Kenan Thompson on parenting and learning to stop saying 'because I said so'

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Kenan Thompson opens up about his life as a dad. (Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Kenan Thompson opens up about his life as a dad. (Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child-rearing.

Kenan Thompson was just a teen when he launched the comedy career that would see him become an Emmy winner, Saturday Night Live's longest-tenured cast member and the star of his own NBC sitcom, Kenan. It's little wonder, then, that the former All That and Kenan and Kel star appears to have passed on his love of performing to the two daughters he shares with wife Christina Evangeline: 7-year-old Georgia and 3-year-old Gianna.

"They're both very entertaining," Thompson tells Yahoo Life of his girls. "My big one is just a ham. She's a wild one and the little one is just fearless. They have 'The Georgia and Gianna Show' sometimes at home and it's just like watching television. If they get serious about it, I'm all for it. I'll be there to support and keep the wolves away."

Fans can get a glimpse at the funnyman's "home life" in his new "Finally, It's Easy" campaign for the car-buying site Autotrader, in which he interacts with AI-enabled appliances. Ahead, Thompson dishes on switching to a "good soccer SUV," learning to avoid saying "because I said so" and giving his girls good decision-making skills.

How has becoming a dad changed what you look for in a car? Have you swapped a sports car for a minivan?

I still have my Dodge Challenger, which is a two-door, technically two-seater, even though there's, like, three seats in the back. No one can really sit back there because I like to sit all the way back, so it's like maybe a three-and-a-half-seater. When we started having kids, it worked for one, but when that second one comes along, it's like, all right, now we need to make this a lot easier, getting the kids in and out of the car. I got into the third-row seat search of it all and landed on a good soccer SUV for myself. I love it. I just embraced it.

Your Autotrader spots show you ordering a car to your doorstep and interacting with AI kitchen appliances. Are your kids up on that technology, like asking Alexa for homework help or demanding to play Peppa Pig?

My big girl is definitely a good searcher; she's definitely figuring out the search tab and the microphone. Even before she could really spell, she would hit that microphone and just start talking to it and learn and stuff, which is cool as long as she's being watched. But we had to unplug Alexa because they were just doing it all day. Like, "Alexa, play this. Alexa, do that. OK, Alexa, cut it off." It was just getting way too ADD. Now it's very manual. You need to find out an an answer to a question, just ask someone or search it yourself. They're just very independent. These days, everybody can kind of do their own thing without having to ask the outside world for help. It's all right in the palm of your little unit or iPad, whatever.

Kids today will never know.

They'll never really understand, like, the heavy cell phone.

Or having to go into the library and open a book.

Yeah! There's some cool libraries out there, so I guess it's on me to kind of show them that.

You've done a lot of voice work for animated films like The Grinch and, soon, Clifford the Big Red Dog. Does it click with them that that's Daddy?

It does. How cool it is for them, I don't know. It depends. ... If they were already on that thing and I wind up in the movie version of it, then they're like, "Oh, it's incredible." The Grinch, as an overall tale, and Clifford, they never really read those books or watch the show or whatever, so they were just like, "Oh cool. Daddy's in a movie. That's cool."

It's the same with SNL or the Kenan show. They can watch the Kenan show, thankfully, without me having to cover their ears, but it's still a world that I haven't been able to show them the set or introduce them to anyone because of COVID. So they're still kind of outside of it. I think there'll be much more embracing of the coolness factor once they can really be around it. Right now, they're still just mostly at home and school and just in their world. If I happen to pop up in PAW Patrol or something, then I'll really be the man.

You have two shows right now on top of having a family. How do you juggle it all?

My wife is the trooper of the year in my opinion. And family — we're surrounded by loved ones that are just willing to help and step in whenever we need them to, so that's a huge part of it. But my wife, she's on her game.

How would you describe your parenting style? Are you a strict dad?

I try to be less strict because I was raised on a lot of discipline. But I do think discipline is needed, for kids to kind of grow up in a guidance that will help them with their decision-making. Decision-making is highly critical, I think, in every aspect of becoming [not only] a responsible citizen, but also just your adult life. It can be a very long life. If you can stay on the right side of your decision-making, then I've done my job, basically.

I was trying to be more of "because I said so" [parent] and now I think I'm more of the "well, let's let you understand why I'm saying so" [type] and I think it's a better approach. I don't want to see my girls crying just because they messed up and I'm calling attention to that in a forced way, like "Put that down!" or "Don't do that!" or whatever. [You've got to] kind of massage the whole thing, like, "That's dangerous. Why don't we not do that? Why don't we do something else?" and just try to keep the peace a little more.

What is your favorite part about being a girl dad?

Just the learning of it all. I feel like if I was raising a boy, I would kind of already know what to expect; it would be a similar experience. Like, yeah, boys jump off of couches and they hit their heads and they want to run around and there's not too much thought going on [laughs] in what they do. With girls — watching how fast they mature, how they process and make their full firm decisions on things like, all right, I'm done with diapers now, I'm using the potty. It's a very specific moment where they make that decision.

Just the emotions of it all and being exposed to so much emotion. ... When you're around boys, everything is pretty much fun or chill or anger or chaos or whatever. [With girls] it's crying. "Why are you crying?" "Oh, because of this-that-and-the-other." We can like talk about the experience more so than, you know, high-fiving all the time.

Do you have any hard-and-fast rules the kids know not to cross? Like making beds or finishing dinner...

The dinner thing is always a fun back and forth [laughs]. Let's get those colorful foods in there. Let's get those veggies in there. And that's always an interesting dance to try to get them to embrace why you need to eat your vegetables and stuff like that.

But I guess the hardest rule is more so the hurting factor — anything that would hurt them, like running. Don't run up and down the stairs ... just pay attention. Because I know they wanna run as fast as they can on their new little legs and stuff like that. But danger, man! There's danger around every corner. I try not to panic and just get them to calm down when they're in the house. And then it's like, "Let's go to the park and let you guys just go crazy. Yeah."

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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