Atlanta native Kenan Thompson has been working since the age of 16 as an actor and comedian. His impeccable improv and comedic timing was honed as a theater student before getting his big break as a principal actor on the Nickelodeon network. In a very short time, he became one of the biggest stars on one of the top children’s entertainment hubs in the world.
For six years he built his brand at the cable station, even as his bank account stayed dismally small.
Broke at the Bank
During an appearance on The Breakfast Club” on Feb. 2, to promote his new book “When I Was Your Age: Life Lessons, Funny Stories & Questionable Parenting Advice from a Professional Clown,” the star, who currently has an estimated net worth of $13 million, says that his finances were compromised by the time he left Nickelodeon but not because he wasn’t working hard or being paid well. Instead, he explained that his finances suffered because the person he trusted betrayed him by embezzling funds.
He told the show’s hosts, Charlamagne Tha God, DJ Envy, and Jess Hilarious, he was swindled out of $1.5 million by an accountant during his time at the kid’s network in 2000.
“I had a bad accountant,” Thompson explained. “And it came to the light around ’99, around 2000. Which was really bad timing because that’s right when I left my consistent gig … when I went into being an adult actor for hire, and that is very hit and miss.”
According to Thompson, the accountant, whom his mother hired because he had helped her and his father out in the past, left him “broke.” With no savings from his six years at Nickelodeon, he had to depend on jobs like his short stint on the television series “Felicity” and a role in Nick Cannon’s “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” movie. This kept his bills paid.
He said of those times, he was “just money enough for rent kind of thing. And, yeah, you know, the accountant was dirty, and I ended up not letting that be the end all, be all of what my life is going to be,” because the accountant had ripped him off so badly.
How was the scheme? The family gave him power of attorney over the minor’s affairs.
“We gave him power of attorney when we shouldn’t have,” Thompson said. “I was a kid and my mom was trying to protect me. You know, I mean, and he had helped her out of her tax situations … so she thought she could trust him. But she could trust him with, like, the 30 to 50 grand issues kind of thing.”
He continued, “But when it’s like a million dollars on the table, you never know what people gonna turn into, and apparently he turned into a demon.”
The accountant stole $1.5 million, almost all the savings from his time with the network.
Thompson said the wildest thing was that he nor his family would have known anything about the embezzlement had the IRS not knocked on his door.
Consequently, the actor was forced to sue the accountant — not just to punish him for stealing the money, but to prove to the government that he was a victim and he would not be accountable for the outstanding taxes. Although he won in court, he received the money that was stolen.
Rather than allowing the theft and deceit to sour his experience in Hollywood, it served as a motivating force for him to persist and continue pushing forward.
“If it wasn’t for that I don’t know if my track would be the same. Because I was ready to settle into Atlanta. You know what I mean? Like I was ready to just be like, ‘Nah, I’m good’ and ‘three and a half hours to L.A. so if they need me, they can call me’ kind of thing. But I don’t think I would have been as hungry … or as dedicated, necessarily,” Thompson said in retrospect.
Back on Track
Now the star is comfortable, and making boss moves himself. In 2021, he launched his own production company called Artists for Artists.
Still, the bulk of his wealth has come from being a featured star on “Saturday Night Live.” He has been a featured cast member for 20 years, more than any other artist on the show.