#TBT: What Millennials Should Know About… Kel Mitchell
VIBE spotlights some of pop culture’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y
Claim To Fame: All That (1994-1995), Kenan & Kel (1996-2000)
Elevator Pitch: Kel Mitchell was 140 characters in these streets way before hashtags. In the mid ’90s, the Chicago comic’s career took off after doing LMFAO-worthy impersonations of homemade characters such as Coach Kreeton, Good Burger’s Ed and syndicated orange soda lover.
Why All That Mattered: “It was fresh because we were like the first kid sketch show of our time.”
One Kel Sketch You Must Watch: The “I dropped a screw in the tuna” scene. Watch that whole episode, because that was bananas. I’ve even won awards from that episode and people still talk about that.
Getting On The Map: “Man, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and I got the call when I was in school; I was like a sophomore in high school, so I was about 15 [years old]. I remember me and my dad got to the audition late because there was a lot of traffic. When we go there, they were cleaning up. I auditioned, but because I was studying for my finals so much, I forgot my monologue, I went blank up in there. So they were like, ‘Walk outside, think about it, and come back in.’ But as I walked outside to do that, I knocked over some cameras. I was like ‘Yo, this audition is over. I’m tripping over stuff.’ Then I came back in and I killed the monologue. Then they asked me to do impersonations, and I killed the impersonations with a lot of original characters. A lot of the characters you saw on the show were born in there. Coach Kreeton was in there, because I had a coach at my high school that was just mean. Like, he was just mad about everything. It was like he’d just wake up mad, like he was baptized in lemonade or something. He would yell all the time, and Coach Kreeton had the tooth and all that stuff.”
The most slept-on All That character: “Lori Beth’s ‘Loud Librarian.’ She killed that role. Like, she would yell at everybody when you would come in there and be like, “Quiet in the library!” And we would bust up laughing every time she did that.”
Bet you didn’t know: “When TLC was on the show, they took my sister and made her like a new member of TLC. They loved my baby sister, took a gang of pictures with her and stuff like that. When Xscape came on the show, they had an argument; I don’t know what it was, but something was going on and they weren’t talking to each other. They ripped the stage, but they was mad at each other that day. Then the group broke up after that, but it wasn’t our fault; we just knew something was going on. And that was the thing too. we had so many great acts on the show like TLC, Aaliyah. I remember when Brandy came. There was this hotel called the Peabody Hotel, and we took the luggage carts and went racing through the hotel with her.”
On mastering the art of improv: “I really enjoyed doing Coach Kreeton just because of the fact that he was yelling at kids, and the physical comedy was just on a level that was bananas. And then, Repair Man. Both of them were the type of characters where the writers would write, ‘Then Kel goes crazy,’ and they wouldn’t write the rest of the actions, because they knew I would do something wild. It was like, ‘Kel’s gonna do something hot, it’s gonna be funny,’ and just leave it at that. I loved the fact that the writers and producers would let me just go.”
On his hottest collaboration: “It’s like you take two black kids–one from Chicago, one from Atlanta–and it was like ‘Yo!’ We immediately became friends, because we didn’t really relate to nobody else out there. We just spent so much time together, so we were really good friends at that point, because we were like 15 years old and just having fun, and [the writers] saw that. The first sketch where they saw it was Mavis and Clavis. We were introducing TLC, and we were just going back and forth with jokes. The writers saw it, and started putting us in sketches together a lot. Then there was one hiatus where everybody was going back home, and they told us to stay like, ‘We’re gonna do a show based on you guys and based on what we’ve been seeing. We’re gonna call it the Kenan & Kel show.”
Origin of the “orange soda” line: “[TV producer] Dan Schneider wrote it as, “Who loves orange soda? I do, I do, I do,” and that was it, but then I put a little singy-songy to it—I T-Pain’d it. And it just caught on. I mean everybody’s doing it. Even now, I would walk down the street and I’d hear people like, ‘Yo, do the orange soda thing!’ When I do stand up, people bring orange soda bottles. My wife even did it at our wedding. She surprised me. When it was time for her to say ‘I do,’ she said ‘I do, I do, I do-ooh.’ Everybody fell out. That was the best one. It shocked me because I did not know she was gonna do that at the wedding.”
His most famous prop: “The first time Ed was revealed on the show was during a sketch with Josh [Server] called ‘Dream Remote,’ where he could rewind and fast forward his life. So he wanted to get a pizza, and wanted delivered quickly. The pizza guy was supposed to be a regular pizza guy, but I came in as Ed like, ‘Whoa, here’s your pizza.’ And the next week, they wrote Good Burger and had this whole big thing. But I didn’t have any hair for him at that point, and I just felt like he needed something. I get real technical with all my characters. So I went into the hair and makeup room and I just started looking around, and I saw the Milli Vanilli wig, and it just started coming to life. But people really think that was my hair though.”
The history of the TLC and Coolio theme songs: “We weren’t at the session when TLC did it. I believe they did it in Atlanta, and then they gave it to Brian Robbins, who had the idea for it. But to see them perform it that first time… Left Eye was so talented, man. Around that time, I used to rap too, and there was a point when I almost got signed on Left Eye’s label. I was flowing there for her, and she was like, ‘Yo!’ I rapped real fast like Kris Kross, and she really loved it. It was dope, man … I’m sure it was Brian Robbins [who got Coolio for the Kenan & Kel theme song], because you know he directed The Show with Biggie and all of them. Brian was really into hip-hop. He just had a hip-hop mind. That’s why we had a lot of the acts that we had on our show; it was so dope. Coolio killed that track though. He still performs it on stage.”
Best deep cuts: “Manny was dope on One on One. That was a fun role with Ray J and Kyla Pratt. Kyla Pratt is like my little sister. When she was way younger, she used to follow me around with the glasses and stuff, so it was cool seeing her on One on One. That was a cool role, to play a landlord, because I watched Three’s Company with Mr. Furley and all that stuff.”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the Internet comedy core curriculum, Kel Mitchell should be listed as required watching. The child star turned seasoned vet – along with the likes of Kenan Thompson, Lori Beth Denberg, and even Amanda Bynes (if you can believe it) – cemented the foundation for kids with active funny bones everywhere. Employing physical comedy, improvisation, and signature characters and phrases, Mitchell & Co. are forever etched in the memories of ‘90s babies as a marker of the seemingly long-gone essence of childhood.
Now, the beloved comedian has made his return to Nickelodeon with a new show, Game Shakers, which pinpoints just how far he (and technology) have come. While chunky computer monitors once served as props for Mitchell and his cast mates, the actor’s new character, Double G, has joined forces with two 7th grade coders who create mobile apps, officially making fans of Kel’s earlier work feel old as dirt. Game Shakers also gifts a younger generation with a glimpse of a gem that will forever equate to a golden era.
Catch Kel Mitchell on Game Shakers on Nickelodeon every Saturday at 8:30 p.m.