Tragic Details About Kenan Thompson

Kenan Thompson might just be the biggest success story in the world of sketch comedy. A generation of television viewers grew up watching him play an entertaining assortment of characters on the Nickelodeon series "All That," including the bathtub-dwelling "Everyday French" instructor Pierre Escargot, who taught kids how to say silly sentences like "May I slap you with my spicy burrito?" en français.

Thompson would go on to star on the Nickelodeon sitcom "Kenan & Kel" and the "Good Burger" movie before outgrowing the kids' table and landing a seat at Big Nick's Greek Diner. Well, his costumed character was actually in a giant lobster tank in the classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but it was right where Kenan wanted to be. He joined "SNL" in 2003, and by 2017, no one had been a member of the cast longer than him. "I don't really know what to do at this point, as far as leaving is concerned," Thompson told Entertainment Weekly in 2021. "Like, why should I ever have to leave?"

Finding that level of success after starting out in Hollywood as a kid is rare, but Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins has a theory on why Thompson didn't fall prey to the child star curse. "He was always the same kid," Robbins told The Washington Post. "He has not changed, and I believe that's part of why he has sustained for so long." But while Thompson's life might seem as charmed as they come, it hasn't always been "All That."

Getting his start in acting wasn't easy

Kenan Thompson's mother, Ann Thompson, noticed that he had a knack for entertaining when he was five years old. Per The Washington Post, Kenan didn't even need to speak to kill it as Toto in a church production of "The Wiz." Before long, Ann was making big sacrifices for her son's career. The Georgia native would work a full week at her nursing job — weekends included — so that she could take the following week off to help her son pursue his dream.

But while Ann could make enough time in her schedule to take Kenan to auditions and gigs, they faced another obstacle: scraping together the money they needed for the VHS cassettes Kenan used to showcase his skills. "When they asked me to send them another tape, I was like 'I can't afford all these tapes,'" Kenan said at a 2017 event, per The Daily Pennsylvanian.

By the time Kenan landed his first role in a commercial, he'd been rejected around 100 times, per The Washington Post. He described the ad for a fried chicken restaurant as "super-racist" in an interview with Vanity Fair, but he was excited about the hundreds of dollars that he got paid for it. 

His friendship with former co-star Kel Mitchell hit a rough patch

Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were one of Nickelodeon's most beloved dynamic duos. They immediately clicked when they were cast on "All That," and the pals played off each other so well that they scored their own sitcom, "Kenan & Kel," as well as the 1997 movie "Good Burger." "Kenan and I would always, like, hang out after a sketch, after a show," Mitchell told Yahoo! Entertainment in 2022. But eventually, the friends would lose touch with one another. In 2012, Mitchell took the fizz out of fans' orange soda by telling TMZ, "The truth is Kenan does not want to be seen with me in any form of media, or even have my name mentioned around him."

Mitchell speculated that Thompson was keeping his distance because he didn't want to be viewed as a part of a package deal, and Thompson seemed to confirm this somewhat in a 2018 interview with "The Breakfast Club." "People were trying to lump us together so much after the show, we kind of wanted to show everybody, there's a Kenan Thompson and a Kel Mitchell," he said.

Luckily, Thompson would eventually reach out to his former BFF, and if there was any beef between the two, they turned it into a Good Burger while reconnecting on the phone. Thompson updated fans on their relationship in 2017, telling HuffPost, "We call each other and text each other all the time."

His ride on Saturday Night Live has included a few bumps

While Kenan Thompson's years on "All That" made him seem like a shoo-in for a spot on "Saturday Night Live," he endured a lot of rejection before getting the gig. "I kept sending tapes when I first left Nickelodeon, and was like, 'I would like to graduate now!' " he recalled to Vanity Fair. "And they'd say, 'You look a little young. Check back with us.'" His youthful appearance didn't just keep him from getting his dream job; he also spent a lot of time trying to convince casting directors that he was ready to work on projects that weren't aimed at kids. "I was just surviving, one of the millions of people out here in Los Angeles that are paying their bills however they can," he told Variety.

When Thompson finally got a chance to audition for "Saturday Night Live," he had to perform a stand-up routine, despite having no background as a stand-up comedian. "I didn't know how to engage the audience," he told Vanity Fair. "Everybody was just kind of lost from what I was doing." Luckily, he got another shot to prove himself.

But after Thompson joined the cast, it wasn't all smooth sailing from there. In an interview with The Washington Post, he recalled the lengths he went to to hide a broken arm from the "SNL" audience just days after suffering the injury in 2015. "You kind of don't have permission to not be perfect," he said.

Kenan Thompson faced a backlash over misunderstood comments

In 2013, a classic case of misinterpreted celeb musings threatened Kenan Thompson's nice-guy image. The "D2: The Mighty Ducks" actor got blasted for what he said to TV Guide about the lack of Black female cast members on "Saturday Night Live": "They just never find ones that are ready." At the time, Thompson was dressing in drag to play Black female characters on "SNL," and he was ready to hang up his long wigs and clip-on earrings for good.

