anyone has the résumé for the job, it’s him. He may be Saturday Night Live‘s longest-running castmember (he’s about to begin his 20th season), but Thompson, 44, has been cracking up live audiences as far back as 1994, when he was cast on Nickelodeon’s fledgling sketch-comedy show, All That.
Thompson, who grew up in Atlanta, had already landed a couple of plum movie roles by age 16, including one in Disney’s Heavyweights, a Judd Apatow-penned comedy about a weight-loss camp run by an unhinged entrepreneur (Ben Stiller). It was that performance that brought him to the attention of All That creators Brian Robbins (now president of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon) and Michael Tollin.
“There was no doubt from the first time we met him that he’d be an asset to our cast,” Tollin recalls. “And pairing him with Kel Mitchell was magic.”
A millennial Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Thompson and Mitchell would go on to star in their own sitcom (Kenan & Kel, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1996 to 2000) and a movie (1997’s Good Burger, based on the popular All That sketches). But Thompson’s solo sketch work on All That, which originally aired from 1994 to 2000, stands on its own.
“I’m partial to his unforgettable Pierre Escargot, teaching the audience ‘everyday French,’ ” says Tollin of his favorite Thompson character. “And lest we forget his SuperDude, billed as the ‘teenage superhero who makes women sweat!’ ”