Kenan Thompson has been a series regular on “Saturday Night Live” for over a decade now.
The comedian has myriad hilarious impersonations to his name since joining the show 14 seasons ago. His most memorable impressions include those of public figures such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Charles Barkley and Steve Harvey.
There have been few moments in recent years in which the talents of the “SNL” cast members were watched more closely than during the recent presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Week after week, viewers tuned in to the show for some much-needed comic relief, but it wasn’t all laughs behind the scenes, as Thompson explained to CBS News.
“It was interesting for us because, you know, we tried to play the middle and not play favorites or whatever. It was tough holding up the mirror to people who we actually do admire in the same facet, but we did have to be fair to both sides,” Thompson said.
He made the comments at a recent event for the Cristian Rivera Foundation, a group working to help find the cure for the Pontine Glioma brain stem tumor. Thompson, who is on the foundation’s board, spoke more about the election after presenting an award onstage.
“You know, I guess the outcome of the election wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, but we all respect democracy and are just going to go with the flow and keep doing what we do. I do think it’s funny Trump and Alec Baldwin keep going back and forth on Twitter.”
When asked which “SNL” sketch resonated most with him throughout the campaign, he quickly shared his response.
“Black Jeopardy. The sketch was an awesome representation of people’s personalities, which I think was why it went viral the way it did,” he said. “People kind of went, ‘Oh yeah, exactly,’ you know what I mean? Which I thought was awesome. We were holding up the mirror of the climate — as far as black people are concerned and also to those who voted for Trump.”
As far as the president-elect’s war of words with Baldwin, Thompson noted, “I don’t think there is much rationalizing Trump’s thoughts. He kind of just thinks and does what he wants to do. I do think it’s an interesting time we are living in where we can actually see the president of the United States literally arguing with someone on Twitter. It’s really crazy.”
We sincerely thank Andy Epstein for his involvement in last month’s event at the Zylo Tuscan steakhouse. From this event, an additional $55,000 has gone towards clinical trials which aim to find a cure for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Past events we’ve held have greatly contributed towards the costs of the operations. Dr. Souweidane has operated on two patients so far, a little girl and a little boy who are stable and doing well. These operations are taking us a step closer towards finding a cure. We hope to treat more patients affected by DIPG in the future and ultimately begin saving lives.
She doesn’t know Zach Cadwalder or have any affiliation with his family, but when Jessica Kane heard about the fundraiser that will benefit the sick 5-year-old, she knew she wanted to be a part of it.
“I’m a teacher, and it’s terrible to see a child sick. So, anything you can do,” she said.
Ms. Kane was one of hundreds who came out to support the Cadwalders after the Green Ridge family found out in November that Zach had diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma – an inoperable brain tumor. The family takes Zach to an experimental clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland for treatment.
Family and friends pulled together to make sure the family had what they needed to get by.
“It’s devastating news; he really is the strongest person we know,” said relative Gabrielle Kasaczun, who helped organize the event. “We decided we had to do something to raise money.”
With a large picture of Zach dressed in a purple baseball uniform – his ears poking out from his cap, clutching a bat and flashing a toothy grin – displayed in the middle of St. Mary’s Center on Friday night, hundreds of people came to eat, drink and buy raffle tickets.
The proceeds go toward the young boy’s medical care and travel expenses as Zach undergoes radiation and chemotherapy five days a week. His family said his attitude is as positive as ever.
“He’s very brave. He’s happy and outgoing,” Ms. Kasaczun said of her little cousin.
Zach’s aunt, Lauren Washo, said the family can only be grateful for the overwhelming support shown for the 5-year-old.
“He’s our superhero,” Ms. Washo said.
Ms. Kane said working with children as a pre-kindergarten teacher has shown her a lot about the spirit of young kids like Zach.
“They have a wonderful ability to bounce back,” she said. “They have an inner strength you wish adults had sometimes.”
“It’s been almost two years since Sam was diagnosed in December 2006. The only improvement that I’ve seen during this time is that we have this wonderful site!” [the DIPG Internet Yahoo support list and discussion group]
So said “Sheila” (in December 2008), whose young grandson had died in February 2008 from a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
A diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, known as DIPG, is perhaps the most feared pediatric brain tumor because of the dismal survival statistics and devastating clinical course. This tumor tends to strike four to ten year olds with approximately half of these young children dying in the first year and 80-90% by the end of the second.
