Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Best known for his roles in All That, Kenan & Kel, and Good Burger, Kel Mitchell came to acting after getting into children’s theater in Chicago. In the 20-odd years since, he’s starred in all manner of products, from a Kanye West video to a early wave dance competition show. His latest role is as a hip-hop mogul on Nickelodeon’s Game Shakers—premiering this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time—where he’s been reunited with his old pal, All That creator Dan Schneider.
The A.V. Club: How did you get involved with Game Shakers? Was it Dan Schneider?
Kel Mitchell: Definitely. Game Shakers is an awesome show, by the way. We had a great recording yesterday. I’m really excited to be a part of Game Shakers because it means working with Dan again. I mean, we worked on great shows in the past with Kenan & Kel and Good Burger. To be doing this again with Dan, it’s so much fun on set.
As far as our comedy, we just get one another. As far as this show, it’s an awesome show. It’s about two girls that can code, and they create this amazing app, and they blow up overnight, and their app is being downloaded by everyone, and they become millionaires. The only problem is that they use the background music from this amazingly famous hip-hop mogul, who is played by me. Double G is a mixture between Diddy and 50 Cent and all these hip-hop moguls that are out. I go to sue them, and they’re like, “No, no, don’t sue us. Don’t sue us. You can own the company with us.” And so I end up owning the company with them, and they end up hiring my son, Triple G, and we make amazingly cool games.
It’s just a great show. Coding, making games, and then amazing, great music. We poke fun at hip-hop a lot, so there’s a lot of fun things with that. I get to sing, I get to dance—I mean, this is a dream come true role.
AVC: You also played a rapper on an episode of Sam & Cat, which is another Dan Schneider show. Did that inspire him specifically, or is this just how it happened to work out?
KM: It happened to work out.
We had so much fun on Sam & Cat, and then working with Jennette [McCurdy] and Ariana [Grande]… man, we had so much fun.
I remember, we were talking about, “Man, we got to do something like this again.” It was definitely on Dan’s mind. Double G is definitely similar to PeezyB.
AVC: You’ve done quite a lot of kids’ TV and have talked about how you really like doing it. Why?
KM: I think it’s important. Coming from it, that was my first big gig on Nickelodeon, working with kids. It’s just cool. Kids are truthful; they’ll tell you whether it’s funny or not, or whether they really enjoy something. That’s awesome. I have fun doing it. I think that I found a knack there that just really works, you know? Kids seem to like me. Even kids on the street, they pass by me and go, “That guy is cool,” and start giggling.
I don’t know. I’ve been blessed to have many shows with that happening. I’m cool with it. I think it’s fun. I think it’s cool having kids come up to me and say, “Hey man, I love watching your show every day when I come home from school, or when it’s the weekend. I love watching your shows.” Now, it’s even cool because their mom is saying the same thing. Like, the mom is going, “Hey, I watched you in the ’90s,” and then their kid is saying, “Hey, I’m watching you now,” so it’s like I’ve got the whole family watching the show. It’s pretty cool.
AVC: You mentioned All That. Can you talk about how you ended up on that show?
KM: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I got into acting because my parents were like, “Okay, this kid is a class clown. He’s in trouble at school,” because I wanted to perform all the time in class. It wasn’t the right time to do stuff. So, they started getting me into courses at this theater. It was this after-school program, then a summer course at this creative arts foundation. I was there doing that. It was so cool to me. I fell in love with the art of acting. I started out doing drama, then we also would do comedy. I went on from there to do theater in downtown Chicago, like the Victory Gardens Theater, and Goodman Theatre, and I got discovered by an agent. I would do infomercials and stuff like that and get some auditions; some I would get, some I didn’t. I just decided to stick with it.
