Kenan Thompson Returns to All That Roots (and Universal Studios) for First Time in 20 Years: 'It Holds a Place In My Heart'
Kenan Thompson is taking a walk down memory lane — all the way to his Nickelodeon days.
On Friday, the Saturday Night Live star, who joined forces with Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood for their new “Let Yourself Woah” campaign, spoke with PEOPLE about returning to Universal (the place where he kickstarted his career!) for the first time since he was 18, and the everyday “woah” moments the husband and father of two experiences in his own life.
“I’ve been involved with Universal my whole life. They were my very first job, and now it’s come back around that I’ve been given the opportunity to be the new spokesperson for their parks and resorts,” he says of why he joined the campaign, which is meant to showcase the range of emotions guests experience when visiting the thrill-filled theme parks.
As a child actor, he grew up, in part, in the park. “I remember spending a lot of my childhood running back and forth between the rides and stuff when we were shooting All That and Kenan and Kel,” he says. “The place where I was getting dressed every morning was maybe 20 yards away from where I spent the first four or five years of my career, my very first job on television. It holds a really, really special place in my heart.”
But the comedian, 41, hasn’t been back in over twenty years. “It’s crazy, crazy nostalgic just seeing those roads leading up to Universal,” he says. “They’ve been a part of my life and family for a long time.”
Now, he’s taking his spokesperson duties seriously.
“The campaign is about just letting yourself experience all the good things here,” he says. “We want people to know that it’s a destination where people can let themselves be immersed in awesome attractions and rides and the beach resorts and all that — just come in and give themselves over to the great time that they paid for.”
Following the initial success of the original All That series, Thompson and Kel Mitchell went on to star in the kids’ sitcom Kenan & Kel that ran from 1996 to 2000. In June 2019, the duo launched Nickelodeon’s revamped All That, which featured a new cast of teens and the return of show originals Mitchell, Thompson, Lori Beth Denberg and Josh Server.
When it comes to rebooting Kenan and Kel, Thompson says he’d be game.
“I feel like we should just start doing stuff straight to YouTube ourselves, just like Kenan and Kel in reality,” he says. “That would be so much fun.”
Meanwhile, Thompson — who will be starring in his own sitcom, The Kenan Show, on NBC later this year — is the longest tenured cast member on SNL and doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.
“Retiring, probably not,” he jokes. “I don’t think any actor feels like they can retire. I feel like I’ve been blessed, and the way I’ve been able to go about it was with good training, especially that I got at Nickelodeon in Orlando at Universal. It’s just been like that’s my foundation in life, so when I got the call to work with them, it was just such a blessing and it made all the sense in the world.”
On top of his Universal family, Thompson is grateful for his own family and admits he has plenty of “woah” moments with his two girls: 5-year-old daughter Georgia Marie and 1-year-old daughter Gianna Michelle, whom he shares with wife Christina Evangeline.
“I mean, I don’t want to be vulgar, but it’s like, there are a lot of ‘woah’ diapers in the morning,” he says with a laugh. “And then whenever you let the baby just eat whatever, if it’s yogurt or something, she has a lot of experience throwing it around and smearing her face in it. So that’s usually pretty ‘woah’ funny.”
But when it comes to fatherhood, he wouldn’t change thing.
“I took all of what I was doing for myself and made it all about what I do for my family,” he says. “I’m way more focused on the actual effect that my work has on people. It’s not just for me.”
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