'SNL': Veteran Kenan Thompson on the show's big cast exodus -- and its future

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Image Credit: NBC

The times are a’changin’ at Saturday Night Live. Jason Sudeikis recently confirmed his exit from the show — joining fellow vets Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, both of whom said their goodbyes during May’s season finale. And that’s not the last of it: When Seth Meyers jumps ship in 2014 to prepare to take over NBC‘s Late Night, SNL will lose not only a longtime cast member (and Weekend Update anchor), but also its head writer since 2006.

It’s a lot for one show to handle all at once — especially coming just a year after cast MVP Kristen Wiig and Digital Short mastermind Andy Samberg (along with the rest of his Lonely Island crew) stepped away from SNL as well.

After the dust settles and Meyers finally says his last goodbye, SNL‘s cast will only boast one person who’s been around since before the Bush administration’s final days: Kenan Thompson, a former child star who joined the show in 2003. Add on the five years he spent performing on Nickelodeon’s All That, and Thompson has been doing televised sketch comedy even longer than Darrell Hammond — who stuck around Studio 8H for 14 seasons, making him the longest-tenured cast member in Saturday Night Live history.

What’s it like to suddenly become the old guard — and could Thompson be on his way out as well? We called him up to find out.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before Sudeikis went on Letterman, were you aware that he was leaving the show?
KENAN THOMPSON: No, not really. He was always kind of up in the air — that was the word I kept getting. “I’m up in the air, I’m up in the air.” I had a feeling, though. It’s about his time. He’s doing a lot nowadays.

So you weren’t surprised?
I wasn’t necessarily surprised, but I was saddened.

How are you feeling going into next season, now that he and Hader and Armisen are gone? Have you really processed it yet?
It’s been on my mind. It’s going to be a different place. Fred was like my older brother, and me and Sudeikis came in at the same time — he wrote for two years and then became a cast member, but he was there from the first day that I was there. And Fred was one year above me, so we were very, very close. So I’m going to miss those guys terribly — but I’m excited, because it’s going to bring new people. It’s just cool to witness talent. So I’m excited to see whoever they hire; it’ll be an awesome challenge.

What’s it like to know you’re going to be the longest-running cast member there?
Well, Seth is going to be there.

But he’s on his way out too.
Yeah, exactly. So I don’t know. I guess maybe I don’t have to get up so early all the time. [laughs] I can have a little seniority happening, you know what I mean? But it’s crazy! I don’t know. I never expected to get the job in the first place, let alone now be the oldest cast member. It’s nuts, but it’s very, very cool at the same time.

How do you think the show has changed since you started in ’03?
Dramatically, man. We saw the coming and going of the Digital Shorts, we saw the coming and going of [Amy] Poehler, Tina Fey, [Rachel] Dratch, [Chris] Parnell. I started at the end of the Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan era. Jimmy Fallon has come and done his thing. Oh, Kristen Wiig too — I can’t forget Kristen, my dearest Kristen.

She did come back to host an episode last year — are you hoping the guys who just left will do the same?
Sure. That would be super fun. It’s always good to be around your bros, and it’s always good to be around people that know the system, how it goes over there.

So how are you preparing for the show’s next season?
Doing a lot of meditation. I’m just kidding. Nah, I’m just paying attention to headlines and little things I might be able to make fun of, if I see somebody that I look like I could imitate or something like that. Watching a bunch of new shows, stuff like that.

It must be so frustrating when something like the Anthony Weiner scandal happens and you can’t cover it because the show’s not back yet.
Yeah, that happens every summer — there’s always a great, fantastic story that’s perfect for me the week after the last show. Every year. But you know, you take it in stride.

Do you have a sense for the type of people Lorne [Michaels] is looking to add to the cast? Will he try to find comedians who are similar to the guys who are leaving?
Yeah, it’s always good to have like a father figurey type of person — like, [a] Republican-y, politician-y, older dude that can pull those guys off. [And] guys that can do voices up and down, like a Bill Hader or something like that. But it doesn’t necessarily come around when you’re looking for it, so I’m sure they’ll hire whoever makes them laugh the hardest.

Got any advice for those who are auditioning now?
It’s a hectic audition. It’s different for everybody. Mine lasted for like, three weeks. So I would just say, bring your “A” game, man. You’ve gotta. This is the ultimate — the one and only SNL. So come with your best stuff. Especially if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll know what you need to do to stand out and be different. Like, you don’t necessarily want to go in there and do a Phil Hartman impression.

Has all of this gotten you thinking about when you might be ready to leave the show?
[Long pause] I’m never leaving.

Oh, so you’re going to be the next Darrell Hammond.
Yeah. But then after that, they’re going to have to start saying “the next Kenan Thompson,” because I’ve been there for 36 years.

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