South Side’s Kel Mitchell returns to Nick on ‘Game Shakers’
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With the second season of Nickelodeon’s “Game Shakers” premiering this month, star Kel Mitchell reflects on the start of his 20-year acting career: impersonating CTA travelers during the audition for his breakout sketch comedy series “All That.”
“I had finals at [Chicago Vocational High School]. I never go blank at auditions, but I got to the audition and all I had on my mind was finals. I didn’t remember my monologue,” the Chicago native said, laughing. “Then they were like, ‘OK, do you have any impersonations you can do?’ I did my uncles and people I would meet on the CTA bus and the train.”
Now, more than 20 years after that fateful audition, Mitchell is back on Nick. His “Game Shakers” character, Double G, is a Kanye West-inspired hip-hop mogul whose music is used in a gaming app created by two young coders for a school project.
“It’s awesome, it’s definitely right on time for what’s going on now,” Mitchell said of the show. “I have two kids of my own and they’re always playing their apps and playing on their phones.”
In the show’s second season, set to premiere at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17, fans can expect “a lot more Double G” as well as more music, guest stars and new games available for download online. Mitchell said he tries to bring positivity to the show’s set and encourage the young actors he works with to stay true to themselves without getting lost in stardom.
Mitchell himself was very young when his parents encouraged him to audition for plays at Upright Missionary Baptist Church and enrolled him in a summer class at eta Creative Arts Foundation on the city’s South Side. While a burgeoning career brought the young actor out to Los Angeles many years ago, he fondly remembers Navy Pier and Taste of Chicago, and still gets the occasional craving for Garrett Popcorn and Damenzo’s Pizza.
“I was always a bit of a class clown—my parents discovered that when I was young, and they didn’t want me to get into the wrong crowd because I was very rambunctious,” Mitchell said. The young thespian “fell in love with acting” and continued to take classes, later performing at Goodman Theatre and Victory Gardens Theater, where he was discovered by Aria Talent.
Mitchell’s career has not only spanned two decades but also a variety of media, including film (“Good Burger”), television (“All That” and “Kenan and Kel”) and animated show voiceovers (T-Bone on “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and Tiny Pea on “Veggie Tales”).
“It’s really a blessing, to have that longevity,” Mitchell said. “Now, the generation that watches ‘Game Shakers’ looks at me and they go, ‘Hey, it’s Double G!’ and they have no idea who Ed from ‘Good Burger’ is. And their parents are going crazy, like, ‘Oh, that’s Ed from “Good Burger” and “Kenan and Kel!” ’ Now it’s so cool, I’ve got the whole family watching me!”
The actor remained largely outside the limelight when Nickelodeon’s comedy series “Kenan and Kel” ended in 2000, taking on smaller roles and voiceovers while co-star Kenan Thompson joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” After more than a decade apart, the two reunited on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in a “Good Burger” sketch.
“We talk all the time,” Mitchell said of Thompson. “Every time I’m in New York I go see him and his wife and his daughter, and he comes out here and sees me and my wife. It’s real different now, because we’re older and we have kids, but it’s awesome.”
In the past three years, Mitchell has also tried his hand at stand-up comedy, touring around the country to better connect with fans.
“I wanted to meet my fans, people who’ve watched me for so many years. I wanted to shake their hands and then just tell them stories, things they might not know about me,” he said.