Are the Kids Alright? is Yahoo Entertainment’s video interview series exploring the impact of show business on the development and well-being of former child entertainers, from triumphs to traumas.
Kel Mitchell has been serving up laughs for decades, but it hasn’t always been fun for him.
Now 43, he was just a sophomore in high school when he landed a role on the first season of Nickelodeon sketch show All That, where he and the other young cast members bonded. And what a cast: his close friend Kenan Thompson, of course, but also Nick Cannon, Jamie Lynn Spears and Amanda Bynes, to name a few. He has good memories of them all, especially Thompson.
“They put us in every sketch together, because Kenan and I would always, like, hang out after a sketch, after a show,” Mitchell says. “We were just hanging out, joking around and doing pranks, all kinds of stuff, on set.”
They were also getting plenty of laughs. The network decided to give them their own show, Kenan and Kelwhich began in 1996. By 1997, they starred in a Good Burger movie, and got their own billboard. They drove down Sunset Boulevard to gawk at the depiction of them surfing on pickles.
Some of his other memories of the show include Bynes.
“What was cool about Amanda was that she was just fearless, that’s what I loved,” Mitchell says. “Because I’m a physical comedian as well.”
He recalled that the actress and her dad, Rick Bynes, stopped him in the parking lot one day.
“They were like, ‘Hey Kel, could you, like, show Amanda physical comedy and just, like, give her some advice and things like that? And this girl… I’m talking about like a sponge. Like, listened to everything “
As for Spears, her older sister Britney was on the show several times even before Jamie Lynn joined the cast. Once, Britney even invited everyone to one of her concerts, an offer they happily accepted.
“I can’t remember which album it was,” Mitchell says, “but I think it was the one with the snake.”
After Mitchell left the original show in 1999 — though he appeared several times in the 2019 revival — there were rumors that he and Thompson, who left at the same time, had a falling out, because both friends had auditioned for Saturday Night Live, Only Thompson was selected. None of that was true, and Mitchell finds the false narrative funny.
“I love Kenan, and I love watching him on there. We talk all the time. It’s more about us both being dads now and talking about the kids and things like that.”
Unfortunately, Mitchell actually did have a rough time post-Kenan and Kel, but it wasn’t because of Thompson. In the early 2000s, his first marriage was ending, and he was having trouble landing movie roles. On his blog, he wrote that he was “suicidal” and “deep in sin,” struggling with “drug and alcohol usage” and “the lost of love ones to gang violence, debt, hurt, pain, vanity, lust [and] heartbreak.”
“I felt like I’d hit a wall,” he told People in October 2015. “I was like, ‘OK. I need to figure out what I need to do in my life.'”
The grandson of a pastor, Mitchell found himself turning to his faith. He began working as the stage manager for a nondenominational church in Los Angeles.
“I was trying to figure it all out on my own,” he said. “But what I needed to do was turn to Him. Once I found that clarity with Christ, I knew everything would work out.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“As a young actor there are ups and downs. And when you get to that down part, there are times you feel like no on can relate to you,” he told the magazine. “When Britney Spears shaved her head, I understood that.”
Today, 43-year-old Mitchell is married to Asia Lee, his wife since 2012. He’s the father of four children: two from his first marriage who are now adults, as well as a 4-year-old daughter and a son, who’s 1, with Lee. And he’s OK with them going into show business.
“I feel that you should definitely let your kid do what they are passionate about. You gotta have a love for this thing because, within it, like I said, there are a lot of ups and downs,” he says. “There are things that you’re gonna have to figure out and navigate through. But the cool thing about it is that their dad has been through it and can really show them and give my testimony and help them and let them know about certain things . It’s like, if you really wanna do this, and you’re serious about it, of course I’m gonna support you.”
Professionally, Mitchell is a youth pastor and a co-host of MTV’s Deliciousness, He likes his meetings with the entire All That cast — who’s still in touch — to a high school reunion.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.