Whatever Happened To Kel Of Kenan & Kel? We Found Him At Comic-Con

Photo: Courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom
You remember Kel Mitchell. He was the lankier half of the incompetent Good Burger staff and of the eponymous Kenan & Kel. He was the Repair Man (Man Man Man) on All That. He was a golden child of '90s kids' television. And now, 15 years later, he’s returning to Nickelodeon in a new show called Game Shakers.

Mitchell shared the big announcement during San Diego’s Comic-Con, which is in full swing this week. His presence at the convention was part of Nickeloden’s #TBT exhibit, which included appearances from Stick Stickly and costumed Power Rangers.

Talking to him felt a lot like catching up with an old friend — a product of watching him on television throughout my formative years, no doubt. As with any overdue reunion, the biggest question for Mitchell was also the simplest one: What have you been doing for the past 15 years?

The actor-comedian lives in L.A. with his wife and two children. He’s been doing some stand-up comedy. People sometimes stop him at red lights and ask him to roll his window down to do a Good Burger bit. “We don’t even go to drive thrus,” he told me (though, he admitted he's partial to an In-N-Out Burger in Sherman Oaks).

September marks Mitchell’s homecoming to the network that catapulted him into fame all those years ago. In Game Shakers, he plays a hip-hop mogul named Double G. When two young girls create an app that gets them rich quick, he discovers they’ve used his music for their product. When Double G sues the girls, they counteroffer with a proposal for the three to share ownership of the app; hilarity ensues.

There’s every reason to believe it will be a funny show, too. Mitchell’s proven time and again that he’s a natural entertainer. (Even our interview drew a small crowd of onlookers who laughed at his expressive answers.) Plus, Game Shakers is created by Dan Schneider, who worked on all of Mitchell’s '90s hit programming. Schneider and Mitchell have an undeniable chemistry that Mitchell — and perhaps Nickelodeon — are banking on. “We’re like Eminem and Dre,” he told me. “Except I’m Eminem. He’s Dre. Like if Eminem and Dre got back together and dropped an album, how big would that be? You know what I mean?"

And, why shouldn’t Mitchell return to Nickelodeon? In a way, the network gave him some of the greatest years of his life. He lived a charmed adolescence under Nick’s employ, attending an on-set school and enjoying perks a '90s kid could only dream of. “In between shoots, we could go ride the Back to the Future rides [at Universal Studios] and stuff like that,” he said. He could even cut the lines. He spent his youth hanging out with TLC and having bell-hop cart races down hotel hallways with Brandy. It’s not like he and the cast of All That could spend a Friday night at Chuck E. Cheese in 1995. They were stars — albeit teenage ones. “When I got on All That, I was like 15 years old, so it was time to get a job around that time,” Mitchell joked. “I missed the whole, ‘He’s a child star!’ type thing, I feel.” It’s probably for the best.

Fast forward to 2015, and he keeps in touch with his All That cast mates the same way you keep in touch with your old high school friends: Instagram, Facebook, sometimes a phone call. He’s delighted for Kenan Thompson, who’s gone on to star on Saturday Night Live. “That’s my brother,” Mitchell said, beginning to wax a bit nostalgic.

Continuing in that vein, I asked him what he missed most about the '90s. “Hammer pants,” he said. “Don’t you miss those?” He tells an anecdote about how his mother wouldn’t buy him Hammer pants because they were too expensive. So, his grandmother stitched some for Mitchell and his cousins. “We had a dance crew, and it was really really cool,” he said. “We were called The Three Rockers.” Heart on my sleeve: That’s a terrible name. “It is a terrible name,” he agreed. “But, we rocked out.”

He then recalls a time when he and his cousins were trying to jump a fence in Chicago to go to a party. Mitchell made it over, but his cousin got caught on the fence because of those pesky drop-crotch trousers. “He was upside down when the cops came,” Mitchell shared between laughs. And suddenly, it’s like I’m watching him on TV again.

Then it all becomes clear. Maybe Mitchell really does miss Hammer pants. But sitting in the Nickelodeon press room — replete with slime-covered tables, Sponge Bob paraphernalia, and a stray life-sized Power Ranger — it seems more likely that he misses the simplicity of the era in which we came to know and love him. After all, he was a major part of a special time every '90s kid yearns to have back. And it’s that same longing for a time less complicated that will compel many a millennial tune in for Mitchell's return to Nickelodeon this fall — even though we’re now, technically, all grown up.

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