Kenan Thompson Speaks On Cosby, Controversy And Nearly 2 Decades Of ‘SNL’

Kenan Thompson opened up about taking inspiration from “The Cosby Show,” processing race relations in the U.S. and starring for nearly two decades on “Saturday Night Live” in an interview with Variety published Wednesday. 

The actor and comedian ― who also appears as the titular character on “Kenan,” an NBC sitcom about a single father raising two daughters (set to premiere Feb. 16) ― said that he feels it’s important for him to offer a positive representation of a Black father on television, similar to what “The Cosby Show” provided in the 1980s. 

“In its time, ‘The Cosby Show’ was probably one of the greatest shows that had lived,” Thompson, himself the father of two daughters, told Variety. “It was a show that brought everybody together, and it was all positive.”

Thompson acknowledged that the revelations of sexual abuse that ended Bill Cosby’s career and sent the actor formerly known as “America’s dad” to prison made it “tough to separate the man from the art,” adding that his own show “won’t have drama attached to it like that.”

On the subject of injustice, he said that 2020’s conversations regarding police brutality and systemic racism had made him more thoughtful about speaking up and “just wanting to be in the fight.”

“Having to fight from a distance because I have to watch my household,” Thompson said. “But making sure, however I can use my platform, that I would do that. Trying to put out the fires of extreme frustration and anger and channeling that energy into where it can actually make direct change, or just paying attention to Stacey Abrams in general.”

He also used the interview to address controversial comments he had made when speaking with TVGuide.com in 2013. At the time, Thompson said that “SNL” hadn’t cast many Black women because there was a lack of available talent. At the time, he called it “a tough part” of the business and said that at auditions, “they just never find ones that are ready.” 

In the Variety interview, Thompson declared, “I would never say anything derogatory towards Black women ― like, I would never say Black women aren’t funny or anything like that.” He argued that he had misspoken in 2013 and should have said that the improv comedy troupes that serve as training grounds for comedians need to prioritize hiring Black female talent.

And far as his own “SNL” career goes, he said he had no immediate plans to leave the show.

“I have a certain number [of seasons] I would love to get to,” said Thompson, who started on the show in 2003. “I think 20 is a good, round, even number that I’m close to.”

Read the full Variety interview here.

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