Alfonso Ribeiro has accomplished a lot in his career on television, which means he’s a man known for many things. To a number of folks, the Fresh Prince star may be best known as Carlton, with a dance named after him and some meme-worthy moments that make the rounds during basketball season.
But in the years since Fresh Prince went off the air, Ribeiro has become a go-to game show host, framing his life around a rigorous filming schedule to helm shows like America’s Funniest Videos and Catch 21. By now, he’s a seasoned veteran in the industry, working to balance heavy taping schedules with family time and life amid a pandemic.
Uproxx talked to Ribeiro by phone last week, before the NBA Finals ended and his friend Chris Paul fell just short of a championship. We discussed game shows, representation on television and what it means to be a not-so-nice sports meme.
Uproxx: I can see the Cheez-It bag behind you so I have to ask about the promotional work you’re doing. I loved that you were pitching this on your Instagram and it kind of sounded like you were an old-time game show host. Where they, you know, they stopped play right there and then you pitched some products. Was that the inspiration behind that?
Alfonso Ribeiro: You know whenever you team up with a company, you try to make things that are organic to yourself, you know? What are the things that I’m doing right now in my career in my life that would actually lend itself perfectly for product. Obviously people remember my Fresh Prince days, but right now I’m basically a TV host, so doing it more like a host thing, it kind of makes it a lot of fun. It makes it very me and it makes it what I’m doing right now.
And it’s a great product and a great match with both of us. Launching this campaign, you know, we want to get people to enjoy lunch the way lunch should be enjoyed. And not just like a past-by meal that you throw something together in the middle of the day. So we’ve teamed up together to enter this sweepstakes where, I’m gonna show you what we don’t want. We don’t want people eating this for lunch anymore.
[Ribiero presents a very sad-looking sandwich on a sparse plate to me on the Zoom call]
We want people to enjoy their lunches so rather than that, you know, let’s jazz it up. Let’s take people out of their rut, show me the best sandwich you can make. Show me the greatest lunch you can add your Cheez-It Snap’d to it to create. We want better meals, a more fulfilling meal, a fun meal. So we want people to go on to my Instagram and my Facebook and enter to join the competition.
It’s gonna be a lot of fun. So they can just use the hashtag #SnapdMySandwichEntry and tell us all about your stories and whoever tells us the greatest story and shows us the best sandwich, or really the worst sandwich that they can have for their for their meal, they have a chance to win a year’s supply of Cheez-Its Snap’d and also $10,000 to level up their lunch. So we’re we’re very excited about doing this. Hopefully people can jump in and make lunch special again.
I think you know during the pandemic one of the things that suffered for a lot of people is lunch because they’re likely working from home and a lot of different things are happening. I was curious what changed for you during this. Obviously you’re shooting a couple different things and trying to stay active but you’re with your family as well the last year. What what’s been different for and just trying to work and get through all this?
Well, it’s all been it’s all been different obviously and every way, right? In the beginning, obviously it was just basically staying home. So you’re not really making anything special. Breakfast doesn’t become special dinner isn’t special, lunches aren’t special and you just kind of go through the day and you eat when you eat. And it’s very, very boring. Then obviously as the year went along and the pandemic continued, we bought an RV and so we went and drove, you know, over 20,000 miles around the country.
So it changed big time for me, but you know, the weird thing is and my wife would would pop me in the back of the head. But like, if you’re driving from city to the city, I mean, I’m literally eating lunch in my driver’s seat, like just something that I can just throw in my mouth. So lunch became that meal that was just a pass-by. It was just something to give me some energy just so I can continue driving. So the idea of now that we’re back at you know, kind of getting back into life getting back out in the world — even if you’re working from home — make lunch special.
You go to Spain and siesta is the most important meal of the day. Whereas here in America, we don’t really make it very special. So the idea of being able to you know, Snap’d that, you know, jazz up your your lunchtime is something that I think people need to do, you know. It’s an important meal, it makes you happy.
I wanted to ask about about your game show work because I’m a big fan and thankfully we cover shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune a lot. When you get a new gig in game shows, a lot of game shows are cyclical and they’re taking from old shows, maybe reimagining things a bit. But when you start do you try to bring what you’ve given on screen because that’s what they’ve hired you for or do you try to do something a little bit different for with each role?
I think that ultimately it’s a combination of both, in a weird way. You’re always trying to bring what people know you as, right? Like they hire you because they like something specific that you do, but you’re always trying to make it a bit different so that it doesn’t feel exactly the same every time you do it. So it’s a little bit of both.
I’m always trying to be a bit more creative but also giving people the Alfonso that they know and hopefully love.
Yeah, especially with a show like AFV that has been on air for a long time. It’s had a couple of different hosts, people know what what to expect there, but I would assume that you obviously want to make that role your own when you take it on as well.
Whenever you’re doing anything, especially something as popular and we’re in the 31st season of the show, they know the show, so you don’t want to take away from what they already know and what they love about the show, but you still have to make it yours. No matter how you look at it, I can never be Tom Bergeron. I can never be Bob Saget. I’m going to be Alfonso.
And even through the years, I’ve adjusted my own vibe as I’ve done the show to be even more and more me every year. To continue to change the show to stay current, to stay up to date with the producers and the writers, and we’re always constantly looking at better ways to make it make it more me, make it more my vibe. So we’re trying to make sure that we give everybody what they want which is AFV and the funny videos but we’re also giving them a piece of me and constantly, you know, morphing it into the the newer and newer versions of it.
