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Alfonso Ribeiro on His Showbiz Beginnings and If He’s Tired of Doing ‘The Carlton’

Alfonso Ribeiro burst on the entertainment scene with the title role in Broadway’s “The Tap Dance Kid,” and earned his first Variety mention on Dec. 22, 1983, a rave review, when he was just barely 12 years old. He went on to star in his most recognizable role as the sweater-loving Carlton Banks on 1990’s comedy “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” opposite Will Smith. Since then, Ribeiro has dabbled in a little bit of everything, from reality competitions like “Dancing With the Stars” (which he won) to directing TV episodes (including comedies “All of Us” and “Are We There Yet?”) to his current gig as the host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” — the big $100,000 episode of which aired Jan. 6. The multi-hyphenate isn’t going to stop anytime soon, and calls being an entertainer “all I’ve ever loved.” 

Having been in the industry since you were 8, what kept you going when you faced adversity? What’s the best advice someone’s given you about the industry?

I wouldn’t ever say that there’s one piece of advice. Life is a journey. It’s a long road with many ups and downs and speed bumps and potholes and magnificent days. I am very much a glass-half-full person. I think passion is such an important part of success, and that’s translated to my career. This is a business where most people can’t say, “Hey, look at me — I’ve been doing this for [40] years.” I’m 47 now. It’s a very special thing.

Do you ever get tired of doing the Carlton dance?

I don’t get tired of doing the Carlton, because I don’t do the Carlton. Obviously this show is something I did for many, many years and has afforded me a wonderful life. I’m appreciative that fan base is still loving it, but I’m not doing it every time someone asks me to. I’m a little over it. I’ve been over it for 20 years. I’m appreciative of the fact that people get the joy out of the memory. I simply honor them, but it ain’t gonna happen.

You played Carlton, who’s very much the “uptight nerd” type, for six seasons. Did you ever worry about being pigeonholed for that role?

There was a time, yeah. I was younger and just out of “Fresh Prince,” and during the later years of the show I wanted people to know I’m acting. I grew up in the Bronx, you know? And during that time, reality television was starting to take off, so the younger generation was having a hard time understanding the differences of what’s real, what’s acting. So people automatically thought I was that guy. I loved acting, but I couldn’t do that type of guy anymore. I’ve had to reinvent myself and change the entire narrative. I’m no longer able to act. I’m a host. I’m a director, in order to be able to continue doing a job in the industry that I love.

What drives your motivation to branch out into so many things?

I love being an entertainer, and I feel like I don’t have to work a day in my life. I go to work, but I don’t feel like I’m working. I don’t feel like I’ve got to struggle. But I don’t feel like I’m ever going to squander that. A day a job ends is the day you look for your next job.

If you weren’t doing entertainment, what  would you be doing?

It’s all I’ve ever loved. But if I wasn’t in the industry, I probably would have gone to law school. [Law is] something that I love debating. My wife says, “That would’ve been a lucrative career for you.” 

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