What ,you think I could fit a childhood's worth of All That sketch memories in a single post? Well, think again. SNICK was a cornerstone of Saturday night juvenile television programming, and for many years (that is, until I outgrew it) All That was its anchor.
You know a network sees potential in a show when they commission a big name music act to create a custom-made theme song. Nickelodeon asked TLC to perform the All That theme song, which in most of our recollections consisted of a vaguely unmemorable rap and the words "all that" repeated numerous times throughout. The song was catchy though, or at least enough so to keep preview audiences watching the first episode in its entirety in 1994.
All That took the successful format of grown up sketch comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live and MAD TV and translated it (read: dumbed it down) for pre-adolescent audiences . They maintained the general outline of a cold open, some sketches, and a live musical guest. For a kid's show, All That actually managed to pull some big names. Legitimate (well, in terms of popularity, that is) musical names such as Usher and Boyz II Men performed on the show. It had all the ingredients of a veritable children's television enterprise.
But was it funny? At the time, most of us thought it was hysterical. I suppose humor is in the ear of the behearer, because thumbing through some of the jokes now makes me seriously question my sanity as a child. This probably indicates that the All That producers got what separates adult humor from children's humor; there's a reason reviewers remark with disdain that gross-out or overly simplistic comedies are "juvenile". To actual juveniles, the show was a real laugh riot.
Like I said, the show had countless memorable sketches, so let's take a look at a few notables and I promise to get back to the rest later:
Arguably one of the most recognizable All That sketches, most prominently because it was later adapted into a movie. How or why movie executives saw fit to morph this three minute non-sequitor into a two-hour full length feature is beyond our grasp as viewers. In the sketch, Kel Mitchell played a dim-witted and literal-minded fast food counter worker, beginning every customer interaction with the phrase, "Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?"
It usually went a little something like this:
Kel certainly had some skill in the way of deadpan, and it's easy to see what drew kids to this mode of humor. Children by nature are not abstract, and hence respond best to literal jokes. That's why kids like things that other people think are stupid. Like Good Burger.
The subsequent film received incredibly negative feedback from adult reviewers. I would say, to its credit as a franchise, that you'd be hard pressed to find someone between the ages of 18 and 30 who didn't recognize Kel's opening Good Burger spiel.
Ah, the 90s trope of vaguely foreign exchange students. Like Nadia from American Pie Ishboo had no discernable connection to any actual country, nor did his accent particularly reflect a specific heritage. Ishboo's schtick was mainly that he did stupid things (claiming they were native customs) and everyone felt compelled to copy him to make him feel comfortable and at home:
In typical TV stereotyping fashion, apparently being overweight makes you ageless. If I were Lori Beth Denberg, I probably wouldn't be too pleased to be paired up with ol' male patterned baldy over here. Either way, Ishboo was funny to kids because he wears a skirt and makes people bang their heads on the wall. It's a bit shocking to think its star, Kenan Thompson, was the only one who went on to have a future in sketch comedy. Then again, based on the current ratings of Saturday Night Live, perhaps it's not such a stretch.
I'll say this for Amanda Bynes: she was certainly cute as a child. Amanda's spinoff show and subsequent longevity in show business points to her actually being a skilled entertainer. As a child, I always loved her Ask Ashley sketch on All That. The basic premise was that young viewers wrote Ashley with questions seeking advice in the manner of Dear Abby. Ashley appeared the picture of sweetness and innocence, and would begin reading every letter, "Dear Ashley....thaaaaaaat's meee!" It was certainly endearing, but from there things seemed to take a turn:
I apologize for the absolutely atrocious quality of this video, less-than-ingeniusly videotaped from a TV screen. It was the best I could do.
Watching now as an adult, I'm mainly just impressed that she manages to go so crazy on these people without using a single curse word. Bravo, Ask Ashley. Bravo.
"He's Ear Boy, Ear Boy, his ears are really big!" If that title sequence music doesn't reaffirm the fact that children adore simple humor, I don't know what does. That was essentially the whole gag; Josh Server was Ear Boy, whose ears were indeed really big. For some reason I never quite understood (and perhaps this was due to my limited political knowledge as a child), his nemesis was Ross Perot.
The sketch poked fun at common playground nicknames used to mock people with acne, braces, or glasses by building Ear Boy a gang of cronies named Pizza Face (literally, pizza for a face), Tinsel Teeth (Christmas ornaments in mouth), and Four Eyes (she had four).
I'm tempted to judge this further and increasingly without mercy, until I stumbled upon this more recent photo of Ear Boy Josh Server.
I might just leave it at that.
This was one of the more frequent bits on All That, featuring Lori Beth Denberg as the initial supplier of this Vital Information for your Everyday Life (to be later replaced by a washed up Little Pete and some other kid after the show's Golden Age). Vital Information for your Everyday Life was filled with, well, Vital Information for your Everyday Life. Sort of.
These were sort of one-liners, except they usually made no sense at all. They were completely pointless, which I suppose was the point, the humor being that these items were not Vital Information at all. Her bits of wisdom included gems like
If you flush your friend down the toilet, you either got a huuuge toilet or a teenie little friend.
Well said, Lori Beth. I've got to get me some smaller friends. Or a bigger toilet.
While it may not stand the test of time, it's nostalgia factor is pretty high on the fond memory scale. If it's not making you giggle, set a couple of 9 year olds in front of the reruns for a few episodes and watch them delight in it. Sure, it will make you feel old, but it's better than having to watch the whole Good Burger movie to reaffirm your faith in old-school juvenile comedy.