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Alfonso Ribeiro

Apr 2, 2021

As a tween with great acting, singing and dancing chops, Alfonso Ribeiro was given the opportunity of a lifetime: to be in a 90-second Pepsi commercial with the Jackson 5. At the time, he was one of the leads in The Tap Dance Kid, a Broadway musical. Ribeiro told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg that the production wasn't happy about him leaving New York.

"Tap Dance Kid said 'No, you cannot go to California to shoot this commercial,'" Ribeiro recalled. "They threatened to sue us. They had lawyers at the airport when we got there to board the plane, and my dad was like 'Nope, we're going!'" Ribeiro said the Pepsi ad proved to be wildly popular, so much so that "within 48 hours of the first airing of the commercial, we were sold out for two months" said Ribeiro.

In 1990, Ribeiro began acting in one of his most prominent roles as Carlton, Will Smith's preppy cousin, in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When one script read "Carlton dances," Ribeiro knew he had to play into the geeky nature of his character. Paired with Tom Jones' 'It's Not Unusual,' the swinging-arms-snapping-fingers move is recognizable across generations as a nerdy expression of bliss. Ribeiro said, "That's not a move you're supposed to be doing in public but when you do it, everybody is joyous around you."

YouTube

For his Ask Me Another challenge, Alfonso Ribeiro went head-to-head with house musician Jonathan Coulton in a game where the goal is to get the lowest score possible.

Interview Highlights

On the origins of 'The Carlton'

The first time I ever saw the dance, I was in a lobby bar...There were these two white guys, clearly, who were doing that move. And I was like, "That is hysterical. What're those dudes DOING?"

On his favorite home videos

I've always said that my favorite is what we like to call the "epic fails," where people try and do something that they should absolutely should not ever think to do that, and it just goes horribly wrong. And we go, "duh!"

On whether or not a home video is funny

You've got one rule to know whether something is funny: If I need to know the person in the video to know why it's funny, it ain't funny!

Heard on Alfonso Ribeiro: Jokes About Butts And Mild Transgressions.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thanks, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. You may know him as Carlton from the '90s television series "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." And he currently hosts "America's Funniest Home Videos." Alfonso Ribeiro, hello. Welcome.

ALFONSO RIBEIRO: Hello. Hello. Hello.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Excellent. So, you know, your family - you come from a family of entertainers. Your grandfather was a singer. Your aunt was in "Laugh-In"...

RIBEIRO: Yes.

COULTON: ...Which - amazing, the variety show "Laugh-In." Was it just assumed that you would also go into showbiz, or did you show some sort of talent at an early age that they were like, yep, no, this is happening?

RIBEIRO: I would say I showed the talent at an early age. My parents definitely, you know, didn't play favorites and only put me in. You know, my brothers, we all tried to get an agent. I was just the only one who got one.

RIBEIRO: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I guess that never comes up. That never comes up, does it?

RIBEIRO: It never comes up around the dinner table when people have had two or three drinks. Yeah. So but, you know, my parents weren't playing favorites. But yeah, it was one of those things where my dad mostly was like, oh no, this kid has something, and we need to explore it. And then, you know, like every parent that ever looks at putting their kid in show business, they don't go all the way to, let's get him an agent. They were like, let's do some local plays and see what happens, and let's put him in the glee club. And...

EISENBERG: Right.

RIBEIRO: And what always seemed to happen was I would go in there and get the lead roles.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: And, you know, the funny part was, when you really think about it - like, I grew up in Riverdale, right? So Riverdale is, you know, somewhat integrated. But it was - when I was a kid, it was mostly a white neighborhood. And so for me to get the starring role alongside a white girl playing Hansel and Gretel in the '70s was not a simple decision.

EISENBERG: Right.

RIBEIRO: Right?

COULTON: Right.

