“It was the most nervous experience of my life,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on stands now. “I had never done stand-up and I was up against all stand-ups. They were crushing it.”
But it wasn’t like he was inexperienced.
In 1994, Thompson landed his first starring role alongside actor Kel Mitchell in Nickelodeon’s comic variety show All That.
“Right away it made a splash, but it wasn’t like people were tracking me down the street,” he says of early fame. “We would go to the mall and stand around just to see if people would notice us, but they didn’t care. It kept us humble.”
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The success of their popular “Keenan and Kel” sketch on All That would lead to a sitcom of the same name and the 1997 film Good Burger.
But for Thompson, SNL was always a goal. “Everybody that has tried out for it knows that if you get there and you get a chance to do it well, your life is going to be completely different,” he says.
- For more on Kenan Thompson pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands now
Now the longest-running cast member on the sketch comedy show, Thompson, 39, says it’s a title he’s not planning to relinquish anytime soon.
“I’m going to try to make that record as long as possible,” he says. “There’s no reason for me to run out the door. I feel very lucky.”