The Case of Keenan and Kel

This week we’re continuing our SNICK-tember with a very special guest. He’s another old friend of ours, but this is his first time appearing on the show! So let’s give a warm BCD welcome to Jaren Lewis! 

We asked Jaren to join us this week because we’re covering a childhood favorite of his, the hilarious SNICK-com Kenan and Kel! Even though the show ended 20 years ago, Kenan and Kel continues to be one of the most beloved parts of the SNICK lineup. It starred two break-out stars from All That, and followed the misadventures of Kenan Rockmore and Kel Kimble; two teens from Chicago, IL. 

Kenan and Kel had it all: an iconic theme song, quotable catch-phrases, and two lead actors with impeccable comedic chemistry. So, everybody out there go run and tell your homeboys and homegirls, it’s time for Keenan and Kel!

THEY’RE ALL THAT

  • Back in the early 1990’s, Brian Robbins, Michael Tollin, and Dan Schneider started a nation-wide search for young comedic actors. The result was the original cast of All That, premiering in 1994.
  • All That became a huge success for Nickelodeon, and this is where producers and audiences first saw the magic between Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. The boys made the audience laugh on screen, and the cast and crew laugh off screen. They starred in sketches together as Mavis and Clavis, two grumpy old men. They delivered the lines that played at the end of many All That episodes: “Hey Clavis, Wake up, the show’s over!” “Oh Yeah, kick it!” 
    • In an Entertainment Weekly article, Kenan Thompson remarked about how similar the two were, and how they connected almost immediately. They really shined while playing Mavis and Clavis because of the off-the-cuff nature of the sketch. The boys really made the characters their own.
  • Kenan and Kel were break-out stars, and All That was a major success. Nickelodeon executives started forming plans for a new project starring the teens.

A SITCOM IS BORN

  • Writer Kim Bass was attending a birthday party for the comedian Sinbad (I feel like that’s the most 90s thing that we could ever say), when a Nickelodeon executive approached him about the possibility of a spin-off show starring Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. 
  • At that point, Bass was well-known for creating “Sister Sister,” an ABC sitcom starring Tia and Tamera Mowry (now streaming on Netflix). Unfortunately, his name seemed to confuse this particular executive, who reportedly told him, “We’ve been looking for you. I thought you were an older white lady.” 
  • Bass agreed to meet with Thompson and Mitchell, and he immediately noticed their incredible dynamic. Bass felt that the two were so naturally funny, it almost seemed as if they had rehearsed jokes before meeting him. He thought the boys were so well matched, they could be the same person. It was a conversation with two people, who were in perfect comedic rhythm with each other. 
  • So, the show was ordered, and once the second season of All That was complete, the actors stayed at Universal Studios in Orlando, to immediately begin filming Kenan & Kel.

THE SHOW: AHH, HERE IT GOES! 