RIBEIRO: So it was something where the creative director was like, no, those two are the best, and those are the two that's getting it. And so I - you know, I really - I appreciate the fact that that person made those kinds of choices then because it really did set the path for me to try and do this professionally. But yeah, it was something that my - you know, my parents just felt, and we went in and tried, and it worked.

EISENBERG: So yeah, just undeniable.

COULTON: That's right.

EISENBERG: Yeah, and then it was just pretty big for you. I mean, you got cast in junior high in a Broadway show...

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: ...A Broadway show called "The Tap Dance Kid," playing one of the leads. And then after a glowing review, you get cast in a commercial, which isn't just any commercial. You get cast in that iconic - it was a 90-second Pepsi commercial with the Jacksons (laughter).

RIBEIRO: Yes. Yes.

EISENBERG: Like, that was no small, tiny commercial.

RIBEIRO: Just, you know, we're just going to - you know, I got a commercial the other day. It was amazing. Like, I - you know, it's cool.

COULTON: (Laughter).

RIBEIRO: I got a commercial. I'm going to be - yeah, who are your co-stars? Yeah, it's Michael Jackson, the rest of the Jacksons.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: We're just going to hang out. We're just going to hang out in the street and just dance a little while. It'll be fun. It's going to be great.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: Yeah. And so they made the offer, and we were like, absolutely. And then the show, "Tap Dance Kid," said, no, you cannot go to California to shoot this commercial. And my dad was like, y'all funny. Y'all...

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: I like the humor that you guys - you're pretending like you actually can stop us. This is funny. So - but they, like, threatened to sue us. They had lawyers at the airport when we got there to board the plane. And my dad was like, nope, we're going. And we went to California. We shot the commercial. We come back. This commercial aired. And within 48 hours of the first airing of the commercial, we were sold out for two months. So...

COULTON: Wow.

EISENBERG: Oh, so then they were like, oh, sorry.

RIBEIRO: ...They were like, oh, this - so, my bad.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: And thank you, I guess.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Wow. So - and, of course, everyone knows you from the '90s television series, Will Smith's sitcom "The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air," where you play his preppy cousin Carlton. And this character of yours also had an iconic dance. And I would say it's, you know, swinging the arms, snapping the fingers. It's sort of a joyous celebration of being uncool. I would say it is the first depiction on television of dancing like nobody's watching.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: Yeah. Y'all know I've never heard it, you know, looked at that way. You're right, yeah. Definitely, you know, that's not a move you supposed to be doing in public, but when you do it, everybody is joyous around you.

EISENBERG: Everyone's happy.

RIBEIRO: Yes, you've made everybody happy with it.

EISENBERG: And I know that, obviously, you came up with it, but were there different iterations of it when it was decided?

RIBEIRO: Not necessarily, no. It was pretty close to what it was. I mean, I added things as the years went on and added little pieces to it. But ultimately, like, the main dance was the dance right from the beginning. I had basically had seen that dance and played around with that dance a little bit before "Fresh Prince" even started. And so when it said Carlton dances in the script, I was kind of like, huh.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: What would it - what would this character do? Like, what would be the move? And the first time in rehearsal, it was like, all right, Carlton dances. What do you think you're going to do here? I was like, I got it. I got it. Let's just do the scene.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: And so we started the scene, and then I broke out the dance, and everybody is on the floor crying laughing. And I was like, I think we got it.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: I think this is the move we'll do. And so from - right from there, it maintained what we were doing, and they kept putting it back in the script. It was like, you know, every other week. I was like, can Carlton stop dancing? I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: But when you said earlier that you had played around with the dance before you auditioned, what do you mean?

RIBEIRO: The first time I ever saw the dance, I was at a - in a lobby bar, right? But I wasn't at the bar, but I was - happened to be in the lobby, and there was food, and they had music, right? And there were these two white guys, clearly...

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: ...Who was doing that move, right? And I was like, that is hysterical.

(LAUGHTER)

RIBEIRO: What are those dudes doing? And, you know, they were on the dance floor just living, just in their 80s, just going. And I was like, this is hysterical. And then I was like, making fun of them, right? By, like, hey, look at them, (unintelligible).

