For regular viewers of Snick — the legendary block of Saturday night programming on '90s Nickelodeon — “All That” was the weekend cornerstone. The sketch series debuted April 16, 1994, and 20 years later it's safe to say we haven't given enough props to the silly, but often very funny show that showcased a broad range of talents (including Kenan Thompson and Jamie Lynn Spears) and some seriously grownup lessons. Here are six takeaways from the show that routinely dished out Vital Information For Our Everyday Lives. (I'm sticking to the early years of the 11-season series since, as a '90s Nick devotee, it's what I re-watched the most.)
1. Embrace your weirdness. Some billionaire will like you for it.
“Earboy” was a pretty wild idea. A kid with gigantic ears (Josh Server) is picked on for his strange features, and he's even friends with a literal Pizza Face and Four-Eyes. How does he get the courage to press on? One, he avoids Pizza Face's pizza-based puns, which are constant. Two, he enlists the help of noted earsmith H. Ross Perot, who tells him to believe in himself. Helpful! Katrina Johnson's work as Perot is really solid given that she's no older than 13 here.
2. Adults are just insane.
“All That” was one of the first shows I remember where the dogmatic rules of grownup world were exposed as ridiculous. Lori Beth Denberg, who was hands-down the greatest cast member, exemplified this with her librarian (or “libarian”) character who screamed at students to be quiet while blasting a bullhorn or knocking over books. It made kids realize they're adult enough to point out absurd behavior.
3, Gross = funny.
“All That” did not shy away from grossness, and I thank the show for that. Here, watch as Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, who would later land their own spinoff series and the movie “Good Burger,” make a milkshake out of a burger. Sigh. A Nick original!
4. Sweet kids can be angry too.
Amanda Bynes, who began her run on the show during season three, landed a signature character with her “Ask Ashley” segment. In it, she dispensed advice to moronic viewers and screamed at them for being so dumb. Rage: the core of comedy.
5. R&B is a kid-friendly medium.
In the era of new jack swing and gangster rap, kids were often discouraged from listening to anything pertaining to the then-flourishing R&B world. Why? It was easier for some parents to roundly dismiss entire genres of music in one racist heap than acknowledge that a lot of it was perfectly wholesome. “All That” was a kids show that featured musical guests like Aaliyah, TLC (who sang the theme song), Immature, Boyz II Men, and Mokenstef, who I've gleefully featured above.
6. Some of the best “SNL” material is kid-friendly at heart.
Newsflash: Chris Farley once appeared on “All That” and jammed with future “SNL” player Kenan Thompson. In their sketch, Farley plays a modified version of his Matt Foley character, and his breathless craziness is a perfect fit for the “All That” demo. To see an old and new generation of “SNL” vets jamming in the name of kids' entertainment is pretty amazing, and it's even better that neither actor is forfeiting any of his signature kookiness.
7. A big ear of corn can be cool.
It's just the truth.