“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” delivered laughs, tears, and life lessons for six years as fans looked forward to what kind of hijinks or family drama Will Smith and his cousin Carlton Banks, portrayed by Alfonso Ribeiro, would find themselves in each week.
Although Ribeiro has felt “punished” for portraying the role so well that it’s stuck with him throughout his career, he still looks back on his time working with the cast with warmth and fondness. The “America’s Funniest Videos” host spoke with Atlanta Black Star about what allowed him and Will Smith to sustain such magnetic onscreen energy, how living in a “mixed world” with his family has sometimes left him feeling a lack of support, and his hopes for everyone to “live in a world that they want to live in.”
You and Will [Smith] just have this amazing chemistry. Was that always like that? Because I know in the beginning, he was still a very new actor, very green, reciting words under his breath, that type of thing. So, was that chemistry easy to find with somebody that was so new to the game?
Well, we were friends before. So that helped a lot. We were able to just find … we were able to play on set. We were able to not take things so seriously that our egos would never get in the way of creating funny. The things that we learned very early on was, if I’m his straight man and he gets the big laugh, we both win. If he’s my straight man and I get the big laugh, we both win.
So there was no reason to ever not let the other get the big laugh because we were still winning by either one of us getting that big laugh. And that was understood without ever it being said from the very beginning. And that to me is the key to why I believe our success on the show was so great because we never stopped each other from winning.
So there was no crabs in a barrel type of mentality.
Absolutely not. Yeah. Everybody was in it to win it. Everybody was in it to support the other. And that to me is where the success of most shows. … Most successful shows start there. But I think “Fresh Prince” for Will and I specifically, that’s where I think a lot of that success came from.
[An episode of “The Fresh Prince”] that struck home for me was when Carlton was attempting to pledge. And then there was a whole scene where he was basically being told that he wasn’t Black enough to pledge. And Carlton gave this emotional speech about “Being Black isn’t something that I try to be. It’s who I am.” Have you experienced any of that feeling personally throughout your life?
It still happens almost every day, unfortunately. I am in a mixed relationship. And I get things and looks and comments constantly. And I find it very interesting because you see a lot of things on social media where people say things and people have positions and perspectives. And it’s not easy to make that choice, because you’re not at home in any home. I’m never going to be white and I’m never going to be fully supported in the Black house.
So I’m in my own little world with support from almost no one, to be in love with someone I’ve fallen in love with. How does that make sense? It doesn’t. We all want to live in a world where everyone is accepted for being and loving and living the way they choose to live. I will support any person that wants to live in a world that they want to live in. I’ll support a racist person to live in a world that they want to live in. They don’t have to be around me.
But if that’s the world that they want to live in, they should have a right to live in that world. I live in a mixed world. I love in a mixed world. I live in a Black world, and I love in that world. I feel everyone should be supported. I deal with it all the time. I laugh at the fact that I am a mainstream television host, been in the game forever and I could purchase tickets to go to the BET Awards.
We reached out to BET to get clarity on the process of obtaining tickets to the award show, but have yet to receive a response.
That’s interesting. Yeah.
So it is what it is. I’m not going to purchase the ticket, but I’m also not going to … I guess I’m doing it now by putting them on front street. But at the end of the day, if that’s the view they take, then that’s the view they take. I can’t change their mind. All I can do is live my life and be me and be the best version of me. And continue to love everybody equally, and let it fall where it falls.
What can we fans look forward to from you? I know you’re still hosting “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and you have a show on Nat Geo now. So can you just give us a little bit of all that you’re working on right now?
Well, there’s a lot of things that are in the works. I always like to say that you never want to promote something until it’s promotable. But we have obviously “AFV: Animal Edition” on Nat Geo Wild. A lot of things to come. But looking at producing, looking at directing again, and looking at some other shows and other areas. So, there’s a lot coming. But every Sunday night on ABC and Friday night on Nat Geo Wild, you get to see a whole lot of laughs with “America’s Funniest Videos.”
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.