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RIBEIRO: Right? And so I felt the embodiment of the motion. And I've always said that the inspiration for the dance was Eddie Murphy's White Man Dance and Courteney Cox in the Bruce Springsteen video, where she gets up onstage, right?

EISENBERG: Right. Yes.

COULTON: That's right.

RIBEIRO: Like, that is the origin of the move, right? And I was like, this is perfect.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And you've been hosting "America's Funniest Home Videos" since 2015. The show first debuted in 1989. And so for our younger listeners, just so you know, that's kind of like the original TikTok.

COULTON: Right (laughter).

RIBEIRO: Well, actually, for the younger viewers, I like to say it's the original YouTube.

EISENBERG: It's original - yeah, right. And at this point, you've witnessed - I don't know - hundreds of these videos.

RIBEIRO: There have been, you know, thousands at this point.

EISENBERG: Thousands.

RIBEIRO: It's a lot of videos.

EISENBERG: OK. So what's your favorite genre of the videos?

RIBEIRO: I've always said that my favorite is what we like to call the epic fails...

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah (laughter).

RIBEIRO: ...Where people try and do something that they absolutely should not ever think to do that. And it just goes horribly wrong. And we go, duh.

EISENBERG: What do you think - what's the formula in terms of an epic fail?

RIBEIRO: Well, like, you know, epic fails can come in many different ways - right? - in many different forms. It could be, like, the guy who is at a lake house, and they have a...

EISENBERG: I know where you're going with this.

COULTON: (Laughter).

RIBEIRO: ...They have a metal roof, right? And they're like, I'm going to jump off my metal roof into the lake. And they're like, OK, but you've already been in the lake, right? So you're wet. And then you go up on a metal roof, and you decide that you're going to run off the roof into the lake. Well, your footing is not going to be solid. So, you know, the best ones are when they start slipping early so that they have to make a decision as to whether they're going to try to hold onto the roof or they're just going to just continue having a physical mess all the way into the lake. Those are great ones, right?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Do you have friends, family, acquaintances trying to personally send you their clips?

COULTON: (Laughter).

RIBEIRO: I get people all the time who are like, dude, I got a video.

EISENBERG: Of course. Yes.

RIBEIRO: And, you know, oh, this is the funniest video ever. And then you watch the video and you're like, I'm - yeah, no, hm. Nah, not really.

EISENBERG: Yeah, great. Great.

COULTON: (Laughter).

RIBEIRO: Not really. And they're like, you don't think that's funny? I was like, no. They're like, dude, Aunt Josie, right? She is, like...

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I...

RIBEIRO: And right? They'll tell you...

COULTON: I guess you have to know Aunt Josie. If you knew Aunt Josie, you'd find it hilarious.

EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly.

RIBEIRO: And so - and that's exactly where I go, right? Like, you've got one rule to know whether something is funny. If I need to know the person in the video to know why it's funny, it ain't funny.

EISENBERG: That's right. If if Aunt Josie is wet and standing on a metal roof on the lake house...

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: ...Maybe.

COULTON: Let's see it. Let's see it. Yeah.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: Are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

RIBEIRO: Sure. Let's do it. Let's go.

EISENBERG: OK. We know you're a huge golf fan, so we decided to create a game that is kind of like the trivia equivalent of golf...

RIBEIRO: OK. OK.

EISENBERG: ...Where they - the object is to get the lowest score possible. OK.

RIBEIRO: Got it. Like golf, like golf. Got it.

EISENBERG: Like golf.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: So I'll give you a category, like the 10 best poker hands, and your goal is to give me an answer that is the closest to the No. 1 on the list.

RIBEIRO: Gotcha. OK.

EISENBERG: And if you give me the No. 1 answer, which in this case would be a royal flush, that's worth 1 point.

RIBEIRO: Hey. Why'd you give me the answer?

EISENBERG: Just an example.

