Kel From ‘Kenan & Kel’ on Death Hoaxes and His Return to Nickelodeon
When a staple of the ‘90s as famous as Kel Mitchell, star of Nickelodeon TV classics All That, Kenan & Kel and the movie based off an All That sketch, Good Burger, seemingly disappears from show business, the Internet jumps to its own conclusions. Nine years ago, a MySpace chain letter prematurely broke “news” of the actor’s death. Another wonky rumor claimed Mitchell had left acting to run a chain of Wendy’s restaurants, presumably overflowing with orange soda.
“It was so funny,” Mitchell laughs, sitting (alive) inside a Spongebob Squarepants-decorated room inside Nickelodeon’s New York offices. “I’m like, ‘Man, maybe I need to [open a Wendy’s] now.’ Someone started that rumor, but it’s not made up. There is a guy named Kel Mitchell in Mississippi or something like that. I gotta meet him.”
Mitchell is in the building doing press for his live-action return to Nickelodeon, Game Shakers, in which he plays a Kanye-like hip-hop mogul named Double G who becomes co-owner of a multimillion-dollar app created by two 12-year-old girls. The show is a reunion of sorts for Mitchell and Dan Schneider, creator and producer of virtually every Nickelodeon hit since All That, including Kenan & Kel, Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, and Sam & Cat.
Being back in New York has also given Mitchell a chance to catch up with his old partner-in-hijinks, Kenan Thompson. Both famously auditioned for Saturday Night Live in 2003, though only Thompson got the gig. Mitchell, in his own words, may have been a bit “too hyper” at the time; his sketch, which imagined what would happen if DMX were in Toy Story, didn’t go over so well.
The pair went years without speaking, a byproduct, as described by Mitchell in 2012, of Thompson “wanting to make a name for himself solo.” But they’re friends again now, and have bonded over fatherhood, of all things. “That’s my buddy,” Mitchell now says, adding, “He’s a good dude.”
Below, read The Daily Beast’s conversation with Mitchell about his return to Nickelodeon, ‘90s nostalgia, and his favorite Kenan & Kel memories.
Nostalgia for ‘90s TV is in full swing these days, with so many beloved shows being brought back or rebooted. What do you make of that yearning for the past?
I think it’s awesome. People are saying, “You know, you were apart of my childhood. I used to rush home if I was having a bad day and I watched Kenan & Kel, it just made my day better.” That’s cool, you know what I mean? Yeah, the ‘90s are coming back in a way. I think it’s something in the air. The gear, the clothes, the music—everybody’s into it.
It’s crazy to think it’s been 21 years since All That went on the air. Do you have favorite memories from the years you were on the show?
Of course, just all the musical guests. To grow up liking all these great musical acts and then to work with them and go to Universal Studios with them—‘cause we shot on the Universal Studios lot in Florida. Aaliyah, rest in peace, Brandy, and Run DMC came and did a Christmas special. All the musical guests got passes when they came, so they would go on all the rides. TLC, we had a lot of fun with them. They did the theme song to the show, so we was always hanging out with them. They were fun, they were always dancing and cracking jokes. I remember LL Cool J did “yo mama” jokes, we had a “yo mama” joke battle with him.
We won, but I think he thinks he won. (Laughs.) I gotta get on Lip Sync Battle, his show, that’ll be so much fun.
What about favorite memories from Kenan & Kel?
Yeah, the Thanksgiving episode, when I had to hide a turkey under my shirt and it was hot and I was running around, messing up everything. That was a very funny episode. And just craziness, just me and Kenan behind the scenes. That’s how they started the show, ‘cause me and him were always hanging out and stuff like that. One time we put detergent inside of a… [laughs] inside of a dishwasher on accident, me and him. We were trying to clean the dishes but we put the wrong type of soap in there. So we were sitting there watching television and music videos, then all of a sudden we see these bubbles just rising toward the ceiling of the kitchen. It was like a Kenan & Kel episode but this was like, our life. (Laughs.)
Do you and Kenan still keep in touch?
Yeah, we just talked the other day. It’s cool. That’s my buddy.
What did you talk about?
Oh, just being a dad. ‘Cause he just had his daughter, I think she’s about 14 months now. So we’ve just been hanging out. I told him about the show ‘cause he asked what it was about. We were cracking up. He’s a good dude.
How did you end up on Game Shakers? I assume Dan Schneider created the part of Double G just for you.
Yeah, we worked together on a show about two years ago called Sam & Cat—you know, Ariana Grande. Very funny show, and on that show I played this hip-hop mogul. That was pretty wild. And we were like, ‘Man we gotta work together again.’ The Sam & Cat character was like Double G 1.0.
Do you get to show off some rapping on the show?
Yeah, I perform in the theme song. You’ll like it, it’s called “Drop that What.” I get to sing, I get to rap, I get to do a lot of stuff. [The show] is about two girls who code from Brooklyn, they have this amazing game and app that they make that blows up overnight. They become, like millionaires. It’s crazy. The only problem is that they put music in the game from a hip-hop mogul played by myself, Double G. And I’m like, “Yo, you guys didn’t ask me if you could do that so I need to sue you.” I go to sue ‘em and they’re like, “Oh, no, it’s OK, you can own the company with us.” And I’m like, “OK, cool, but you gotta hire my son.” So they end up hiring Triple G and he becomes a gaming consultant and we just make crazy games on this show and crazy music, because of the fact that I’m a hip-hop artist. Every game that we make on the show is downloadable from the Apple Store and Google.
Did any real rap stars inform how you play Double G?
Oh yeah, of course. I mix a lot of it up, like the outfits that he wears—he’s very fashionable. We have 2 Chainz-type outfits, we have Kanye outfits. He’s like Diddy-slash-Kanye, with a little bit of 50 Cent sprinkled in there and Coach Kreeton, one of the characters that I played in the ‘90s [in an All That sketch.]
That’s funny, considering you were in Kanye’s video for “All Falls Down.”
That was awesome. I remember when I got the call I was driving on Hollywood and Highland and his team called me and they were like, “You know, Kanye’s a fan of the show, he would love for you to come out and do that.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, definitely! I’ll come.” And they’re like, “[The shoot] is 5 a.m. though, at this airport.” I’m like, “Sure, I don’t care, doesn’t matter where it is.” ‘Cause he’s from the South Side of Chicago, I’m from the South Side of Chicago as well. So that was awesome.