Kenan Thompson Along With Cast And Crew Talk Details On New NBC Series ‘Kenan’

Many people recognize and associate actor Kenan Thompson from his long (and hilarious) tenure on Saturday Night Live, as he is one of the sketch comedy shows most beloved and admired cast members. Thompson is now adding to his resume and branching out into the sitcom realm with the heartwarming new series “Kenan” which has just premiered on NBC.

“Kenan” stars Kenan Thompson a recently widowed host of Atlanta’s #2 morning talk show, who struggles to balance his job and raising his daughters despite the help of his father-in-law and his brother. The series also stars Don Johnson, Chris Redd, Kimrie Lewis,  and Dani and Dannah Lane. It is executive produced by David Caspe, Jackie Clarke, and Ken Whittingham.

We recently had a chance to catch up with the cast and crew of “Kenan” to talk about the new series and give us some insight into season one!

When speaking to us about the development process for “Kenan” and how it has grown and changed to get where it is currently, Thompson tells us, “It was a long process from starting with trying to find someone to settle in on an idea with. And Jackie and I talked for the first time over the summer, I think, two years ago. And we both had a similar idea, what we thought would be a good show that we, kind of, haven’t seen before and would also maybe fit the tone of stuff that we have, so just trying to figure out a different twist on the positive father figure type of thing. And it’s gone in one direction for the original pilot that we shot when Chris Rock was involved, and that was all great and stuff like that. And then we had a moment and an opportunity to, kind of, sit down with it and flesh it out even further as opposed to being under the pressures of pilot week or whatever. So now we’ve stretched it out to where it is right now, and I think we are all pretty grateful that we had a chance to live with the material for a while. The universe has just unfolded in a way to where we have the cast we are currently dealing with now. And even until the last hour, we ended up getting some pretty great people in it. So, it’s been a long road, but it’s apparently been a very necessary road.”

We just had to know how Thompson plans to balance his time working on “Kenan” with his time working on “SNL” as well with traveling back and forth from L.A. to New York, Thompson comments, “So, we’ll see how exhausting it gets when it has to become a repeat kind of a thing. But, yeah, we did it for the Christmas show, and Chris and I went out there on Friday and showed up at rehearsal that night and stuff like that and ended up doing the show and then getting we had three weeks off before we had to be on another job, basically. So it wasn’t that stressful, but we’ll see how that turnaround goes when it’s only one day in between. But I’ll be rushing back to my new family. So, I won’t be overly exhausted because we’ll hold each other up.”

We truly feel after viewing the pilot episode that the comedic timing and chemistry within the cast is amazing. We asked producers David Caspe and Jackie Clarke if it was hard to find an ensemble that could match the pace and tone of the show and nail the energy. Clarke says, “The key is to put all the people in front of you, their TV show. I mean, it’s really I mean, we couldn’t ask for a better cast. I mean, it’s just, like, Kenan, Don, Chris, Kimrie, our girls, Dani and Dannah, I mean, they are just come on. We are so lucky. It’s so they make our jobs so easy.” Caspe adds, “Truly, everyone in this cast could have their own show.  So, to have them all together is just insane.  Any combination, any person you go to for a joke makes it so much funnier than anything we write.  So, we feel like they are just ‑‑ we are just happy to be along for the ride, you know.”

Thompson has been in the business for quite some time now starting in his early teenage years and we asked if he had ever expected early on to be as busy as he is these days. Thompson reveals, “I mean, I didn’t necessarily it’s always been a goal do you know what I mean? to stay busy, stay working and just stay focused on whatever goals I had as far as being an actor or goals as far as wanting to produce things and put my adult hat on and stuff like that. But, yeah, I couldn’t have pictured it necessarily being the way it is, but I don’t know. I mean, I’m definitely enjoying the ride because I have just been blessed to have a front-row seat to such God-gifted people in so many ways, between Kim and Jackie and David or between my castmates. Our crew has been super-duper on their jobs, and everybody has to do this on top of a pandemic and all of these weird protocols where we can’t love on each other the way we really want to or be in a room together instead of these weird squares. But everybody is doing the best that they can, and I couldn’t be prouder let alone worried about being tired. So, I appreciate you saying that I’ve had such a great career, but we are also on the same call as a man who has done over 9 million hours of performing, the great Don Johnson up here. Do you know what I mean? So, I’m just in good company, man. That’s all I can say.”

Actor Don Johnson is best known for his many dramatic roles, so wanted to know what it was like for him to jump into comedy. Johnson tells us, “It’s amazingly joyful, hard work, but the good thing about it is that I have these I get to work with these guys that are just so good and such professionals and they pick me up, and they are supportive, you know. And, basically, I just watch them and say “OK. I’ve got to try to keep up with that.”

This has been the third try at getting “Kenan” off the ground, so we were curious to know if it was always the central concept to blend comedy with the story of a grieving father/family story which certainly heightens some of the drama. Thompson says, “It was three different ideas, three different teams of people. This is the current team. Our original pilot was the same idea with me as a different profession and a couple of different people in the cast and stuff like that, and then we pivoted into the morning show profession and stuff like that, which I think is very much more similar energy that people would expect because of my SNL energy and stuff like that. That’s where we are at, so yeah.”

