Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member and comedian Kenan Thompson spoke as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium speaker series on Tuesday. Thompson is the second speaker in this fall’s lineup, which has an overarching theme of bringing in speakers who have had a butterfly effect in their communities.
Thompson told the audience that the event was not to be considered stand-up as he does not do stand-up acts. As he began his talk, he stumbled and teased the audience over the infamous “S” in “Johns Hopkins” and proceeded to relate his life experiences while also telling jokes about Hollywood life and marijuana.
He explained that he grew up in his grandmother’s house in Atlanta, Ga., where he developed a strong affinity for television entertainment at a young age.
“We didn’t have a lot of amenities, and the TV would help with that,” Thompson said. “I used to sit and watch The Price is Right. I just loved the colors of the money. I thought to myself, ‘Man, I wanna do that. I wanna get inside that world right there — but I’m only four.’”
Thompson also explored the ups and downs of his comedy career. Some audience members expressed appreciation of Thompson’s humility in contrast with his comedic success.
Junior Peggy-ita Obeng-Nyarkoh stated that she found his talk encouraging.
“He was here to talk about his life in a humorous manner, so I’m not sure if he meant for it to be motivating, but in between those failures, he was on his hands and knees saying, ‘Please, Lord,’ so it was inspirational to see an incredible black person who is so humble,” Obeng-Nyarkoh said.
Thompson also explored the racial discrimination he experienced while beginning a career in the predominantly white entertainment industry. He spoke about his first acting job, which was acting in a fried chicken restaurant commercial.
“I remember the director telling me to take a bigger bite of the chicken — bigger bite! And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, this is racist as hell,’” Thompson said.
As Thompson continued down the timeline of his creative works both on television and in movies, he touched upon some other Hollywood icons he met along the way, such as actors Kel Mitchell and Samuel L. Jackson.
Thompson turned serious to discuss the time he got the role of Fat Albert in The Cosby Show spin-off, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, at a time when he idolized Bill Cosby. Thompson recalled a conversation where Cosby told him to prepare himself for the women that would be all over him.
“That was one of the peeks behind the curtain I wasn’t prepared for. That shit was crazy. Now he’s in jail. And that’s the end of that,” Thompson said. “You can’t make this up.”
Senior Destiny Staten appreciated Thompson’s tone towards disgraced black men in the industry.
“He speaks about controversial people in the time that he knew them and then relates it currently, specifically Bill Cosby and R. Kelly as well. I appreciate that he does not cover up other black men,” Staten said.
Freshman Sean Pak said he loved what he saw as the genuine, innate talent that seemed to flow through him.
As Thompson left, MSE Symposium gave him a mug as a thank-you gift.
“Johns Hopkins University,” Thompson said as he read the mug. “I wanna take that S off.”