But then, All That came along. It was like, “Whoa, a sketch comedy show.” It was the first of its kind for kids. I’m like, “Oh, this is right up my alley.” I remember I was a sophomore in high school. I had finals that week. I never forget a monologue, but I forgot my monologue when I went into the audition. I froze, and then they were like, “You can go out, and you can go think about it, and come back in.” So I said, “Cool.” And then I went out, and I knocked over some of the camera cords and the camera sailed and everything, and I was like, “Okay. I ruined this audition.” But they thought it was funny because I played it off in a funny way, because I’m real physical. I came back in, and I rocked the monologue, and then they told me to do impersonations, and I did all these crazy impersonations of my uncles and people I’ve seen on the street in Chicago on the bus and stuff like that. I did a “dude” voice, and that’s where Ed [from Good Burger] was kind of born. I did that there at the audition. They were just cracking up.
Two weeks went by, and for actors, you know, two weeks going by, you’re like, “I probably didn’t get it.” But I remember one night, I was praying the night before bed, and then the phone rang, and my mom started screaming and running around the house. I was like, “What?” She was like, “We’re going to LA. You’ve got a callback in L.A.” I went to L.A, rocked that audition, and then got on the show. From there, it was gone and poppin’.
AVC: Did you have to move to Orlando, since that’s where the show was shot?
KM: Yeah, which was wild, because we were in Florida first before we came to L.A. It was really cool because being in Orlando, you had Universal Studios. We shot in the Universal lot. In between scenes, between school, we would go ride the Back To The Future ride and all that stuff. We had passes to everything. It was really cool. I think Shaq was really big around that time with the Orlando Magic, so we knew all the basketball players. Everywhere we went, it was kids screaming. It was wild.
AVC: Did the kids on the show have input as far as its content? Could you say, “I don’t think a kid would say it this way”?
KM: Oh, heck yeah. There was always a lot of improvising. The first two times, we would do it how it was scripted. Then the producers and the writers would come in and go, “All right, let’s try this.” With me, I would love trying new stuff, add a pinch of my voice a bit, add a bit of comedy to it even more, and I would just have fun with the writers and the jokes and everything. A lot of magic came out of those moments.
We definitely had fun with it, even as far as how our characters look, even with Ed. The first time Ed was on All That, it was with Josh Server. He had this sketch called “Dream Remote.” It was where he could have a remote control that could control his entire life. So, he could fast forward through his sister nagging, he could make pizza come really quickly. I was the pizza guy. I came to the door, and the pizza guy didn’t really have a voice, so I was like, [Does voice.] “Mleh, here’s your pizza!” I did that, and I was like, “Oh my goodness! That was crazy.” That was the first time we saw Ed, and so they created Good Burger. But then I wanted Ed to have a look. I just kind of looked like me. I remember I went to the hair room, and I saw these braids. It was like these early Brandy ’90s Milli Vanilli braids. I put those on, and it came to life. From there, it was history. But it was really cool that they would let me go ahead and say, “Hey, I want to know how he looks. That’d be cool.” Even with Coach Kreeton with the tooth. We had fun with that. It was like, “Yeah, let’s knock his tooth out.” It was so crazy.
AVC: How did your working relationship with Kenan Thompson start?
KM: With All That, Kenan had already been a kid star. He was in The Mighty Ducks already and Heavyweights, a couple other shows and movies, and so on All That, it was cool to be working with him because he would give us a lot of advice and stuff like that, which was fun.
I remember the moment that we had that Kenan and Kel moment. We were doing the two old characters that we play together on All That called Mavis & Clavis. I remember we were introducing TLC, and we had this little banter back and forth, and the crowd… it was bananas. Just like you were saying with the improvising, me and Kenan were just going back and forth with all these different ideas. It was fun. That’s when we both saw it. Like, “Oh man, this is going to be cool. We’re going to work together on all the sketches and do some funny stuff together.” That’s what we started doing, and then even off-camera, we would hang out a lot. Our moms would hang out a lot as well. They saw that. They saw us being hilarious offscreen and on-screen.