I saw you got to be on Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, which I’m very jealous of. I was curious, I’ve noticed that people often like to watch Jeopardy! because sometimes very smart people miss things that more ordinary people know, like pop culture or football. And people like watching Wheel of Fortune because they like people messing up. I wanted to know now that you’ve been on the show is it harder than it maybe looks from from watching on TV?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily harder. I watch the show a little bit, I wouldn’t say I’m like a huge Wheel of Fortune guy. But when you’re in the moment, it’s a little bit harder to just see it and know it. It just takes a little bit longer to figure it out. So, you know, our episode it took us a bit longer to figure it out. It took us a minute to to get it, but I won some money. It just it didn’t work out for me being top guy because every time I knew the answer it was on someone else’s turn.
That’s the part that most people don’t even think about. It’s like, ‘Oh I know the answer,’ they spit it out and they think they know it. They’re like, ‘Oh, I would have won.’ Not necessarily, because if it wasn’t your turn you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even give the answer, you know? It’s not like Jeopardy! where on every question all three people have the opportunity to answer it. It’s just the person who’s spinning.
One thing I was surprised to learn is how rigorous the Jeopardy! filming schedule is and I was wondering if all games shows are basically that rigorous, with several episodes in a day each day. If so, how do you keep energy up? How do you make things feel different when you’re filming so much in what can be a very exhausting day?
You know for me, when I did Catch 21, it was six episodes a day, four or five days a week. So you’re really working hard. You almost have to train for it, you’ve got to get your mind right, your body right, your energy right. It’s about keeping it level through the day, never letting it get too high and never letting it get too low. Lots of water, right, just and constantly hydrating and nutrition. You’re not eating a big lunch or a big dinner or a big breakfast, but you’re kind of nibbling through the day. It keeps your energy level through the day, so it’s kind of like you have to kind of change your whole system a bit to do that. So that’s that’s kind of the only way. But most game shows are all shot and produced the same way.
Once someone goes through that it seems like there’s a bit of camaraderie with game shows. I know you shout out other hosts and posted on Instagram about Alex Trebek. I know the big news in game shows is, you know, who’s gonna be the next permanent Jeopardy! host. I don’t know if you’ve been watching but LeVar Burton is a potential host that’s gotten a lot of attention. He’s spoken about representation a lot, and I know that’s something you’ve spoken passionately about as well. How important would it be to see a person of color in that role?
I think that that it’s always an important thing to continue to represent America as America is represented, you know? Where are the Asians? Latinos? Women? African-Americans? Everybody, especially during this period of time where everybody’s getting an opportunity to jump — not everybody — but a lot of people getting an opportunity to jump in there. Hopefully they’re continuing to look at it from a diverse perspective. You know, whoever gets the job, let them be the best. And whatever that looks like. I’m not one that says, well, I think it has to be a Black person or I think it has be a woman. I don’t think it should be anybody. I think it’s whoever’s the best, as long as everybody gets an opportunity and a fair shake at it, then whoever’s the best and whoever the audience loves the most, it should be their job.
It’s interesting, I was watching a lot of Buzzr the last couple of days and saw some older shows. You can see today pretty clearly there are shows that are more reflective of America’s population, and even a few decades ago not only was that not the case, it wasn’t even really a concern at all. It’s kind of nice to think that, you know, if people are putting in even the bare minimum effort there that it’ll look a lot different when you watch Buzzr in a couple decades.
As long as people are putting in something now. Hopefully, I would say, you know to everyone out there: don’t put in the bare minimum. Put in a reel. Do it the right way and look at everybody and then everybody gets a fair shake at it. You know, when AFV came along, they weren’t only looking at Black people. They were looking at, you know, Mario Lopez and a bunch of different other, you know, white guys and white women and Black women and myself and, you know, Latinos. They looked at everybody and so you know hopefully as it turned out the best person got the job. And so if you allow everybody to get in there and have an even shake at it, you know, they’re gonna be different people in different jobs because they have people have different talents.
Absolutely. I wanted to ask there’s a clip from from Fresh Prince that pops up when basketball players fail.
I saw the clip where Carlton misses a shot pretty badly come up again during Game 7 of the Nets-Bucks series when KD missed in overtime. Do you even notice at that point when people post that and it makes the rounds? Because it comes up a couple times a year now.
You know, my social gets bombarded with a lot of old videos and old takes on things. I’m always honored when people look at that. I mean, obviously, I would have shot the ball better than the character did. But, look, it’s a funny moment in television history and it means that people are connecting to it. So for me, I’m giving them all the love for connecting tragedy with my video.
I wanted to ask really quick. I know you’ve worked with with Chris Paul. Have you been keeping an extra eye on on the postseason here?
Absolutely, I actually sent a message over to the family after they finally got past the the big hurdle and made it to the Finals. So I root for him. You know, it would be pretty cool if he got an NBA championship. I’m absolutely rooting for him, I want him to get that one, it would be cool. I think Giannis will eventually get one at some point, you know, if we’re looking at the two big stars of of both teams. But it’d be really nice for Chris to get that this time around because I think you know, it cements his legacy as one of the greatest point guards in history.