Tip: automatically upgrade a standard nutcase attack into a terrorist nutcase attack by shouting 'Allah' as you commit it. #woolwich 22/5/2013 - 10:14pm
I am sat in a greasy burger bar in downtown Los Angeles opposite a man who, by all rights, should be dead. Kel Mitchell was once famous for being half of Nickelodeon's most prized comedy double act, Kenan and Kel, but since the show was disbanded in 1999 he has fallen on hard times. A struggling actor in a city where being black and having a penchant for certain carbonated juice drinks simply isn't enough to get you noticed, Kel is not surprised that malicious Internet rumors convinced almost everyone in the world that he had died in a car crash. "I think it's true to say that my career pretty much died when the show got pulled, even if I didn't," he concedes. But he can still see the bright side of life, and Kel believes things are changing -- for the better.
As we eat, Kel pauses in between munches of his burger to reminisce about Kenan and Kel. It was 10 years ago, in the heyday of comedy before audiences had realised that shows featuring the same recycled jokes, scripts and catchphrases every single week simply weren't funny. Kel pretty much played himself: a hapless, clumsy Chicago teenager who liked goofing off and loved orange soda. Chuckling, Kel revealed to me how he'd actually come up with that joke himself. "I thought, wouldn't it be funny, if every week there was some situation involving orange soda, and I could say something like, 'Kel loves orange soda!'. You get that whole third-person orientation in there as well, it's classic. We added in the dialogue with Kenan one episode, where he'd ask me who loved orange soda, to set me up for the line. That worked really well, so hell, we just went for it. Every goddamn week! The 'I do I do doooo' came much later. That was a new director who introduced that. Jack Peterson. I didn't like it, I thought it was excessive. But what can you do?"
Kenan and Kel was a huge success for Nickelodeon but Kel still feels hard done by. "They screwed me, pretty much. They wouldn't even let me do a commercial for Tango. They said they owned me." He reels slightly. I ask him if he ever felt exploited as a young, attractive black actor working his way up the Hollywood hierarchy. "I just did it for the art, the comedy, y'know? The money was nice, sure. The women were hot. But we were making people laugh and that's why I kept it up, that was the most important thing. I mean we had that fusion. Comedy and hip hop. It was cool, it was the killer buzz of the late nineties."
Whenever Kel mentions Kenan's name, I notice his expression flicker with incredulity. Was there love lost between the two inseparables? Sadly, it seems so. A creative rift after the show had finished caused the two to have a massive, violent argument and they haven't spoken since. Kel even suspects it was Kenan who started the car crash rumor by posting on fan websites. "Last I heard, he was doing Snakes on a Plane with Sam Jackson," postulates Kel. "I think he gets eaten by a python quite near the start though so he doesn't get much screen time. Not that he deserves it, the fat bastard." Cautious not to aggravate Kel further, I leave the issue there.
As Kel plucks the final two fries from the bag and tentatively licks the salt off his fingers, I ponder what it is that's making him so happy. His latest project is Like Mike 2: Streetball, a straight-to-video kid's flick about a boy who finds Michael Jordans's old basketball shoes and amazingly becomes imbued with all the ball skills in the world. Kel speaks about the project very enthusiastically. "Of course," he says, "the shoes are just a metaphor. They represent the soul -- the metaphysical SOUL, not the sole of the shoe -- and the power it has over life. It's an amazing picture. If you're in a WalMart the weekend it comes out, check the bargain bin for it. It'll change your life. It certainly changed mine."
Kel slurps his soda noisily (it's not orange), and I look out at the people on the sidewalk, going about their daily business. Despite the mindless optimism he resonates, it's hard not to think that the world has forgotten Kel Mitchell. Kenan and Kel was a fad of the last century, and there's no space in the comedy arena for him alongside the likes of Steve Carrell or Zach Braff any more. "The future is uncertain," he philosophises, scooping his trash into a pile. "Sure, I might spend the rest of my life like this. But I'm always ready to catch the rebound if it ever comes. It doesn't all end with Kenan and Kel. Hey thanks for the chat, man, but I gotta get back to work." And with that he stands up, grabs his mop from beside him and retreats back to the kitchen, whistling cheerfully.
Pete Natrino was speaking to Kel Mitchell for Hollywood Magazine
© The Natflap 2005 - 2013.