One hiatus they said, “You guys are going to stay here and not go back to your old homes, because we’re going to film a pilot for the Kenan & Kel show, and we were like, “Whoa! That’s awesome.” That kept happening for different shows and stuff like that. We just have a lot of fun together.
AVC: On WTF, Kenan said you guys are still friends. Is that true?
AVC: That’s a long-running relationship.
KM: Yeah, I’m totally happy for Kenan. He’s done SNL and all those things. Our moms stay in contact with each other, so it’s really cool.
AVC: I read that you tried out for SNL around the same time as Kenan, but you didn’t get it. Is that true?
KM: Yeah, I did try out for SNL. It’s a funny story. I didn’t get it, but that’s okay. It was a fun time. I think that I was just too hyper at that time. I was doing all kinds of characters. I had this bit where it was DMX if he was in Toy Story. It was so random; I thought it was funny. I did this whole sketch, and then I did a joke about Michael Jackson loving trees, because he had this interview where he was in a tree. I don’t know if you remember that. I did this whole song about Michael Jackson, which was very funny. It was wild, and it was hilarious, but I’m in good company with a lot of guys that didn’t get on there, like Jim Carrey and guys like that. It was just an honor to even audition.
AVC: Are you ever surprised at how long this stuff has lasted? Like, that people still want to come hang out with you and drink orange soda?
KM: Yeah, it’s bananas. It’s fun and at the same time, it’s crazy. I guess we made a real big impact in the ’90s. They stop me on the streets. It’s so funny—the different types of fans. I’ll get old women that say they watched it with their grandkids, and I’ll get 30-year-olds that are the same age that watched it back in the day.
With the orange soda parties, I just wanted to reach out to all the fans. I was seeing that everywhere I’d go, people would talk about the show. I started doing college appearances and stuff like that where we’d have orange soda parties. It was all-orange everything, because, like Diddy—which is funny because, speaking of Diddy again, now I’m playing a hip-hop mogul on Game Changers—but I love the fact that Diddy would do all-white parties. Everybody would wear white clothing, so I thought it would be cool to do a party where everyone wears orange because Kel loved orange soda. It just took off. People just started wearing orange outfits and stuff like that at these shows. I would be up there with the DJ just partying with them and signing autographs and shaking hands. It was a cool way to actually meet my fans, and I was getting booked all over. I do stand-up as well.
It’s so broad; I have fans from little kids all the way up to adults and even older. It’s a cool way to go to the different outlets that adults are at. With doing stand-up, they get to see a different side of me, too, outside of my characters.
AVC: You’ve also done a bit of music, including a song from the Good Burger soundtrack. How did that happen?
KM: I love music. My family is very music-driven. They always played music at family functions and stuff like that. I’m all about it. I had a rap group when I was younger. We even performed on All That twice, actually—the first season and then my last season. All the musicians that came on the show, I had a lot of fun with them because they were people I listened to, and then now get to hang out with. That was pretty awesome.
I like to put music in everything, you know? I write as well. Different films that I’m on, like Clifford The Big Red Dog, I worked on the soundtrack for that film. And Mystery Men, I had a song on the soundtrack as well. I like working with music, too.
Mystery Men (1999)—“Invisible Boy”
AVC: Mystery Men had a massive cast, but it didn’t really get a big reception.
KM: You know what’s funny is that now it’s a cult classic. Mystery Men is right up there with all my other shows. It’s been crazy. I like going to Comic-Con and all that stuff. I’m really that guy. Me and my wife, we love comic books and cartoons and stuff like that. I get fans like, “Mystery Men was the greatest movie ever!” It’s a lot of fun. To play a superhero, that was awesome. Then Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo—to work with all of them, I was just kind of taking it all in from all these great, great and really cool comedians, you know?
AVC: How did you end up in a Kanye West video?
KM: That was awesome. I got the call from Kanye’s team. I remember I was driving down Hollywood and Highland. I got that call, and I was like, “Heck yeah!” I’m a fan of Kanye, plus he’s from my home town. He’s from the South Side of Chicago. He had a lot of other great guest stars that were from Chicago in the video as well. Like Common, who grew up not too far from my neighborhood. I was just super happy to be a part of it and represent Chicago.
