Shopping tips from SNL’s Kenan & Cecily
It’s a few weeks before Christmas and Saturday
Night Live’s Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong have holiday gifts on their minds. Thompson hopes he won’t receive black socks or yet another funny necktie. Strong crosses her fingers that her family will get a kick out of her DIY gifts, like they did the time she gave everyone mock-celebrity-signed photos.
“One year I even photoshopped myself with Shaquille O’Neal,” Strong says. “The pressure is on—they’ve expected that level of creativity ever since!”
As you might imagine, talking about gift giving with these two comedic castmates is hilarious. Thompson, SNL’s longest-running cast member (whose late-night career spans 15 seasons, 40 characters and 126 impressions—and counting), and Strong (known for her spot-on impressions of everyone from Rachel Maddow to Lin-Manuel Miranda since she joined the show in 2012) love everything about the festive season, including the hustle-bustle of finding the perfect presents.
Thompson, 39, claims that he’s the king of last-minute shopping.
“A lot of people on my list get gifts from Walmart,” he says. “It’s a last-stop 24-hour place that has good choices, so some people get pot-and-pan sets. There’s nothing wrong with that!”
For Strong, 33, it’s the excitement of watching loved ones open her gifts that thrills her most. “I enjoy seeing if I’ve made a home run,” she says. “I’m much more excited to find out what you think about a gift than to receive something.”
Gifts can fall flat too, but even that can be part of the fun. “My sister recently told me that the Easy-Bake Oven my brother and I got her when she was young made her really mad,” Thompson recalls about his little sis, who is 14 years his junior. “You can see it in the photo of her, in her face—she was like, ‘You guys come around once in a while and want to put me to work making cupcakes.’ She was like, ‘I’m not baking you guys anything.’ ”
SNL Secret Santa
Back at the show’s HQ at 30 Rock, the SNL cast and crew do an annual Secret Santa gift swap—the rule is that no gift can cost more than $20—yielding some predictably funny moments.
“I got one of the writers last year and she seemed like a fun, spunky type,” Thompson says. “So I got her an in-office Frisbee set.”
One year, Strong bought several wigs for a staffer, which she admits may have gone over the $20 limit. “If I need to get five wigs, I’ll spend the money for five wigs,” she says, laughing. “If the gift is right, the price is right!”
Every year, Strong’s mom plays a real-life Santa, sending gifts to the women in the cast.
“My mom gives all the girls stockings,” Strong says. “She collects throughout the year, the stuff right up at the cash register, like little ChapSticks, lip glosses, socks, Ghirardelli chocolates . . . and she always puts a clementine in too.”
And producer Lorne Michaels is no Grinch at holiday time, either.
“Lorne loves giving gifts,” Strong says. “On our birthdays, we all get blueberry jam.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to think of things to get the boss.
“I’m terrified of him sometimes,” Thompson says. “He’s the sweetest man in the world, but I never know what to give him.”
For Strong, the season truly begins when she receives an animated Jacquie Lawson e-card from her grandmother.
“It’s always a beautiful song with a little Santa coming out,” Strong says. “I love presents from my grandmother.”
If Thompson feels stuck on what to get someone, he’ll just ask frenetic holiday shoppers browsing near Rockefeller Center for gift ideas.
“When I see tourists rushing around, I start asking them for ideas,” he says. “I’ll ask them what gifts they’re thinking about giving this year. And then I’ll run right into the Lego and Nintendo stores near 30 Rock. They’re sweet places to buy kids’ gifts.”
Home for the Holidays
Both Thompson and Strong are big on being with family at Christmas. For Thompson, it means gathering with family for sit-down meals.
“We’re very traditional,” he says of his childhood in Atlanta. “I grew up Baptist and do the Christmas thing. My church got into Kwanzaa but then laxed off. We should do more Kwanzaa,” he adds with his inimitable grin.
Thompson’s daughter, now 3, is really into celebrating the holiday. “Kids are into making a mess,” he says. “So between the Play-Doh and playing in the wrapping paper, she’s all about Christmas!”
Strong spends every Christmas in the Chicago suburbs where she grew up. “I have a broken family, which means I have two Christmases,” she says. “It’s a lot of food, a lot of friends and a lot of wine. It’s a lot of fun.”
Last year, she added a new tradition. “I have a friend from the South Side who is a mentor to all these kids,” she says. “Last Christmas we threw them a pizza party and Beats by Dre gave me 15 headphones to give to the kids. For some of them that’s the only gift they’ll get.”
Helping others is something she does year-round. “This job can be chaotic, but helping others is an easy way to feel good,” she says. “It’s not asking much of us. So why not?”
Working in the heart of Rockefeller Center at holiday time adds to the season’s festive mood.
“When we have the luck of Santa shining upon us, we get to do the show’s ‘good nights’ from the [ice skating] rink,” Thompson says. “They close it off, so we run down there and do it quick. We have two minutes to get from studio 8H, put on skates and wave good night. It’s Rock Center and it’s cold, but it’s also really special.”
These two stars are clearly anything but jaded about the magic of the holiday season.
“The way the New York City streets are lit up and down during this time of year is pretty fantastic,” Strong says. “I love the holidays, especially when the city looks especially gorgeous.”
For Thompson, it’s a season to take stock.
“It’s the time of year where everybody remembers what it feels like to love others and to be thankful,” Thompson says. “The joys of the little things come flying back.”
Saturday Night Live stars Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong get into the holiday spirit.