RIBEIRO: I thought that was the question.

COULTON: (Laughter) I was ready to go. I knew the answer. I knew this one.

RIBEIRO: I knew the answer. Why - I think I should still get one point for that, OK?

EISENBERG: OK, sure. Absolutely.

RIBEIRO: Because I was going to say royal flush.

EISENBERG: I saw it in your eyes.

RIBEIRO: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And because, you know, we should make this a competition. It's more fun.

RIBEIRO: OK, uh-oh.

EISENBERG: So you'll be playing against Jonathan Coulton.

RIBEIRO: OK. That's not fair. That's not fair.

COULTON: I mean, let me congratulate you in advance because I don't know any of these topics. I don't know anything - these are all topics that have been customized for you. So I'm...

RIBEIRO: OK.

EISENBERG: Yeah, it's a disadvantage.

COULTON: ...In trouble.

RIBEIRO: But you see - but you already have a jumpstart because you know the topics.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: That's true. So...

COULTON: I suppose that's true. If I were a monster, I would have done a little research before the show, but I didn't. You know why? Because I'm lazy. So - and here I am.

RIBEIRO: And by the way, we don't know whether you did or didn't. OK?

COULTON: That's right.

EISENBERG: That's true. All right. Well, let's try a few.

RIBEIRO: OK. All right.

EISENBERG: OK, here's the first one for you. You host a game show, "Catch 21," which is based on blackjack. So according to a survey published by the American Gaming Association, what is the most popular game with casino visitors? There are eight on the list.

RIBEIRO: You know, that's a tough one because I think, realistically, it's one of three. Do slots count?

EISENBERG: I'm going to say yes.

RIBEIRO: Then I have to say slots.

EISENBERG: OK, Jonathan, what would you like to say?

COULTON: I was going to say slots 'cause I think that's the right answer 'cause it's - you don't have to learn how to do anything. You just put your money in and push the button.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: I mean, how much do you have to know to throw, say, a number and watch a ball roll?

RIBEIRO: Right. Right. You know...

COULTON: I guess that's true. I guess that's true. I'm going to see if I can get the No. 2, though. I'm pretty sure slots is going to be the No. 1. But I'm going to say it's going to be something - I mean, it might very well be blackjack. I'm going to say blackjack.

RIBEIRO: No, I'm going to change it - roulette. I'm going to say roulette.

EISENBERG: Oh, OK. Well, Alfonso, you are correct. Forty-eight percent of casino visitors head to the slots. Blackjack is No. 2...

RIBEIRO: Oh, right.

EISENBERG: ...But it's 16%. So 48 - 50 basically. Fifty percent...

RIBEIRO: Right.

EISENBERG: ...You could say, go to the slots. And then the other 50% is divided blackjack and then poker and then roulette and then video poker, craps...

RIBEIRO: Oh, OK.

EISENBERG: ...Sportsbook and, lastly, baccarat.

COULTON: Yeah.

RIBEIRO: Right, right.

EISENBERG: Alfonso, you also are a huge - you're into golf. And you're also, I assume, a golf fan.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: OK, great.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: So which professional golfer has won the most men's majors tournaments, which are the Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship?

RIBEIRO: Well, that is clearly Jack Nicklaus. He is the major champion. He's got the most of anybody.

EISENBERG: OK. Jonathan Coulton, would you like to weigh in with an answer?

COULTON: Jack Nicklaus is one of three golfers that I can name, so you've already...

RIBEIRO: Gotcha.

COULTON: You've already knocked out one of the pillars of my plan here.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Knowledge base.

RIBEIRO: (Laughter).

COULTON: I guess - now, I know Arnold Palmer is a golfer, but I only know that because I like the iced tea-lemonade mixture. I have no idea how good he was.

RIBEIRO: And it's really good. It's really good.

COULTON: It's very tasty.

EISENBERG: It's delicious.

RIBEIRO: The Arnold Palmer drink is fantastic.

