Did You Know The Carlton Dance Was Completely Improv? The Man Explains

In the last week, grumblings hit the media that Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment production company is in talks to re-boot “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.” While Smith’s title character, who shared his real-life name helped define a 1990s cool, confidence, and charm, many of the shows laughs are credited to its “Carlton Banks” character. Played by Alfonso Ribeiro, Banks was a caricature. He was silver-spoon-fed, snobbishly arrogant, and a walking Napoleon Complex in a cable-knit sweater.

As Ribeiro recalls, it was not only the antithesis of his character’s street-smart cousin from West Philadelphia, it was the opposite of himself in real life. In the new issue of Variety, the “Unwrapped 2.0” host explains, “[Carlton Banks] was as far from myself as possible. They would have to bring me a CD and some articles for me to read up on what the character liked, because I had never heard of Tom Jones. I didn’t know Barry Manilow. These weren’t people that I grew up with or experienced as a teenager. I grew up in the Bronx; I was a Hip-Hop kid.”

But Ribeiro (who will host “America’s Funniest Home Videos” this Fall) is a tremendous physical comedian. More than his trademark shriek and show-stopping Macaulay Culkin Halloween costume, Carlton Banks pioneered a dance that has become a thing—a méme, and a carryover of ’90s pop culture: “The Carlton Dance.”

Despite “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’s” ASCAP Award-winning writing, that particular moment was improvised by Alfonso. “It was never even intended to be funny,” said the actor of a bit in the script simply calling for the character to dance. “The [Carlton Dance] is ultimately Courteney Cox in the Bruce Springsteen video ‘Dancing in the Dark’; that’s the basis.” Notably, Cox, whose career launched with the 1984 appearance, would be an NBC peer of Alfonso’s for much of the 1990s, thanks to “Friends.” The comedian adds that he also pulled from an Eddie Murphy Raw bit called “The White Man Dance.” Improvising the moment into a recurring hearty laugh on the 1990-1996 show, he recalls creating the hybrid. “I said, ‘That is the corniest dance on the planet that I know of, so why don’t I do that?'”

Viral video fans know that in his teenage years, Alfonso released 12″ records on the same Prism Records that would be distributor (and label) to Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. This prompted him to do a TV ad for a do-it-yourself Hip-Hop kit.

Check out Variety‘s As Told To By by Alfosno Ribeiro.

Besides the show’s signature opening, is “The Carlton Dance” what is most remembered, laugh-wise from the beloved “Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”? If the show does relaunch, should the moves carry over?

#Bonus Beat: The aforementioned ad:

Related: DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Fresh Prince, Jaden Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro on The Graham Norton Show (Video)