Kenan Thompson on His Career-Launching Secret Weapon as a Comic: 'I Have a Cute Face'

The Saturday Night Live star also shared his plans for a future on the NBC sketch comedy show in the wake of recent departures by costars Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant and Kyle Mooney

Kenan Thompson
Photo: Shahar Azran/Getty

You can take Kenan Thompson's career at face value.

The history-making Saturday Night Live star chatted with PEOPLE on Monday night about his early career as an actor and how he transitioned into the world of comedy.

"Growing up, I was always given comic relief roles or lines in plays even if they were serious," Thompson told PEOPLE prior to hosting the 2022 Apollo Spring Benefit in New York City. "I guess because I have a cute face."

Thompson, 44, credits his theater participation as a child for introducing him to a wide array of genres, but comedy was the one that stuck.

"I grew up doing theater," he said. "It's a vast variety of things that you learn in the theater, like drama, some comedy, some Shakespeare," he continues, "But when I started getting jobs, they just continued in the comedy direction, like Mighty Ducks and then Nickelodeon."

He added, "And then SNL for sure was like the official stamp, like you're a comedian. You can call yourself an actor, but you're a comedian."

Kenan Thompson
Shahar Azran/Getty

Thompson joined Saturday Night Live in 2003 and holds the record for the longest-tenured cast member in the show's history.

In July 2021, he made it clear that he didn't have plans to depart any time soon. Nearly a year later, and his intention remains the same.

"I know we at least trying to get to the 50th [season], 'cause that's gonna be a special year, you know what I mean?" Thompson told Entertainment Tonight on Monday. "And then after that, it's like, I don't know exactly how long I can do it."

SNL 5-Timers Club

Several of Thompson's longtime SNL costars — Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant and Kyle Mooney — recently exited the show.

"Of course I'm going to miss my friends," Thompson told PEOPLE Monday night. "They're all very sweet people."

He continued, "I think sometimes we take for granted the time we spend with each other because there's so much work involved in it, but now it's going to be different. I might not see some of them for a super-long time and that's always hard to deal with, but it also encourages people to write for each other and do other projects that will bring you together."

Saturday Night Live
Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

While news of his cast mates' exits was bittersweet, Thompson is keeping a positive outlook on the show's future cast members.

"I look forward to new talent," the comedian said, though he also noted he hopes the "talent that's been there get more of an opportunity if they haven't been getting it. That'll be nice to see."

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