  • In August of 1996, Nickelodeon viewers met Kenan Rockmore and Kel Kimble, two mischievous best friends chasing schemes that always landed them in trouble. Kenan was the straight man, the leader that always dragged a reluctant Kel into his shenanigans. Kel was the goofy best friend, an orange-soda-loving comedic foil.
    • The writers gave Thompson and Mitchell the bare bones of their characters, but they allowed the boys to develop them further. Kenan said back in 1996, “The writers gave us a skeleton of the characters, and we put the meat on them. We bring our own shenanigans into the show.”
  • Filmed in front of a live audience at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, FL, Kenan and Kel was the first of many spin-offs from All That. In fact, much of Nickelodeon’s live-action programming from the late-90’s to the mid-2000’s could be traced back to All That in some form, and this was the first of all of them. 
    • Each episode opened with the boys standing in front of the theatre curtain, telling the audience (and viewers at home) what the episode would be about. This always ended with Kenan getting an idea for a new scheme, and often asking Kel to get various items and meet him somewhere. Kel then followed him off the stage crying out, “Ahh, here it goes!” 
  • According to a 1996 issue of the “Ooze News,” it took about 75 crew members and four months to create the first season of the show.
    • Although the show was created by Kim Bass, it shared the same executive producers as All That, and producer Brian Robbins was the head of the crew.
      • He oversaw the entire episode process from script writing to editing. He even directed some episodes.
    • The main writers for the first season were: Kevin Kopelow, Heath Seifert, and Dan Schneider. They were also writers for All That, and Schnieder also guest-starred as Angus, the rival to Kenan’s grocery store boss.
    • Producer Merrie Dudley managed everyone’s schedule. Each workday lasted 10 hours, and she made sure everyone was staying on task. The five-day work week ended in the taping on Friday night, with the studio audience. 
      • Could you imagine going to see Kenan and Kel on a Friday night? A childhood dream. 
    • Joel Fisher was the production coordinator, which is essentially a stage manager. Imagine Kevin from All That. Joel did everything in his power to make the show go on, which meant wearing a headset and beeper to be reached at all times.
      • I wonder how many orange soda runs he did 😉 
    • Bruce Anthony Marshal was responsible for costumes, buying or making about 20 outfits per episode! David Jordan Jr was responsible for the props and scenery, and he also designed the iconic Nickelodeon news anchor, Stick Stickly! 
  • Kenan and Kel originally aired on Nickelodeon for four seasons, from August 1996, to July 2000. After the series finished, reruns continued on Nickelodeon from 2001 to 2004.
  • The series appeared on The N (later known as TeenNick) from 2007-2009, which reinvigorated its popularity with late-90’s kids. 

THEME SONG

  • Coolio
    • All That’s theme song had the incredibly popular and talented group TLC sing their intro, so it only stood to reason that Kenan and Kel would deserve the same treatment. 
    • Who do you choose to do the intro song for an amazing comedy duo? Well Nickelodeon chose someone who had just received a Grammy for the hit “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Yes, that’s right, Coolio. 
      • In the Entertainment Weekly article Kenan said that “It was the best. He had been on All That before at that point, so we felt like we knew him. That’s how you are when you’re young, ‘Oh yeah, Coolio’s my best friend.’”
    • Instead of using an already established hit song, Coolio delivered an original theme that captured the spirit of the 90’s. The intro to the show was essentially a music video, featuring classic Nickelodeon staples like the Universal globe fixture and the big orange couch.
      • The song was named for Kel’s famous line: “Aww, here it goes,” and the lyrics introduced the show’s characters, making the tune unique to Kenan and Kel.
      • The theme song’s visuals are engaging, and honestly endearing. Here are two kids hanging out with a huge star, having the time of their lives. They look like they’re having an absolute blast, and it really reflected the tone of Nickelodeon in general. 

WHO LOVES ORANGE SODA?!? 

  • So, if you  watched Nickelodeon in the 90’s, there was one undeniable truth that absolutely everyone knew: Kel loves Orange Soda. Apparently the line came from Dan Schneider, one of the main writers on the show. It was a silly running gag, that audiences might have forgotten years later–but it was Kel’s delivery and slapstick humor that cemented it into the 90’s Nick quote hall of fame.
  • Back in the 90’s, people would stop Kel on the street and ask, “Who loves orange soda?” Even in later years, it’s something that follows him everywhere he goes. He said, “When my wife and I go out to eat, it doesn’t matter what type of restaurant we’re at, whether it’s a five-star restaurant or a burger shack, people go crazy if I don’t get an orange soda. And they’re like, ‘Oh, what are you going to drink? Orange soda?’ And they just crack up, but I enjoy it. I’m happy that people enjoy the show and are still drinking orange soda.”
  • Kel wasn’t the only character with a catchphrase. Kenan would often scream, “WHYYYY” when things went wrong. The soundbite of it often appeared at the end of each episode after the credits.

