Some years back, a couple approached Kel Mitchell with a wild story.
“They said they saw Good Burger on their first date… and then they got married,” Mitchell says with a wide grin. “They got married because of Good Burger!”
I, too, saw Good Burger in theaters—by virtue of the fact that it was the only offering at our local cinema. I was 12, and had been an avid consumer of All That, the Nickelodeon sketch-comedy series boasting a troupe of gifted teens—Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, Amanda Bynes, Josh Server, Nick Cannon, and Lori Beth Denberg among them—performing parody skits. It was essentially SNL for kids, and “Good Burger,” featuring Mitchell as Ed, the spaced-out cashier at a fast-food burger joint, was arguably its most popular sketch.
Ed and “Good Burger” proved so appealing that Paramount decided to green-light a feature-film version, starring Mitchell as Ed and his comedy partner Kenan Thompson as Dexter, a high schooler who’s forced to work at Good Burger after crashing into his teacher Mr. Wheat’s (played by Sinbad) car. The pair soon find themselves in a turf war with Mondo Burger, a splashy new chain churning out mutant-sized patties, and dodging their minions, including ’90s pinup Carmen Electra.
Good Burger hit theaters on July 25, 1997, and though it was savaged by critics, became a cult hit among the tween set with its bizarre blend of broad comedy, A-list cameos (Shaq, George Clinton), and Abe Vigoda. In the quarter century since, Mitchell toplined the sitcom Kenan & Kel, gave a scene-stealing turn in the flick Mystery Men, did a ton of voice work, featured in the Nick series Game Shakers, shook his tailfeather on Dancing with the Stars, and currently co-hosts the MTV series Deliciousness. A born-again Christian who credits his faith with saving him from suicidal ideations, Mitchell serves as a youth pastor at Los Angeles’ Spirit Food Christian Center.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Good Burger—replete with a limited-edition Blu-Ray Steelbook of the film—The Daily Beast caught up with Mitchell, now 43, to discuss the film, its legacy, and his deal with God.
Twenty-five years is pretty wild.
[Laughs] It’s definitely fun. I was a kid—I wasn’t super adult—so I don’t feel old about it, you know what I mean? But I think it’s cool. I love the fact that people still love it to this day, and that they have great memories about it.
Could you talk about the origins of the “Good Burger” sketch? How did you cook that up?
I actually did the voice in the All That audition. I did the, “Whoa, dude!” “Yeah!” Cool!” and they put that in a sketch called “Dream Remote” that Josh Server, one of our other cast members, was in. And then they loved the voice so much that they created this world around him, which became “Good Burger.” And that just took off. Every musical act would want to be on the “Good Burger” set, and we had celebrity guests, and it was one of our most popular sketches, which I’m so thankful for. And then we decided to do the movie, and look at this, man! Twenty-five years later, and we’re still talking about it! It’s a celebration!
Were you doing a surfer dude with that voice during the audition?
Yeah. I was doing a Keanu Reeves-type voice—a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure-type voice. It was a voice I did with my friends in school.
My read on Ed was that he’s always incredibly stoned.
No, it was just more of the Valley. Because I’m from Chicago, it was my take on California Valley kids, you know what I mean? “Yeah, dude! Let’s go surf!”
All That was a pretty revolutionary show. You had a sketch-comedy program full of kids, and there was a lot of talent there—you and Kenan, Amanda Bynes, Nick Cannon, even Gabriel Iglesias.
It was a very diverse show, and I’m excited about that. Super fun. Like you said, a lot of great celebs came out of that. The thing about it is, we were just kids enjoying the moment. Seeing everyone blossom and go do amazing things is just so awesome and cool. Every time we get together, it feels like a high school reunion. Man, I’m always talking to Kenan—just got off the phone with him literally a couple of days ago. I just spoke with Josh [Server] a few hours ago. So, yeah, I stay in contact with everybody. Shout-out to Zoom, shout-out to group chats! We all stay in contact.
It’s a bummer because the All That reboot got killed because of COVID, essentially. They had ordered a bunch more episodes but then the pandemic threw a wrench in those plans.
The pandemic and also… you never know. Some other stuff might come out of that as well…
There’s a quite moving scene in the film where you and Kenan are on the roof talking, and Kenan opens up about his dad walking out on the family. It marks a big tonal shift in the film, and I’m curious how that scene came to be.
What it got to show was our range. Shout-out to the writers, because they did that a lot on Kenan & Kel as well. We’d have funny moments but then we’d also have serious moments as well. We had a scene where Kenan went out of town and I didn’t get to say goodbye to him, and it was a very dramatic moment. A lot of fans and celebs come up to me about that moment. Me and Kenan are actors as well, so we were like, let’s show them what we got. And then, in zany Good Burger fashion, of course Ed had the joke at the end of that to bring it back to the laughs.