Leslie Jones was one of the female comics who was offended by Thompson's words. "He should come battle me," Jones recalled saying after she heard about Thompson's interview, per The New Yorker. "Give me ten minutes and I'll ruin his life." Thompson would have to keep explaining himself for years. In 2021, he told Variety that his critics had misunderstood him. He wasn't saying Black women weren't funny; he meant that there needed to be more improv opportunities out there for Black female comedians to better prepare them for "SNL."

The backlash really seemed to bother Thompson. "Why would I bring my sisters down like that? My queens," he said on "Jemele Hill Is Unbothered." "That really hurt my feelings." When Jones later joined "SNL," Thompson worried that he'd made an enemy before they even began working together, but Jones soon warmed to him. "She just became my sister immediately," Thompson shared.

The Bill Cosby scandal broke his heart

Bill Cosby was someone Kenan Thompson once looked up to. In fact, when Thompson auditioned for "All That," he impressed the show's executive producer at the time, Brian Robbins, by nailing an impression of the now-disgraced comedian, per The Washington Post. Thompson would later spoof Cosby on "Saturday Night Live."

But after dozens of women came forward and accused Cosby of sex crimes, fans were confronted with the realization that the family-friendly comic possibly had a dark side. "It's one of the more heartbreaking things of my life," Thompson said of Cosby's downfall while speaking at the New Yorker Festival in 2019, per Deadline. "He was the first comedian I grew to know."

Thompson actually appeared in a project that Cosby co-wrote and produced; the "SNL" star played the title character in the 2004 "Fat Albert" movie. "It felt gross to be in such a close proximity to that," Thompson told NPR of how the allegations against Cosby affected the way he later regarded their time working together. "I was still proud of the movie, but definitely kind of devastated that it had this, you know, shadow around it now." Thompson revealed that he once admired Cosby so much that he read his autobiography and aspired to have a similar career, adding, "I felt super betrayed for being such a big fan and, you know, idolizing somebody who was, you know, entrenched in what they were entrenched in."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The family man and his wife of 11 years got divorced

In April 2022, Kenan Thompson and actor Christina Evangeline announced that they were getting divorced. The couple was married for 11 years and share two daughters, Georgia and Gianna. "They really just grew apart and wanted different things," an insider told Us Weekly. "There's nothing juicy about why they split."

The couple reportedly separated at the end of 2020, but Thompson was still talking about Evangeline as if they were together when he spoke to Parade in January 2022. At the time, he was busy promoting his show "Kenan." The sitcom presented him with quite a challenge: getting laughs while focusing on the life of a widower. The way Thompson described the show is a real tear-jerker in light of his own relationship's demise: "It's only me imagining how heartbreaking it would be to be in that situation to lose my best friend."

On "Jemele Hill Is Unbothered," Thompson spoke about his ex's reaction to the sitcom when he first told her about it. "So I'm just dead?" he recalled her saying. "I don't really know if she's all the way cool with it today." 

Kenan Thompson's body image struggles

Kenan Thompson usually seems so confident and carefree when he's exercising his comedic muscles, but he's admitted to feeling insecure about his appearance and uncomfortable with the way others treat him because of his size. In his memoir "When I Was Your Age: Life Lessons, Funny Stories & Questionable Advice from a Professional Clown" (via People), he reveals that his body image issues began when he was just a kid. When he played a boy spending his summer at a weight loss camp in the 1995 film "Heavyweights," Thompson says that he felt "exploited a little." He also disliked filming a shirtless scene in the 2008 comedy "Weiners," and he finds it difficult to watch a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that he did when his weight was at its highest.

On "The Blocks" podcast, Thompson revealed that he also has a judgmental inner monologue that chastises him when he's not eating healthy enough. "It's like, 'Yo, what are you doing, bro? ... Yeah, look at yourself. Take all your clothes off and look at yourself,'" he said. The actor shared that he also worries about not being physically active enough, especially during the winter months. Thompson explained that he likes to exercise outdoors because it feels more like play, and he hates the monotony of stationary bikes and treadmills. "For my mind, it's just torture," he said.

His accountant left him broke

When the IRS came after him, Kenan Thompson realized just how badly he was getting cheated by the accountant he had hired during his child star years. On "The Breakfast Club," Thompson said that the accountant hadn't been paying his taxes for him. Instead, he'd been enriching himself with Thompson's hard-earned money to the tune of $1.5 million. "We gave that dude power of attorney when we shouldn't have," he said. "I was a kid, and my mom was trying to protect me." Thompson took the shady accountant to court and won his case after a years-long legal battle. However, he never recovered the money he lost. "As soon as it happened, I'm like, 'I ain't never gonna see that money,'" he recalled.

Because the IRS demanded what it was owed, Thompson was forced to file for bankruptcy. It was the worst possible time for his savings to vanish, as he was transitioning from being a successful child actor to auditioning for adult roles — and having little luck. He told NPR's "Fresh Air" that had to do some couch-surfing while he desperately searched for work, and he even found it difficult to scrounge up enough money to pay for fast food. "It's humbling when, you know, people in the McDonald's drive-through line recognize you and then they also recognize that you're paying for a meal with change," he said.