Despite more than 200 trials, no treatment has been found to be effective for long term survival in DIPG. For some children, steroids and radiation allow for a ‘honeymoon’ with relief of symptoms. But this is often followed by a relentless advancing of the disease and tragically, death months later.
Basic science research into this tumor has been frustratingly difficult. A significant hurdle has been the lack of tumor tissue on which to carry out tests.
In 1993, the standard of care for DIPG in the United States changed, as biopsy provided no improvement in survival over neuro-imaging in typical pediatric diffuse pontine tumors. Since that time, biopsies of pediatric DIPG have been uncommon resulting in the scarcity of tumor material for research. At the time “Sheila” wrote, there were no published reports on cell lines, no animal models and no molecular/genetic studies.
The changes in the medical community’s approach to a disease are often evident much before the patient community is aware of them because the time from concept to study to publication of a research paper can take years. In 2008, change was beginning in DIPG research. The heart-wrenching post from grandmother “Sheila” launched an effort towards earlier awareness of research endeavors as well as international advocacy collaboration.
In 2005 the biopsy debate had heated up again. St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee (USA) responded with a concerted effort to approach families for post-mortem tumor donation for research resulting in more molecular information on DIPG. Since many children die at home, far from St Jude, the emotional and logistical challenges were numerous.
A family responded to the financial issues raised by these challenges by establishing a foundation called Tyler’s Treehouse (established in 2006), specifically started to fund the logistical aspects of this study.
Over the ensuing years, many families with DIPG children have provided the ultimate gift to the research community involved with these studies of their child’s tumour tissue. Some families as far away as Australia and South America have donated their child’s tissue. The St. Jude efforts haven’t lead to publication yet, however, The Hospital for Sick Children (“Sick Kids”) in Toronto, Canada published the first whole genomic analysis of DIPG tumors in February 2010.
Their French colleagues took a different approach, with a clinical trial including upfront stereotactic biopsy of pediatric DIPG. In the July 2007 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery the surgical results were published. With 33 children there was no mortality and only two children had transient morbidity.
The combined effect of the French stereotactic biopsy results and the molecular analysis studies from “Sick Kids” in Toronto has lead to renewed efforts for future clinical trials to include molecular analysis from stereotactic biopsy samples.
The development of animal models is also emerging.
At the 2008 ISPNO (International Symposium on Pediatric Neuro-Oncology) conference in Chicago (USA), Dr. Oren Becher won the best basic science presentation award for his genetically engineered mouse model of brainstem glioma. The excitement of potentially being able to study this tumor in a mouse model has resulted in requests for Dr Becher’s mice from several others interested in studying brainstem glioma.
For some time, the non-availability of resected tumor tissue for the development of cell lines has met with failure, even to the point of new researchers being discouraged from pursing this direction.
In the summer of 2009, Stanford University in California revealed that Dr. Michelle Monje had been able to culture neurospheres from post-mortem pediatric DIPG tissue using a stem cell technique. This breakthrough in DIPG research at Stanford has lead to an EGFRviii vaccine being introduced to the pediatric brain tumor community for the first time as well as other research. Some of this has been funded through the Kyle O’Connell Foundation.
Truly exciting events have been two international meetings of researchers and clinicians to discuss DIPG. The Fondo Alicia Pueyo hosted the first conference in Barcelona, Spain in February 2009. The second event was hosted by The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto with funding support by Just One More Day and B.R.A.I.N.child.
We are now seeing a change in DIPG research – and the international collaboration of parents, advocates, clinicians and researchers that is making this happen.
