Nearly everything Kel Mitchell says comes with an accompanying laugh. The easy-going attitude is contagious, and unlike other child stars, he's not resentful toward the shows (or catchphrases) that made him famous.
The comedian, best known for his roles on Nickelodeon's sketch comedy show "All That" and sitcom "Kenan & Kel" in the 1990s, continues to act in film and TV and is currently the voice of skateboarder Jay Jay on Nicktoons' "Wild Grinders."
But it's Mitchell's work as a stand-up comic that's bringing him to Bakersfield Friday evening, as the headliner of the inaugural First Friday Funnies event.
"I'm a great storyteller; I love telling stories from my life," Mitchell said during a phone interview Monday evening. "I'm very high-energy on stage, and you'll see a lot of my characters. It's definitely a good show."
Mitchell, 35, didn't say whether his best-known characters (Repairman or Coach Kreeton from "All That," Ed from "Good Burger" or the orange-soda chugging version of himself on "Kenan & Kel") would make an appearance in his routine, but fans can expect to have a good time if they love the comedian's penchant for crazy voices.
Calling from Los Angeles, Mitchell told The Californian about his start on Nickelodeon, his love for Korean pop music and the time he dressed as an old man and drove a golf cart around Universal Studios.
What can people expect from the show this weekend?
Oh man, if you loved seeing me on all the types of shows that you've watched me on ... and (want to see) a side of me that you've never seen before -- it's a good chance to know me. I guess you could say it'd be like "Kel Unplugged."
It's a lot of fun and that's the main thing. I enjoy doing stand-up because I have such a wild fan base and this is a way for me to reach out to all my fans that have been down for me since the '90s, to shake their hands ... and see them face-to-face and have them laugh with me. That's awesome.
Now that "All That" and "Kenan & Kel" reruns occasionally air on TeenNick, do you get many second-generation fans approaching you?
Oh yeah. I just came back from a flight from Chicago last night and this kid runs up to me. He was about 8 years old. He's seen shows that I'm on now, then he also watches "Good Burger" on Netflix. He was just super excited, and then his mother was excited as well because she was like "Hey, I grew up on you." I get those type of fans a lot, where it's like the mom and the kid. It's really a blessing to have something be so timeless and still be relevant at this time, and still come out with new material that this generation loves as well.
How did you first get into comedy and acting?
I was always the class clown. I always wanted to be on stage, cracking jokes. I never thought that I could get on television doing it. That wasn't really the goal, it was more of just making people laugh in my neighborhood. My parents were like, "We need to get this kid into something. He has so much energy." Where I grew up (in Chicago) you had to be in something, some type of hobby so you'd stay on the right path.
They put me in theater and I fell in love with the art of acting and how much fun it was. I started out in drama at first, but comedy just came natural to me because my family (is) always cracking jokes and dancing and having fun. I got discovered by an agent out in Chicago. My first job, I was a model for Cap'n Crunch. It was the '90s so I had the hi-top (hair) and I was (on the box) holding Crunch Berries. So for me, that was the height and then "All That" came along, and then it was like, "Oh, wow!"
What is your favorite memory from your time on "All That"?
A funny one is when Kenan (Thompson) and I were dressed as (our characters) Mavis and Clavis, the old guys, and we were in the back lot in L.A. at Universal Studios. We were just riding on one of the little carts and we actually rode (behind) the tour tram that goes around Universal Studios. Of course, the tram is supposed to be back there but we weren't. We didn't know we were riding over there, so we saw the "Psycho" house and all that stuff that everyone sees on the tour. And then all of a sudden we got to this lake, and we were like "Oh, no! We're on the tour!" And all of a sudden (park security) came up to us. It was funny because we were in so much makeup, they didn't realize it was us. So we just kept playing the part as if we were the two old guys. They just let us off. We were just like (in a rougher, older voice ) "Yeah, you know, we got lost!" (normal voice. ) It was a funny time, staying in character and getting in trouble.
One of your most famous catchphrases comes from "Kenan & Kel," as a response to the question "Who loves orange soda?" Do people ask you that a lot, hoping to get your iconic "I do, I do, I do-ooh!"?
I cannot go through any drive-thru after all these years, 'cause if I go through a drive-thru or to a burger spot or anything like that, always it's "Are you gonna order orange soda?" Everybody wants me to do (the bit). I go through the whole thing with the voice. And it's fun; I do it with them. I'm not one of those child actors that gets upset about it. I don't blow my top, like "Ugh, why you mention that?" I really like that people enjoy it and it's a part of their childhood, so I don't mind doing it.
Now you're doing a lot of voice acting -- how does that compare to what you've done before?
It's very similar. Sketch really prepared me to do voiceover. My first voiceover gig was "Clifford the Big Red Dog," which goes back to your other question about the new generation, because now ... I'll do the T-Bone voice, the little bulldog, (in person) and freak babies out. And they're like "Whoa, whoa, it's T-Bone's voice but it's a black guy!" They freak out.
For me, I love the whole process of (voiceover acting). You can go in there dressed like whatever because they're not seeing you. You can go in your pajamas and your underwear if you wanted to, and just have fun.
What is something about you that might surprise people?
I'm a huge K-pop (Korean pop music) fan. People might not know that about me. It's funny because I don't understand what they're saying but I love it and I sing along to it and I'm always dancing to it.
I know that your faith is very important to you. What role does that play in your daily life?
It keeps me motivated, keeps me comforted ... as far as knowing that you can make it, and it's not all about me, it's about Christ and about getting the word out there. I enjoy talking about it, thinking about it and getting people to know about it as well, 'cause it's all about love.
I'm also a clean comic but you won't even see the difference. It's not anything where it was like a choice, that's just my lifestyle. I don't cuss anyway, in just random conversation, so I wouldn't do that onstage because that would be fake.
In 2006, you -- like many others before and since -- were the subject of a death hoax. What was that like for you, your family and your career?
For the first 45 minutes, I was shocked. I was like "I can't believe they did that." Then I saw the other hoaxes that were going around, that they were doing it to other celebrities. And it was funny because family members did call in and go "Hey, is Kel OK?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I'm great!" What it did was, even though it was a rumor, it still had people seeing what I was up to. "Well, OK, he's not dead. What is he up to?" and then they start seeing all the other things that I've been working on and doing. So hey, it was good press.