Find the nearest person in their mid-twenties through early thirties and ask them about their favorite television shows and movies from childhood. I can virtually guarantee you that Danny Tamberelli will have appeared in at least one of them. He was Little Pete on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Tommy Duncan in The Mighty Ducks, and a cast member on All That, not to mention his roles on The Magic School Bus and The Baby-Sitters Club.
Today, the former child actor plays bass for the bands Jounce and the Undone Sweaters (a four-comedian Weezer cover group), performs in the sketch comedy trio ManBoobs, and hosts a podcast, "The Adventures of Danny and Mike," with his as-seen-on-TV big brother Mike Maronna. This weekend, he'll appear in an All That marathon and reunion special on Nickelodeon's nostalgia-heavy programming block The Splat.
I talked to Danny last week about growing up in the golden age of Nickelodeon, '90s nostalgia, and all the rumors I heard about him growing up a few towns away in New Jersey. (You're going to want to stick around for the one about his First Communion.)
For someone who was in the spotlight at a very young age, you seem like a really well-adjusted, happy person. I guess my question, Danny, is how are you not fucked up? What is your secret?
I didn't develop any weird emotional attachment to being on TV. I'd go back to Jersey, back to normal school, because I only got tutored when I was on the set. I didn't go to private school. All my life I've been going to regular, public school.
I definitely give my parents 80% of the credit. [When] I came home from working in L.A., my dad was like, "You have to get a regular job. You're not going to be on TV forever. You're going to have to know what it's like to be a normal kid and have a job." So my first job was at a pet store. Then when I came back my senior year, I got a job working at a bagel store. [it] was funny because I would have people come in on Sunday morning and be like, "I just watched you on TV on All That. What the hell are you doing working in a bagel store?"
Little Pete was larger than life, such a brave and epic little human being. Given that you were so young, do you think playing that character had an influence on your own personality?
Getting to play this tough guy—I'm sure that played a [part]. I didn't really need to be super-tough. I did get bullied when I moved, though. I thought I was going to be the cool kid, but they were like, "You're the new kid. I don't care if you're on TV." I got razzed for a bit until I brought the class to the set of Pete & Pete and had them all on as extras, and then I got friends. That's how I learned how to manipulate people at a young age.
When The Adventures of Pete & Pete ended and you joined the cast of All That, you were still in the Nickelodeon family, but it must have been quite a transition. What was that like for you?
It was just different. Pete & Pete was mildly subversive, dark, and kind of trippy. You go from being more subdued to doing straight sketch comedy and being as over-the-top as you could be. It was a new thing for me to do.
It was weird to go from being the cool anti-hero to being like, "Poke fun at me all the time!" and getting stuff dropped on me. [Ed.: Literally.] If you're playing a little badass as a kid on TV, you're having a lot of fun doing it. When you're playing the butt of the joke as an adolescent, you feel a little weird about it. Your emotions are going already, and then you feel like, "Hey, why am I getting made fun of?" They were just trying to make it a clean break [from Pete & Pete], a clean slate.
Once I [got used to it], I owned it and it was great. And the last year I was on, I was in the writers room. I got writing credit and I had a couple sketches that aired. Then I moved back to Jersey, I went to college, and I didn't really write comedy again for another six or seven years.
Had you known for a while that you wanted to take a break and go to college?
I did. All my friends were going to college, and I wanted to be a normal kid. I was like, "Eh. I don't want to be involved in that scene anymore."
It was important for me to just feel like I was getting a full—not education—a full life experience. You can always try to do bigger things, but if you miss 18 to 22, you miss 18 to 22. You're not getting it back.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time on All That?
I would have to say meeting Outkast when they were on, that was '98 or '99—it was the coolest thing. And then Britney Spears was on the show once. She had a butterfly tattoo on her back and she bent over at the end of the show and I got busted staring at it. They made us redo the whole ending. The director said, "Don't look at her ass next time, please. You ruined the whole thing."
How long has this All That reunion been in the works for?
We did a panel at ComicCon this past year, then the next day, we shot this roundtable discussion [with] a fishbowl full of cards, asking each other questions. It was great. I hadn't seen Lori Beth [Denberg] in a long time, I hadn't seen Kel [Mitchell] in forever. It was so nice to catch up and share some laughs and realize that there's still chemistry between all of us, geeking around and shooting the shit. Twenty-year-old jokes came back that were still making us belly laugh.
What questions do fans ask you the most?
Ooh, boy. “Where's your Petunia tattoo?” That's one I give the “dum-dum” stare to. I was seven years old, bro. But then I humor them. If I'm wearing a long-sleeve shirt, I just [roll it up] and say, "Sorry." And then I see a little piece of them die inside. They're like, "Aw, man." It's like, "What do you mean, 'Aw man?’ No way that was going to be real.”
"What does slime taste like?" "Do you still talk to Amanda Bynes?" [Ed.: He doesn’t, for the record.] "What are you doing with your life?" "Why are you in this bar?" "Why is your band playing?" I rattle people so much that sometimes it's hard for them to grasp that I could be a normal human being.
This is something I've thought about for 20 years. What did Nickelodeon slime taste like?