In the MySpace days, you were the subject of a number of wild rumors—including that you had died, and that you were operating a chain of Wendy’s. Why do you think people kept creating these wacky rumors about you?
You know what? I really don’t think about it. It’s cool, in a way, because a lot of celebs have these crazy rumors going on that people think is a legendary, weird thing…so, yeah, man. I just think it’s funny. I think it’s hilarious. But I’m alive—I’m here!
One of the wildest scenes in the film features you and Kenan driving the Good Burger mobile into an NBA arena and delivering burgers to Shaq. What was that like to shoot?
We were really there! We were really there, man. We were already friends with Shaq. We shot in Florida when Shaq was on the Magic, and his family used to come to the set a lot. When we moved to L.A., we stayed in touch with him, and the producers, writers and us wanted him in the film. I remember parking the car right by the court, which was fun. I had to get it right every time. Now I know how the guys in The Fast and the Furious feel.
What were some of your favorite memories from filming Good Burger?
Well, you know, I love to dance—I was on Dancing with the Stars—so any dancing in movies I’m always down to do. So, of course, the big dance scene in Demented Hills with George Clinton was one of my favorites. And pulling up the car to Shaq, too.
It must have been a trip to record the song “We’re All Dudes” with Less Than Jake—to be recording a song based on this comedy character you created with a huge pop-punk group.
In the sketch, I had a little ditty I would do before a customer would walk up, where I would go, “I’m a dude, he’s a dude…” I remember Brian [Robbins] came up to me and said, “Hey, we should make a song to that. Do a song to that. But you need to do it, like, today.” So, I did a draft of it. And then he tells me, “Hey, let’s meet up. We’ve got a meeting.” So, next I’m at Capitol Records, and they go, “Let us hear the song.” I sing it there, literally at the table, and they love it and are like, “OK, we’re going to fly you to Florida and you’re going to go into the studio with Less Than Jake.” So, I went down there, recorded it with the guys, and had a blast. And shout-out to that song, because I’m still getting royalties from it today.
What was it like working with Dan Schneider, and do you have any thoughts on his dismissal from Nickelodeon?
A very awesome writer, had a hand in Good Burger, and he’s excited about Good Burger as well. We’re just…excited and celebrating Good Burger, man.
You wrote in your book Blessed Mode that you struggled with alcoholism and depression. What got you to that place, and how were you able to dig yourself out of that hole?
I love God, man. Blessed Mode is a devotional book. It’s really to let people know that they’re beautifully and wonderfully made by God, and a lot of people are doing with mental-health issues. I’m all about bringing joy to people, and making sure that they’re waking up happy and letting go of a lot of things. That’s why I wrote Blessed Mode. I have another book that’s coming out Sept. 6 called Prank Day, and a lot of the comedy you’d find on All That is in this story. It’s about a kid who does pranks—and then all the pranks come alive.
Was it your conversion to Christianity that helped you in your battle with alcoholism and depression?
Yeah, man. I pray every day. God brought me out of a lot of that, which is really, really good. I work within the church and I’m also a youth pastor as well. I’m preaching to my kids every Sunday while staying within the entertainment business. I’m talking to the church in between interviews today.
How bad did your struggles get?
Um…I dealt with different things. Suicide…I dealt with that as well. And just the depression of life. But I always want to tell anybody: if you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, and you’re dealing with things where you feel like you can’t trust other people, you have to renew the mind. If you have another day to breathe, another day to wake up, it’s another day to be better than the day before. I’m very adamant that it’s important for people to live. We’ve lost so many people, especially during the pandemic where a lot of people saw how real life can be when they were taken away from the doing of things. We’re human beings, not human doers, so who are you being? What’s really in your heart? That’s what’s important right now. Those are things that I had to find out.
How did you become a youth pastor, and how has that enriched your life?
The experience has been awesome. There are a lot of ups and downs in life, and the thing about it is, in those ups and downs, God was always with me. In my own mindset, and the things I was dealing with, it turned into depression, because it was frustration with things that I had dealt with. So, I found God. I started making sure that I prayed every day, meditated every day, broke through emotional walls—and then I took the call. I’ve had people speak about it throughout my life, telling me I should preach, but I had to hear it from God Himself. And when I actually heard from God, “I want you to preach. This is what I want you to do,” I brought it to my pastor, who told me he’d heard from God as well. I’d worked in the church for years, helping the ministry here and there, so it’s not like I became a pastor just to conduct Good Burger weddings or something like that. [Laughs] This is a real thing, and I want to let people know that they are loved, they are beautifully and wonderfully made, and I want people to feel the joy and peace that God gave me.
Wait…have you conducted a Good Burger wedding?
No, no, no! [Laughs] When the media found out that I was preaching, they felt that it was like that—like it wasn’t a real thing—but it’s a for-real thing.
Is this Good Burger animated series going to happen on Paramount+?
[Laughs] You never know with Good Burger! It’s the gift that keeps on giving, man. So, keep an eye out.