Last night, the Cristian Rivera Foundation was featured during the Latin Mixx Conference (LMC) Awards Ceremony at The Times Square Center. The ceremony marked LMC’s 6th year in the making, and honored the top Latino DJ’s and promoters in the business. Founder, Kevin “Pills” Monatano, acknowledged the growing strength of the Latino population and pulled all the stops in coordinating this meeting of the minds for the three-day conference. The awards ceremony was hosted by Sito Rocks, K. Marie, BET & 105.1 FM’s DJ Prostyle, and BET 106 & Park’s very own Rocsi. However, hands down the most hysterical antics where Comedy Central Premium Blend, Galavision Que Loco, and BET Comic View’s Jason Andors who kept crowd in stitches with his dance moves and impressions. Later in the evening, the Cristian Rivera Foundation’s Founder John “Gungie” Rivera spoke on behalf of the Foundation in a heartfelt presentation about the devastating effects of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma or DIPG. Rivera extended his praise to all nominees for having come so far, and conveyed his enthusiasm for being Latino in the entertainment industry right now. Rivera also went into the grim details surrounding the loss of his son to the inoperable brain stem tumor, DIPG. He asked for the parents in the audience to identify themselves and related, “One thing for sure is that we love our children more than anything, that’s the greatest love that we could ever experience.” He spoke about how he created the foundation shortly after his son passed with the support of committee members in the audience like DJ Camilo and Tedmooth. Rivera ended his presentation with a story of hope. In January, a 6 year old girl from Spain was operated on by Dr. Mark Souweidane of Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in an effort to save her life. Dr. Souweidane’s viable scientific research has recently shown promise of a cure and that operation marked the launch of his medical trials. A girl who supposedly had just weeks to live, is stable 7 months later. Rivera extended his best wishes to the young girl and her family. The Cristian Rivera Foundation and its members look forward to a continued relationship with Latin Mixx. Overall, it was inspiring to see so many successful Latinos united to recognize each other’s accomplishments.
Cristian Rivera Foundation Committee Member Solange Osorio and John “Gungie” Rivera paid a visit to Dr. Mark Souweidane at Weill Cornell Medical Center on Wednesday January 26th to personally bring him a $10,000 check from the Foundation. Thus far the Cristian Rivera Foundation has donated $40,000 to Dr Souweidane’s research. The money will help pay for Dr. Souweidane’s clinical trials, which aim to bypass the blood-brain barrier and deliver treatment directly to the Pontine Glioma tumor. While they were there, they got the latest update on Dr. Souweidane’s research. The trials are set to begin in the next few months, after they’ve finished raising money and get final approval.
January 25, 2011 marks two years since Cristian Rivera passed away from Pontine Glioma. Cristian Rivera earned his wings on that day in the loving arms of his parents. Everyone at the Cristian Rivera Foundation misses Cristian greatly and asks that he be kept in people’s thoughts and prayers on this solemn day. Please visit the photo galleries to see photos of Cristian and read his father’s journal entries that not only chronicle Cristian’s life but the great strides the foundation has made since being formed in his honor. Please leave remembrances of Cristian on his guestbook and think of him today and always.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to reflect on all the young lives that have been taken by all different kinds of cancer, including Pontine Glioma. In the same way that breast cancer is associated with pink and AIDS is associated with red, the color that signifies Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is gold. So be sure to wear a gold ribbon to show your support for children and families dealing with cancer, as well as those whose loved ones have been lost. You can also take the opportunity to support Pontine Glioma research through the Cristian Rivera Foundation by clicking the “Shop” tab and purchasing a wristband or t-shirt.
The Cristian Rivera Foundation continues to touch people’s hearts with its mission to cure inoperable pediatric brain stem tumor Pontine Glioma. Jeannie Perez, of Newark, NJ’s Family Affair Childcare, created a banner inviting families at her daycare center and in the community to support the Cristian Rivera Foundation. She even offered a period of free daycare to the family who sold the most Cristian Rivera Foundation wristbands. Her contest inspired others to get the word out and collectively, the families sold 50 wristbands. Having everyday people go to bat for the Cristian Rivera Foundation gives hope not only that its awareness campaign is working but also that a cure for Pontine Glioma is within reach.
The Cristian Rivera Foundation made the pages of Life & Style magazine. The publication’s latest issue features a photo of P. Diddy showing off the Cristian Rivera Foundation wristband he was seen wearing at New York nightclub Duvet, as well as information about the Foundation’s mission to help children with Pontine Glioma.
From the article:
“What the Stars are… Doing for Charity
DIDDY gives back by wearing a Cristian Rivera Foundation bracelet, which supports kids diagnosed with Pontine Glioma, a rare, inoperable brain disease (CristianRiveraFoundation.org).”