I remember they said, “You’ve got to be at the airport to film it at 5 a.m.,” It was like 5 a.m. the next day. I was just like, “All right! I’ll be there.”
Great video. Kanye is so talented. I remember being around a lot during that album because he was doing different shows in Chicago. It was shows where I was doing the things I was part of and Kanye would perform. It’s been great to see how amazing his career has turned out, even now. He’s amazingly talented.
AVC: It’s shocking to realize that The College Dropout came out 11 years ago. He definitely looks like a different guy in the video.
KM: It was funny. I watch stuff now, and I’m like, “Wow, they’re looking different.” Yeah. Really great guy.
Loiter Squad (2014)—Himself
AVC: What did you do on Loiter Squad?
KM: They hit me up, Tyler [The Creator] and his whole crew, and they were fans of Kenan & Kel and All That. They were like, “Hey, we got this great idea. We just want you to come and do it.” I’m like, “Cool!” So, I watched their shows a couple of times and, you know, their stuff is really funny, so I said, “All right, cool. I’ll go on up there.”
It was funny how they work because their thing is all about improv. They have the skeleton of the sketch of what they’re going to do, but then it’s really on the fly once you turn the camera on. We were there, they turned the camera on, and then it just kind of came together. It’s a lot of improv. But it turned out to be very, very, very funny. I get a lot of teenagers that follow Tyler and everything, like, “Hey man! You were on Loiter Squad! That’s what’s up!” They have a big following.
AVC: You were also on an episode of Nash Bridges.
KM: Whoa, you just went way back.
Yeah, I was. That was really cool. It was just like a quick second, you know what I mean? But it was a fun role to do. You know, he’s the guy from Miami Vice. I’m like, “My parents watched you all the time. You were in the cool white jacket with the pink shirt.” So, that was a lot of fun. He was real serious on set, though. I remember that a lot. Cheech Marin was on it too. He was funny. He was really cool.
AVC: You’ve done some hosting as well. Can you talk about Dance 360?
KM: I love that show. I got to be myself on there. Once again, I’m part of the music world because Onyx, Fredro Starr, he was the other host on the show. So that was cool, because I love Onyx. To work with him was great.
I also have dance fever, because it doesn’t matter what song is on, I’m always going to dance. I don’t care what song it is. I’m always moving and listening to the beat. For me, that was awesome.
Dance 360 was honestly like the first battle show. Now you have all the shows. America’s Best Dance Crew and all these shows, and So You Think You Can Dance, but we were the first one. It was really cool to play that, like the way the stage was made, and how they would come in and battle. It was fun. They would come out, spin a rim—I don’t know if you’ve seen the show, but they had spinning rims on the stage. It was a fly show, and it was really loud. We would just scream through the whole show, like “Yeah! Did you love it?! Did you love that dance move?!” for 30 minutes straight. It was a lot of Red Bull.
AVC: Rob Dyrdek has come a long way from Rob & Big.
KM: Rob Dyrdek is a great entrepreneur businessman. I love working with him. I’ve learned a lot from him just having fun doing the voice-overs.
I love doing voice-over. Voice-over is one of those things that you can come in dressed like whatever because they’re just hearing your voice. I’ve done Clifford The Big Red Dog, Motorcity, tons of different voice-over roles. Wild Grinders is fun because he’s a cool kid that skateboards. I used to skateboard as well, so it’s a fun show to be on, and we get pretty wild on that show… because we’re wild grinders.
AVC: Rob Dyrdek is also a guy who’s done a lot just by being full of energy.
KM: It’s his personality. He’s an all-around great guy. People love working with him, so I’m sure when he goes into conference meetings with a big business, and they probably just go, “Yeah, sure! Let’s do it.” Because he’s such a great guy, you know?