Do you want your mind blown or do you want to keep up the allure? I give that question in return. How do you want me to crush your childhood? A little bit or just crush your wonder?
First I want you to crush it a little, then I want you to crush it with your full might.
So, depending on the day and the consistency of the sludge that came out of the ground… It's actually just water, food coloring and pudding for consistency. And so at any given point, getting slimed either tasted like water or more like vanilla pudding. That stuff's still in my hair.
Like you, I'm from Bergen County. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, it seems like everyone from the area who's roughly our age has a story from childhood or a rumor they heard about you, like, "My friend said Danny did this,” or “One time I saw Danny here.” You’re basically a folk hero.
I was still just like everybody else. My parents did everything in their power to make sure I was doing kid stuff. I played rec soccer, and I was on a swim team. It's funny, I like how some people will always be like, "Last time I saw him, he was working at a bagel store."
I asked my New Jersey friends, "Tell me what you remember hearing about Danny Tamberelli,” and I put together a short list of urban legends I’d love for you to debunk. Are you down for this?
Please. Yes, 120%. Yes.
When you were a little kid, did you ever go door-to-door in Maywood selling stuff, something for a school fundraiser?
Yeah, of course I did. Yes.
You should know that my friend Karen’s parents say you were quite the little salesman and you made a very good impression.
Did they buy anything?
I don't know, but they still remember you, so I'm thinking that they did. Did you work at Goldberg's Bagels in Wyckoff?
Yes. That was my bagel shop. They made the best bagels in Wyckoff.
Related question: Did you ever work in a bagel shop that sold rainbow bagels?
No. The guy who rolled the bagels for Goldberg's is a guy named Ira, he was from Brooklyn, he talked like this [in a thick Brooklyn accent], but he was always like, "I ain't dying this dough. You put the dye in the dough, you're going to mess up the bagel." So that's how I learned. I won't eat that shit because of him.
Danny, did you ever work as a pizza delivery guy?
Is your aunt in a church choir in Hackensack? Is that possible?
Yes, that is possible.
Is it possible that my friend Jane’s mom once saw you at a Burger King?
Probable, probable. I don't really do fast food much at all, but if I do, it's Wendy's. It's not BK. But I'm sure I have hit a BK in my life. Maybe I needed food, maybe I smoked some weed and I was very hungry. Maybe I just didn't know where I was. Maybe I thought I was in a Wendy's but I was actually in a Burger King.
Did you ever skate at the Ice House in Hackensack?
Yes. I played hockey for my high school my freshman year. The Mighty Ducks made me into a hockey fan and a hockey player.
Had you skated before that?
No, but my manager told the people on the set of The Mighty Ducks I did, and [same with] every other kid that didn't know how to skate. So they had to do two months of intense skate training for everybody because everybody's parents and managers lied.
Is it possible that my friend’s dad, who is a NJ Transit bus driver, saw you riding his bus?
Yeah. I used to take the bus from Midland Park into the city and not tell my parents because I was a little punk kid in the mid-'90s. I used to go mess around in the Lower East Side where Mike, the older Pete, lived, on Avenue A. Maybe I was on his bus.
This is a weird one, so bear with me: Did you throw up your First Communion?
Oh my God. I don't think I did. I don't have a memory of throwing up my First Communion.
I heard that from a friend of mine, and I knew I had no choice but to ask you.
Super-weird. Your First Communion you're probably, what? Seven?
Yeah, I think second, third grade, something like that.
All right. Hold on a second. I'm going to find out, because I don't particularly remember. But this is happening. You might talk to my mom real quick. Just going to call her up.
Oh my God.
[As promised, Danny calls his mom.]
Hi, a question for you. Did I throw up at my First Communion?
Mrs. Tamberelli: Yes, you did. We actually, we canceled your party.
Oh my God. I'm talking to this woman from Fusion, Molly Fitzpatrick—this is my mother.
Hi, Mrs. Tamberelli. How are you?
Mrs. Tamberelli: Fine, how are you?
I'm good. Thank you for clarifying this piece of history.
I'm getting asked all these questions, like New Jersey folklore, like "Did Danny do this?" "Did I see Danny…?" I honestly have no recollection, I totally blocked it out in my head.
Mrs. Tamberelli: We canceled your party and we ordered out and we watched movies and we slept most of the afternoon. I think you were really pretty sick. I'll never know, because it was a Saturday afternoon and the pediatrician was not in.
Well, I'm glad it was traumatizing enough for you to remember everything.
Mrs. Tamberelli: The worst part of it was I felt so badly that we had to cancel your communion party. You were looking forward to it.
Very helpful, Mom.
That was so helpful, thank you.
Appreciate it. Love you.
Mrs. Tamberelli: I love you, too, honey. Bye bye.
Thank you so much for calling her. That was amazing.
That is hilarious. It's just funny that, honestly, I have no recollection.
We've all learned something today.
Now it all makes sense. Now my life makes sense. This has been eye-opening in many ways.
Follow Danny on Twitter at @dtamberelli. You can catch Jounce at the Mercury Lounge on May 18, a live taping of "The Adventures of Danny and Mike" at NYC Podfest on May 21, and a ManBoobs show at Bushwick's Shea Stadium on May 22.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.