Nickelodeon was different from other kids’ TV networks in the ’90s.
It was edgier, more adult, marked by shows that dared to be weird, gross and subversive. Think of shows like “Salute Your Shorts,” where fart jokes abounded, or “Ren and Stimpy” with its disgustingly hyper-realistic artwork.
Danny Tamberelli, who was a child star in the ’90s on multiple Nickelodeon shows, says it was a special time because network executives let the show runners have complete creative control. “They let the creators be creators,” he says, “and that’s why there were all these crazy shows that really resonated with people.”
“These were not cookie-cutter shows about attractive kids who could sing and dance, who you could put on lunch boxes,” Tamberelli explains. “Instead it was like, shows about the ordinary kid who’s picking his nose and he’s sitting in the back of the room in his mismatched socks, and like, one Nike shoe and one Converse shoe because he got dressed in the dark that morning because he was late.”
These shows have endured, gaining massive and dedicated cult followings and are prompting cast reunions more than 20 years later. It seems the children of the ’90s have quite the appetite for nostalgia as adults.
Nickelodeon seems to have figured that out this year, releasing a “Rocko’s Modern Life,” Netflix special and rebooting “All That,” the ’90s kids sketch comedy show that helped launch countless young careers, including Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell and Amanda Bynes.
Tamberelli joined the cast of “All That” in 1997, but he is probably best known for his role as Little Pete in the cult favorite “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” And he’s no stranger to Nickelodeon fandom. He has been providing ’90s kids with the nostalgia they crave for years, now. Tamberelli plays host to the podcast “The Adventures of Danny and Mike” with Michael C. Maronna, who played Big Pete, his on-screen older brother. The podcast was so well-received that it led him to create “Nostalgia Personified,” a live show that brings fans and creators together for an interactive evening of humor, improv, backstage stories and more.
“‘Nostalgia Personified’ is a pretty appropriate description, in that we do show these old ’90s clips on a big screen and it’s kind of gritty, and it takes you back to that moment,’ Tamberelli says. He describes the live show as a combination of a reunion show and “Mystery Science Theater”-style commentary.
On Nov. 20, Richmond audiences have the chance to experience “Nostalgia Personified: All That Edition,” at the newly renovated Ashland Theatre. Tamberelli has called in former “All That” co-star Lori Beth Denberg, whom you may remember for her wacky characters like the Loud Librarian or Miss Fingerly, the eternally frustrated teacher. They’re characters she’s been revisiting lately, as part of the “All That” reboot on Nickelodeon.
“We’re mixing in the old characters with some of the old cast members, and it’s really seamless, there’s still the same vibe” she says. “‘All That’ was just totally wacky, and it was good enough and adult enough and goofy enough and messy enough to hit a lot of different tones that were enjoyed by a lot of different people. I think that’s what carried the show.’
Denberg says she can’t wait to go on tour with “Nostalgia Personified” to reminisce about Nickelodeon’s golden age. She and Tamberelli, who worked together on “All That” as well as the slime-filled Nickelodeon game show “Figure It Out,” have remained friends into adulthood, even working together on a few recent independent film projects.
“We just have a lot of fun together, always,” she says, “and I think that will translate to the audience at the live show. It’ll basically be like, ‘Here’s what it’s like to hang out with Danny and Lori Beth!’ Vital information versus vital information!”
When Denberg left the cast of “All That” in 1998, it was Tamberelli who took over her “Vital Information” sketch, a silly take on the evening news. “I was terrified to take it over,” Tamberelli says. “It was Lori Beth’s thing and it was perfect the way she did it and I didn’t want to copy her.”
It’s stories like this that make “Nostalgia Personified” such a treat for audiences. “It’s really cool to look back and think of what was happening on the other side of the camera. I think that’s a big part of the appeal of the live show,” Denberg says.
Tamberelli and Denberg will be available for a meet-and-greet before the show and a Q&A at the end. They both agree that it’s important for them to connect with fans personally.
“We’ll be hanging out at the merch table,” Tamberelli says. “I mean, you can’t beat it! If you were a ’90s kid you’ve got to come to the show. It’s important for us, and it’s important for the fans to relive it a little bit.” S
“Nostalgia Personified: All That Edition” comes to the Ashland Theatre on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 8:30 pm. Tickets cost $20 to $37. nostalgiapersonified.com.