Charting the expansive influence of one kids' sketch comedy show on an entire generation.
Most ‘90s kids wouldn’t recognize the stars of Nickelodeon these days—unless they have a little sister or brother who watches current shows like Sam & Cat, The Haunted Hathaways, and Every Witch Way. Or maybe they watch it themselves. We all have guilty pleasures.
But if one of those '90s kids were to tune into some classic Nickelodeon programming, they'd find those familiar faces from the SNICK line-up, the Saturday programming block that included shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Ren and Stimpy, Clarissa Explains It All, and, of course, the beloved sketch series All That.
Nickelodeon’s answer to Saturday Night Live, All That premiered 20 years ago, on April 16, 1994 with a cast of fresh faced young adult comedians that included Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, and Lori Beth Denberg, just to shout out some of the bigger players who would go on to become household names as the show grew in popularity. Today, its influence is unquestionable, with many of Nickelodeon’s subsequent stars claiming that it paved the way for them. "All That made Nickelodeon cool and was another reason why we felt The Naked Brothers Band could be something interesting and not just a stupid kids' show,” says Nat Wolff, star of one of Nicks' more recent success stories The Naked Brothers Band.
In its later years, All That would adopt the SNL format of the weekly host, who would also appear in sketches, in addition to musical guests. Celebrity hosts included Puff Daddy, Kobe Bryant, and Jennifer Lopez.
The half-hour program gave us classic sketches like “Good Burger,” where Kel Mitchell played Ed, an air-headed fast food employee who was easily confused, didn’t do anything right, and had an affinity for the word "dude." Ed birthed otherwise unlikely quotables like “Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger. Can I take your order?” all because of his slow-your-roll dude speak.
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Other classic sketches include Kenan Thompson’s “Everyday French with Pierre Escargot,” where the current SNL star wore a yellow raincoat and soaked in a bubble bath while teaching “semi-educational” French lessons you would later use to try to pick up the cutie in your French class. Or the on-going “Vital Information” series, first hosted by Lori Beth Denberg, who offered pro-tips like, “Never pour gravy on your head and then scream, ‘Hey, look at me, I'm meatloaf girl!’” Of course, this kind of advice single-handedly saved you from utter humiliation at many a family dinner.
What unites all of these seemingly disparate characters and situations is a pleasant weirdness. It wasn’t nearly as scatological and uncomfortably warped as, say, its contemporary, Ren & Stimpy. Instead, All That embraced a child-like weirdness that played well for its audience. No one can forget Pizza Face, trusty companion and #sadboy to Walter the Ear Boy. Bro, he literally had pizza for a face. It's the kind of joke a middle-schooler would make. Of course, All That wasn’t above sight gags and fart jokes. Because kids find that stuff amusing and so did the cast.
Because All That was one of the first sketch-comedy shows starring kids, for kids, there weren’t any rules. It was a no-holds-barred environment where kids could just be kids. This enabled the show to be as silly and crazy as its cast could be.
One of the show’s stars, Katrina Johnson, famously remembered for her Ross Perot parody and "Lemonade Scammer" sketch, wholeheartedly agrees about the show’s eccentricities: “It’s crazy that other people wanted to share in our lunacy."
All That’s legacy, let alone its influence, is still seen everywhere. Take the ridiculously obnoxious “What-everrrrr!” sketch where tweens Gina and Jessica, played by Amanda Bynes and Christy Knowings, respectively, hosted their own talk show to discuss important topics likes boys, shopping, and makeup. Sound familiar? Well, there’s Saturday Night Live’s “Girlfriends” Talk Show with Cecily Strong—in all her Valley Girl glory—joined by less popular side-kick Aidy Bryant. Oh, and Jimmy Fallon’s hilarious “Ew!” where he plays Sara—without the ‘H’ because H’s are ew—a 14-year-old obsessed with Harry Styles who hosts a TeenNick fictional talk show in her basement with a rotating cast of best friends, including Channing Tatum and, most recently, First Lady Michelle Obama. These teeny bopper spoofs all came after 1995’s cult-classic Clueless, but All That was the first to bring the same materialistic gal-pal dynamic to the small screen.
"What-everrrrr!" star Christy Knowings believes the show pioneered the teen talk show skit genre. “I do feel like we started something really cool because no one else was exactly doing that, the Valley Girl thing, to that level,” she explains. “Everybody who is 24, 25, 26, they all grew up on All That.”
Even Bynes couldn’t help but borrow from "What-everrrrr!" for her own series, The Amanda Show, and its infamous “The Girls Room” talk-show skit.
The success of All That spawned spinoffs beyond The Amanda Show, like Kenan and Kel, which—if you’re a self-respecting ‘90s kid—must've heavily shaped who you are today: a normal citizen who may or may not still be addicted to orange soda. Whyyyy?! But really, without these shows, recent Nick stars wouldn't have work. Take Drake Bell and Josh Peck. They started on The Amanda Show before landing their own spinoff, Drake & Josh.
“I used to watch the show when I was a little kid," says Bell. "I'd think, Man, I hope I could do that one day. And here I am. I’ve done it and it’s really cool. The All That cast was a huge influence on me growing up.”
Bell, of course, would grow up to join the network his heroes were on and even appeared alongside them. He performed on All That’s last two seasons and reprised his Totally Kyle role for All That’s 10th anniversary.
The show continues to be commemorated, most recently at the Kids' Choice Awards, where Kenan Thompson, one of All That’s biggest success stories, appeared via satellite from the set of Saturday Night Live to honor the prolific Dan Schneider, producer of a laundry list of Nickelodeon hit shows: All That, Kenan and Kel, The Amanda Show, Drake & Josh, iCarly, Victorious, Sam & Cat.
Kel Mitchell also made an appearance and paid homage to the show by delivering his best Ed from "Good Burger" one-liner, saying it was his favorite Dan Schneider penned line, before being joined by the stars of all these shows, including Bell. He looked like he couldn’t believe he was sharing the stage with Mitchell, one of his heroes. Bell recalls being equally starstruck on the set of All That. “I think the coolest was just getting to set and going backstage and being in the green room and there’s Kenan Thompson,” says Bell. “For me he was a huge star to me growing up. Being in the green room with him and working on the same show was pretty cool.”
All That has managed to transcend being a kids show to become one of pop culture’s biggest phenomenons by creating a new generation of entertainers. All That and the SNICK block now feel like a magic era of television, the kind of thing that fillls people with nostalgia and makes them sorry that current kids won't get to experience. Except maybe they will, sorta.
With Kel Mitchell making appearances on Sam & Cat and The Thundermans, and Josh Server set to appear on Sam & Cat, All That alumni are bringing that magic back to Nickelodeon, at least temporarily. Even still, All That’s legend isn’t going anywhere and will continue to be mythologized by not only ‘90s kids, but newer generations that discover the show (hopefully through these guest appearances).
All That has influenced the childhood of many a ‘90s kid, but seeing its influence on current shows and younger generations is the true sign of its quality. It wasn’t just hype—it was, really, all that.
Written by Debbie Encalada (@DebbieOE)