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‘I Had What I Love Taken Away from Me’: Alfonso Ribeiro Claims the Entertainment Industry ‘Punished’ Him Over His ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Role

Actor and television host Alfonso Ribeiro has sustained a successful and largely drama-free career spanning four decades in the entertainment industry. After breaking into the industry with a starring role in the 1983 Broadway musical “The Tap Dance Kid,” and the ’80s television series “Silver Spoons,” Ribeiro cemented his place in pop culture history with his turn as Carlton Banks in the hit 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Ribeiro, who currently hosts “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the new National Geographic channel spinoff “AFV: Animal Edition,” revealed that although he’s been able to successfully make the transition from child actor to adult star and dance his way into the hearts of generations of Americans, his path hasn’t been totally paved with gold. The very role that made him a household name also has hindered him in other ways that he’s had to learn to outmaneuver throughout his career.

Alfonso Ribeiro visits the SiriusXM Studios on February 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

The multi-talented star spoke with Atlanta Black Star about how he’s felt “punished” by Hollywood for being too much of a perfect fit as his iconic “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” character Carlton Banks and his mission to eradicate sad sandwiches across the country with Cheez-Its.

Congratulations on your recent daytime Emmy nomination. It was your second year in a row, right?

Yeah, yeah. That was very special. Obviously getting nominated for that show and being the only person nominated from the Game Show Network for game shows. And being in the illustrious category with Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak and Steve Harvey and Wayne Brady, that’s a great list to be a part of. And to do that two years in a row made me feel very special.

Working so hard for so many years to rid myself of the Carlton overhang over my head and being honored for being able to create a different job title was very special. Very, very special.

Alfonso Ribeiro wants to make your sandwiches and pockets happier with Cheez-Its. Photo Credit: Press Image

Let’s talk about your Cheez-It partnership. How did that come to fruition and what made you want to work with the brand?

I’ve actually worked at the brand before…We’ve partnered up because lunch is that meal that everybody… Especially after the pandemic, just gloss over the lunch, right? It’s just some food in between breakfast and dinner. So people kept putting things like this on their plate, right? There’s just a tired, old sandwich that nobody wants to do that.

We need to up the ante, right? We need to make people decide that lunch is going to be special. So something like this, right? Big, old, nice, beautiful sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and all the sides. And then right there, Cheez-It Snap’d. A great way to level up your lunch and create a little bit more fun within crispy snapped.

And we also want to give people a chance to tell us about their stories, their really horrible lunch stories. Plain sandwiches, just white bread, piece of meat and cheese and that’s it. No, let’s up it up. So, we want people to go onto my Facebook and my Instagram and go to #SnapdMySandwichEntry and tell us all about their stories.

Because we want to give one lucky fan of Cheez-It, a year supply of Cheez-It Snap’d, and $10,000, so they can continue to up their lunch. So having a little fun, being a little silly. Obviously, we’re not changing the world. We just want people to eat right. We want people to have some fun and enjoy a great lunch. So, a partnership made in your belly.

You have to find those joys where you can. And food is such a joyous thing for people.

Yeah. It’s a great way to get into it, right? If you have the extra time, don’t just take some bread and everything, put it together. Let’s just go ahead, let’s get creative; let’s have some fun with that. I’m about to have fun right after we’re done, make myself a big old lunch.

You’ve transitioned from child actor to adult actor, to host and “Dancing with the Stars” dancer and all these things. What has kept you grounded throughout your career? Because making that transition is a very notable achievement.

I would say… failure is what we all need in our lives to understand and to get better. If you keep winning, you don’t appreciate it. When you lose for a little bit, you then appreciate what you get to do. So for me, I didn’t necessarily lose, but I had what I love taken away from me because I won.

When you do a role like Carlton and people love the role and you do the job so well that they essentially tell you that you can’t do it anymore because we can’t see you as anything else, is a very difficult thing to deal with. It was like, ‘Wait a minute, but I did it well. I did my job. I did what I was asked to do. I made you believe that that’s who I am.’ That’s what any actor is supposed to do.

And then I was punished for it. Because then I didn’t get to go do what my craft was. I didn’t get to do it anymore. So going through that, you learn what that feeling is like and how valuable it is to be able to do what you love to do. So, when ‘Dancing with the Stars’ came around and I got an opportunity to do that. And then Tom Bergeron went to ABC and the producers and said, “I think Alfonso should be the next host of ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’,” I recognize how valuable that was.

Alfonso Ribeiro celebrates his 2021 Daytime Emmy nomination. Photo Credit: @therealalfonsoribeiro/Instagram

And I recognize how important it is that ‘Wow, I get to continue to do what I love to do from the help of other people.’ But I’ve always been here ready to do it, but not ever being given the opportunity because I did my other jobs so well. When you get that, you get how unfair that might be. You recognize that it’s not, but you can’t be angry about it. You can’t live upset about it.

You got to take the opportunity when it comes to you, and you got to run with it and you got to have fun with it. So, I continue to love what I do. I continue to love what I’m doing, and have fun doing it. And appreciate every day that I get to go to work.

That’s honestly a really great way of taking that and flipping how you think about it and using it to motivate you. So kudos for that.

Well, it’s difficult. I did the job. Most of the time when you do the job, you get rewarded for it. Not punished…But that’s not how it works in show business. So, you get those moments where you’re like, ‘Wow. I did my job, but I got punished for it.’ And it’s fine. It’s an individual sport. So, you just keep… You keep bouncing at it, you keep trying and you keep doing what you can. And years passed, but the opportunity came around. And now I’m making the most of it and I’m loving every minute of it.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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