STARRING

  • Kenan Thompson as Kenan Rockmore
    • Kenan, before getting a role in All That, had a starring role in Mighty Ducks 2. Before he and Kel starred in Good Burger, he had also starred in Mighty Ducks 3 and Heavyweights. 
  • Kel Mitchell as Kel Kimble
    • We mentioned this in our episode of All That but.. He forgot his monologue he’d prepared for his audition to be on All That, but when he tripped on some studio equipment, he turned it into a joke and had the producers laughing. He has said that his Ed voice for the Good Burger sketch also came out of that audition.
    • Good Burger was his first starring role in a feature film.
    • When talking about their role model status Kel said. “It makes me feel so good to see kids laugh and smile at us. But what makes it really great is kids of different ages, backgrounds and cultures like what we do. That’s when you know you’re doing good work.”
  • Ken Foree as Roger Rockmore
    • Roger is Kenan’s father who is not afraid to ground Kel as well, even though he is not Kel’s father.
    • Ken Foree has had a lot of roles. A lot of them in spooky movies such as Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. He has also had many small roles in several tv shows like Family Matters, The A-Team, and the X-Files.
  • Teal Marchande as Sheryl Rockmore
    • Sheryl is Kenan’s mother.
    • Teal Marchande has not been in much but was in a movie called Kraa! The Sea Monster and also had a role in an episode of Martin.
  • Dan Frischman as Chris Potter
    • Chris is the owner of Rigby’s which is where Kenan works.
    • Dan Frischman’s other biggest role was in the tv show Head of the Class from 1986. He has had small parts in various tv shows like Seinfeld, Melrose Place, and Passions. 
      • There was a lot of overlap with Head of the Class and Kenan and Kel. For example, Dan Schneider wrote for both, and producer Brian Robbins also acted on Head of the Class as well! 
  • Vanessa Baden as Kyra Rockmore
    • Kyra is Kenan’s little sister who eavesdrops on his and Kel’s conversations and tries to get him in trouble. She is also hopelessly in love with Kel and would do almost anything for him.
    • Vanessa Baden has starred in a couple different tv shows. She was on the kids show, Gullah Gullah Island. She has also starred in the tv shows Fail from 2011 and Giants from 2017.

REBOOT!!

  • In 2000, Kenan and Kel ended, and the actors both left Nickelodeon. The 90’s were over (though most of us still don’t want to believe it) and the boys needed to make it on their own. At this point, they were known almost exclusively as a duo. So, they attempted to establish themselves separately. 
    • Three years later, Kenan landed a spot on SNL. He also starred in the movie, “Fat Albert.” 
    • Although Kel continued to appear in various roles after leaving the show, he seemingly drifted from the limelight. There were even rumors that he had died! 
    • Another, more recent rumor, was that Kenan and Kel had a falling out and would likely never perform together again. Many believed that this was connected to the fact that Kel had also auditioned for SNL and did not get cast. 
      • Kel reportedly told TMZ that Kenan didn’t want anything to do with him, as the two had lost touch. In 2014, Kel reached back out to Kenan, and the two became friends again.
    • In 2015, 90’s nick fans were given a great gift, when the two appeared on The Tonight Show, reenacting the famous Good Burger sketch once more. It was the first time they had appeared on screen together in 10 years. The appearance reignited talks of an All That, and even Kenan and Kel reboot!
  • Well, that was five years ago, and the duo has played a big role in the rebooted All That currently airing on Nickelodeon! 
  • So far, a Kenan and Kel reboot is just rumors and speculation, though both have noted that they would like to do it. They have the money and status to produce it, so will it happen? Who knows! 

So, why was Kenan and Kel so special? Well, much of it had to do with the chemistry between the two leads. The show had great writers, but they also knew when to step back and let the kids do their thing. Kenan and Kel seemed to run the show, introducing the audience to each episode. It felt personal, like they invited you over to see their show.

Kenan and Kel also struck a chord with audiences. Although it wasn’t the first sitcom with a black lead on Nickelodeon, it certainly was the most successful. It set the stage for more diverse stories and characters in the years to come. And, not to mention, its success also paved the way for more All That spin-offs. If Kenan and Kel hadn’t been successful, would there have been an Amanda Show

Kenan and Kel was relatable, funny, and downright entertaining. It had the BEST theme song of any 90s Nickelodeon show (don’t @ me). It was yet another show that defined the golden era of Nickelodeon. 

Thank you again to our guest Jaren Lewis for coming on the show!


SOURCES

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s