Kenan Thompson bring laughs, nostalgia

Kaitlyn Jakola

A&O Productions Winter Speaker Kenan Thompson, the “Saturday Night Live” cast member known for his work on Nickelodeon comedies during the 1990s, filled approximately 980 audience members with nostalgia during his Friday evening performance.

Three student comedians opened the show, including Communication senior Lex Singer, who took the stage at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, with a story about a police encounter he and his friends had while smoking marijuana.

“I’m getting really nervous and sweaty, so I take off my sweatshirt to cool down, and I realize the only thing I’m wearing underneath is the uniform to my Hebrew school basketball team,” Singer said. “And across the chest, it says, ‘Beth Israel Ballers.’ And I think to myself, ‘I can’t be wearing this going to prison. This is a hate crime waiting to happen.'”

Fellow Communication senior Jake Marcks brought an understated sense of humor to the stage. Marcks shuffled his feet and mumbled lines like, “I stopped buying my parents Christmas presents because I’m just going to inherit them when they die.”

He followed nonverbal impressions of everyday situations with shock-factor jokes about abortions and his “friends with detriments” relationship before welcoming SESP senior Dan Perlman to the stage.

Perlman lamented his awkward nature, explaining why it made him a fan of the death penalty, and questioned his grandmother’s penchant for paintings of Holocaust victims.

“She says when she dies she’s going to leave me over 90 of them,” he said. “Over 90 paintings of heartwarming things like Jews boarding death trains. You can’t hang these up.”

Thompson took the stage after a brief introduction from A&O Chairman Chase Jackson and appeared relaxed as he shared stories of his first acting jobs. He joked about being stereotyped as an overweight black child in those early roles, including parts in the second and third “The Mighty Ducks” movies and in the Ben Stiller film “Heavyweights.”

The audience joined Thompson in a rendition of the “All That!” theme song and cheered for reenactments of some of his better-known characters, including the pseudo-Frenchman Pierre Escargot.

“There is a level of ridiculousness that is just excellent, and Pierre Escargot had all of that,” Thompson said of his favorite role. “A black man from France speaking French but not really, translating it into English and it was crazier than you thought it would be.”

Throughout the evening, Thompson often presented two versions of a story: one “for the kids” he saw in the audience and another for those who preferred the truth. He revealed during the question-and-answer portion that he no longer kept in touch with Kel Mitchell, with whom he appeared on “Kenan and Kel” for four seasons.

“For the little kids in here I’m going to say yes, but the truth is I’m going to say no,” he said. “We’re not as close as we once were. It makes me sad, but he’s not my wife or anything.”

Thompson, who married his longtime girlfriend Christina in November, took the bait when Weinberg sophomore Jason Von Halle approached the microphone during the question-and-answer session and asked to address another audience member.

After calling Weinberg sophomore Caroline Darin to the stage, Von Halle bent to one knee and asked if she would marry him. Darin accepted, and the pair shared a kiss and accepted a hug from Thompson before running out of the auditorium to overwhelming applause.

Von Halle revealed later the proposal was a spontaneous prank he and Darin concocted, admitting he had hoped to bring some excitement into the sentimental show.

“I was pretty entertained by the opening acts, and then Kenan was a little underwhelming for me,” he said. “People were asking questions at the end, and I guess I was just a little bored by these questions that were just surface level and didn’t really entertain me too much.”

Past performers in the yearly series have included lively comedian Bo Burnham and actor Tracy Morgan, whose expletive-laden 2010 performance included jokes that left as many audience members groaning as laughing. Thompson’s conversational form may have left some underwhelmed, but Public Relations Co-director Vivek Sudarsan said A&O was pleased with the unusual take on the event.

“There’s a lot of history behind him that people don’t know,” Sudarsan, a Weinberg senior, said. “It was great to hear what his life story was, and he was really funny in the way he portrayed it.”

A&O announced the show Jan. 13 and began selling tickets a week later. The group also organized Facebook and Twitter contests, asking students to submit their favorite Thompson quote for a chance to attend a meet-and-greet after the show. Thompson suggested both the question session and post-show meeting.

“For a lot of people, this is their childhood hero, or somebody that they watched all the time, so it’s kind of neat to meet them when you’re a little bit older,” Sudarsan said.

While much of the post-show buzz surrounded Von Halle’s proposal, Bruno Peynetti, who won a contest and met Thompson after the show, said he liked seeing the real side of one of his favorite childhood actors.

“The proposal was…interesting,” said Peynetti, a McCormick freshman who watched dubbed versions of “Kenan and Kel” while growing up in Mexico. “(But) I liked how (Thompson) talked about his career, not only just answering questions and all that, but going through his whole life.”

Talking to the daily after the show, Thompson said he likes performing on college campuses because of the atmosphere. The Atlanta native attended Santa Monica College when he first moved to Los Angeles but dropped out after two years with little academic progress. He said that he plans to leave SNL after next season and may return to school for education as well as inspiration.

“I want to go to film school, I still do, absolutely,” he said. “I would have loved to live on campus and have the college experience for sure. That’s where all
the comedy movies come from.”

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