Alfonso Ribeiro on doing 'The Carlton' with his kids: 'The weird thing is I've never taught them how to do the dance'

·8 min read
Alfonso Ribeiro on being a father of four. (Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Alfonso Ribeiro on being a father of four. (Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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He may forever be known as Will Smith's privileged preppie cousin Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but there's much more to Alfonso Ribeiro's CV. An actor since the age of 8, Ribeiro landed a lead role on Broadway, starred on the '80s sitcom Silver Spoons, danced in a Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial and released a rap record by the time he was old enough to drive. Highlights from his post-Fresh Prince career include being crowned the Season 19 champion of Dancing With the Stars, hosting gigs on America's Funniest Home Videos and Catch 21 (the last one recently earning him a Daytime Emmys nomination) and his most important role of all: fatherhood. 

Ribeiro is now a father of four kids ranging in age from 2 to 18. Here, the Cheez-It Snap'd spokesman shares how he tries to be a dad who is tough but still fun — "Carlton" dance-offs included.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how close to Uncle Phil — or, I guess, "Dad," in your case — are you as a father? Are you strict? Are you a secret teddy bear? Where do you fall on that?

A little bit of both. I wouldn't say I'm as strict as Uncle Phil was on the show, but I believe in doing things the right way. But I'm also fun, right? Like, I play with my kids and we do a lot of things and we play games and we shoot hoops and we play baseball and we go out on the scooters ... I balance being tough with love. 

I think the biggest, most important factor is being there. There are a lot of dads who are the one who walks in the door at the end of the day and has to become the stern, authoritarian father figure. And I feel like, no, I'm going to be there throughout. During the pandemic, we bought an RV and we've been traveling around the country for the last year and a half-plus and being there with the kids. I can tell you're doing something wrong and then I can also give you a hug and hold you when you're crying. 

Do you do "The Carlton" with your kids? Do they know it?

Funnily enough, I was just in Lake Tahoe at the American Century championship [a celebrity golf tournament} and normally on the 17th hole, it's a big thing that everybody does something there. And so rather than be by myself, I actually brought my kids out to do the dance with me. The weird thing is I've never taught them how to do the dance; they just learned it themselves. I think my oldest son A.J. learned how to do the dance and then taught my younger son, Anders, how to do it. I just did it with Ava in my arms. 

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You host America's Funniest Home Videos. As a dad, do you ever panic when you watch some of the submissions sent in?

I wouldn't say I panic on them because we have a rule on our show that no one is seriously injured on the show. So any of the videos, even if we cut it short, we make sure that no one was injured in those videos. We feel like that's an important part of the fabric of our show. Like, we don't really want people to get hurt. We just want people to get a little hurt [laughs]. So I don't really panic because I know no one got hurt. 

I will watch all the videos, obviously, to prepare for all the voice-overs. I watch them at home and a lot of the times my kids will hop on my lap and we'll watch all the videos together before I go off to do the voice-overs, That's what makes it fun for me, because it still keeps that family atmosphere. I have them with me learning and seeing what I'm doing and watching me do my lines. I feel like it's important for my kids to kind of learn how I do what I do. I always feel like most people view it like, "Daddy just does it." And it's like, no, there's a lot of work that goes into all the things that we do. I want them to always be a part of that. So we have fun because we watched the videos and they're also seeing me how I'm doing it, [breaking] down my lines and then reading it and getting a feeling for how it's going to work off the video. 

You're turning 50 this year. In 2018 you served as emcee when Will Smith celebrated his own 50th birthday by bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon. So I have to ask: Are you planning to do something like that?

Not at all. I like all my limbs, so I'm not going to do anything crazy. We have not made a decision on what my 50th will look like. It's only a couple of months away, but we'll figure it out. I'm certainly not going to do any bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon or anything like that. You know, we were just in a place where Evel Knievel jumped the Snake River. I'm not doing that either. I'm not going to do that. I'm no longer the daredevil. I used to do all kinds of craziness, but now I'm just kind of like the dad who [says], "Don't do that, you're gonna hurt yourself," when I hurt myself every day of my life as a kid. 

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You started performing at a young age. Do you see that impulse in any of your own kids?

A little bit. My 18-year-old is going to begin university this year. She auditions and she reads for things and she's gotten a few things, but she also is that young woman who wants to do it on her own. She doesn't want it to be handed to her from Daddy's contacts. So, you know, I'm in the background, I'm watching, I'm paying attention, I'm still letting her do it on our own, and if she ever needs help, that's what daddies do. 

A.J. is a sports nut, so I don't really foresee him wanting to do show business stuff, or Anders doing that. Ava, maybe ... I feel like my girls are the ones who can have a little "swag" that way. Ava, actually, for a 2-year-old, has incredible pitch. She sings all day long. So, you know, we'll see, but she does have perfect pitch. 

You're working with Cheez-It Snap'd on the Snap'd My Sandwich sweepstakes, the idea being that people can submit their "sad lunchtime sandwich" for a chance to win $10,000.

I want people to level up their lunch. Too many people skip their lunch in America. It's, like, breakfast and then it's dinner, and lunch is just a meal [where] you just throw something together. We want to change that. We want people to have a great lunch. ... If you're going to have a sandwich, get a great sandwich, but let's add Cheez-It Snap'd so that people can up their value of their lunch. A little bit more fun, a lot more flavor. ... We want people to have some fun with it.  

So we've created this campaign where people can go on to my Instagram or Facebook and enter for a chance [to win]. Show us the worst sandwiches that you have — the boring, the plain... The winner will get $10,000 and a year's supply of Cheez-It Snap'd. 

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Being a child actor, did you miss the whole lunchbox experience? Was lunch as a kid just craft services?

If you're working on a TV show, you go to lunch, right? So either lunch is supplied or you go out to eat. So you would go to a nice restaurant and have a nice lunch, and then you'd come back and finish up your day, or you'd go to craft services. If you go to a show and the craft service isn't good, I can tell you one thing: You'll have some actors and some crew that will be pretty pissed off. So I'm used to actually having a wonderful lunch. You know, some of the best stories from Fresh Prince would be days when the entire cast would go to lunch together. We'd go somewhere and grab a beautiful lunch and sit down. Sometimes we'd have lunch that would be too much, and then we'd go back and fall asleep. But lunchtime was a time in which we shared stories, we shared ideas, we shared thoughts about what we were going to do creatively on the show. You could be out of work and enjoy a little bit of that time together.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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