COULTON: Delicious.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

COULTON: But I'm going to go with Tiger Woods.

EISENBERG: OK, very good.

RIBEIRO: (Imitating buzzer).

COULTON: No.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You know this one so well. Jack Nicklaus is No. 1 with 18 wins.

RIBEIRO: Yes.

EISENBERG: Tiger Woods is No. 2 with...

RIBEIRO: With 15.

EISENBERG: That is - exactly. Thank you.

COULTON: (Laughter) See? He knows the exact number.

RIBEIRO: Yes. Yes, 15.

COULTON: I am so far outclassed in this game.

EISENBERG: One last question before we wrap up.

RIBEIRO: OK.

EISENBERG: Alfonso, you won "Dancing With The Stars." Congratulations.

RIBEIRO: Thank you. Thank you.

EISENBERG: According to a 2019 survey by an online tuxedo rental company, what is the most popular wedding first dance song? The most popular first dance song at a wedding - and just to let you know, people from all generations were surveyed for this. And I'll take anything in the top 10.

RIBEIRO: (Laughter) No idea.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: This is hard.

RIBEIRO: Ah, yeah. You know...

EISENBERG: I'd have one...

RIBEIRO: ...That's a tough one. First dance - well, I'm going to say it only because, like, I've got nothing else - "It's Not Unusual."

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK, I love it.

COULTON: That would be an amazing first dance.

EISENBERG: You know what? That's a great first dance song.

RIBEIRO: (Laughter) I don't think it's on the list, but, you know?

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: OK. All right.

COULTON: I'm going to say - it's hard to think of any. I keep thinking of just prom songs. And I think - I feel like...

EISENBERG: Right.

COULTON: ...That's a very different vibe.

RIBEIRO: Right.

COULTON: Maybe something classic. Maybe something like - how about "At Last" by - who is that?

RIBEIRO: (Laughter).

COULTON: (Singing) At last.

Who sings that?

EISENBERG: Right.

RIBEIRO: (Singing) My love has come along.

COULTON: Yeah, there you go. Wow (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yep. I mean, I'll give a point for that.

COULTON: Yeah, for sure.

EISENBERG: OK, so I am sorry, Alfonso, your suggestion was not on the top 10 list.

RIBEIRO: Yes, but that just means that the top 10 list is wrong.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: That's right. It's just out of date as of this moment.

COULTON: It will be eventually.

RIBEIRO: Yes, yes.

EISENBERG: Jonathan, "At Last" by Etta James ended up in the five spot...

COULTON: Etta James, that's right.

EISENBERG: ...On the list.

RIBEIRO: Nice.

EISENBERG: No. 1 is "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers.

RIBEIRO: Yeah, that makes sense.

COULTON: Oh, right.

RIBEIRO: Yeah. Yeah.

EISENBERG: No. 2 is "All Of Me," John Legend.

RIBEIRO: Yep, that's a good one.

EISENBERG: And No. 10 is "Marry Me" by Train. And I would just like to say, as a first dance wedding song, it's a little late in the game.

RIBEIRO: Right.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Don't find out in your first date (ph).

RIBEIRO: Yes. Yes.

EISENBERG: In your first dance, sorry.

RIBEIRO: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EISENBERG: Alfonso Ribeiro hosts "America's Funniest Home Videos." Thank you so much for joining us.

RIBEIRO: Thank you. Thanks for having me. This was great.

EISENBERG: And that's our show. ASK ME ANOTHER's house musician is Jonathan Coulton.

COULTON: Hey, my name anagrams to thou jolt a cannon.

EISENBERG: Our puzzles were written by our staff, along with Julia Melfi, Cara Weinberger and senior writer Camilla Franklin, with additional material by Emily Winter. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Travis Larchuk, Nancy Saechao, James Farber, Rommel Wood and our intern Sophie Hernandez-Simeonidis. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel, and our bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner WNYC. I'm her ripe begonias.

COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.

EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.