The final season of the pilot reveals a huge part of the backstory with this family, so we wanted to know how much more of that we are going to see revealed over the course of the series. Executive producer Jackie Clarke tells us, “It’s like when we have a mom that’s deceased in a show, it always drives me crazy that that becomes, like, a ghost. And we really wanted to give this person, Corey, Kenan’s late wife a real personality and really feel her. So, you are going to see her in these flashbacks a couple of times throughout the season. And the backstory is that they were, kind of, teenagers on a sitcom. The sitcom was called an early sitcom called “Grownup Little Boy” where Kenan at 19 was playing 14 and she was 20 playing 45, and it was his mom. But they had fallen in love, and that, sort of, led to their cancellation because their energy was just a little too tight, and but we are playing with that a lot in the show, and you are going to be seeing a bit more multi-cam in future episodes.”

Don Johnson received amazing reviews for his work in “Watchmen” and we asked him what attracted him to the role in “Kenan”. Johnson reveals, “You know, it was at the beginning of the pandemic. I was doing a movie. They pulled the plug on the movie. I still have to go back and finish five days on it. And I get a call from Lorne Michaels, who I’ve known for a long time and we are friends aside from you know, I admire him. And he said, “Let me send you something.” And I looked at it. And then Kenan and I got on the phone, and I felt an instant chemistry with Kenan. And honest to God, I am just blessed because I’m working with these great, great comedians and comics and writers. These a” re all writers and directors and producers in their own right, and to have this opportunity to work with these beautiful little girls and all of these people, I mean, come on, man, this is like icing. It’s like the cherry on top for me.”

The two young sisters played by Dani and Dannah Lane truly steal the show (and our hearts) and the fact that they are actually sisters off-screen as well is amazing, so we wanted to know if their real-life relationship was similar to that of their characters. Dani says, “Yes. We built our relationship off of what we have because, well, as anybody knows, we are real sisters in real life. So, we brought our relationship from real life into the show because this is how we act.” Dannah adds, “Yeah.  I think that Sophie and I and Emma and Dani also have a lot of things in common.  We share a great bond on the show and in real life.  So, I think that that’s, like, a big help.”

We asked Thompson if he felt any special affinity for his character in “Kenan”, he replied, “No. My only experience with playing this kind of a character was just more from a distance of watching someone that I know that has gone through a situation like this and kind of watching from a distance how they processed it, matured through it, what they are up to now, how they are kind of dealing with it. But I’ll never really know without really engaging that person, but I’m just terrified to even go there. So, I kind of just take it from that standpoint. So, I mean, how would I feel if I lost my best friend, teammate, my partner in raising two kids? It’s a lot with just one kid let alone more than one. I give it up to single parents. Even though I’m only acting in this show, there are times when my wife goes on vacation for two days, and everything falls apart. I have the utmost respect for single parents, and I kind of just want to reflect the circus that it can be. But when good people come together do you know what I mean? for the purpose of raising some good, positive kids, it can be a beautiful thing to explore. So I think we are going to reflect that pretty strongly from the pilot on, basically, because it starts with me and Rick going at it when I’m obviously trying to pack up their stuff. It’s just very much the tone of the show, so yeah.”

We truly enjoyed the pilot episode and feel that it leaves so much room for many more adventures for these characters as the season progresses. We asked the cast what they were most excited for us to see next. Any exploration into the dating world, any love interests for Rick or any other characters? Thompson reveals, “We know Chris is constantly smashing. So… (laughter)” Chris Redd adds, “Constantly, man. I’m just real tired from all of the smashing.” Don Johnson jokingly adds, “Yeah. He took over my old role.”

Thompson also says, “It’s yours, though. There are some episodes where yours is coming up there, sir, for sure. Kimrie has got a lot of spice going on, a lot of spice and confusion.” Kimrie Lewis comments, “Yeah. Mila is trying to get hers.” Thompson concludes, “Trying to dip one toe at a time back in the chilly waters of being single. So, yeah, we are exploring all of that stuff. Earmuffs, little girls. I actually should have said that from the beginning.”

We also asked Thompson, if he sees “Kenan” as a comedy with social issues, or trying to put before the public social issues that are wrapped in a cloth of comedy? And what kinds of issues does he want to touch on besides the strength of a devoted Black father? Thompson says, “Yeah. I don’t think we are getting too political necessarily, but we definitely touch on the mentality where we think everybody should be as far as how the jokes are and what a lot of the punch lines are. It’s like you should be thinking this way to get a lot of these jokes, and that way means knowing that Black Lives Matter, knowing this, that, and the other. I mean, of course, but we don’t necessarily have to have a Black Lives Matter episode necessarily. But we do want to show a nice, strong African-American cast, a nice, strong African-American cast in a professional setting and all of those kinds of things and a family unit but also not necessarily a one-sided family unit. There are a lot of cultures involved and a lot of cultures involved in different people’s families, and it’s not necessarily just one specific type of thing. So that’s what this show kind of is as far as wanting to put out any kind of statement necessarily. We are, kind of, just reflecting what we have seen currently in a lot of different families, and a lot of different families have a lot of different people in them.”

Be sure to tune into “Kenan” airing Tuesdays at 8:30/7:30c on NBC!

 

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