More by Ashleigh
Drake Bell first charmed TV viewers in 1994 with a stint on Home Improvement in 1994, and hasn’t looked back since. In the last 20 years, the actor-musician-sketch comedian has branched out from smaller roles to become the leading man (on a Nickelodeon’s hugely popular Drake & Josh) and a rockabilly singer in the image of one of his idols, Brian Setzer.
Many from Bell’s legion of adoring fans, however, best remember him from his recurring character role on The Amanda Show, Totally Kyle. “When I do all these meet and greets, [fans] want me to do Totally Kyle!” the 27-year-old laughed.
When Parade.com caught up with the multi-hyphenate powerhouse, he talked about his new album (Ready, Set, Go!, which was released in April), growing up as a child actor, and his idea for how to bring back Totally Kyle.
What can fans expect from your new album?
“This new record is really awesome for me because I grew up loving rock n’ roll and ’50s music, and I discovered it when I was 10 years old and became an obsessed fan. Brian Setzer is basically the reason I started playing guitar—I wanted to play like him, look like him. And then flash-forward to this record, I actually got the opportunity to work with him. It’s pretty much a dream come true, so when I got the opportunity to work with Brian, I wanted to make the kind of record I wanted to make since I started playing music—and that’s a really stripped-down rock ‘n roll record that’s really reminiscent of the 1950s.”
What was it like working with Brian Setzer?
“It’s surreal. It’s kind of like being on a ride—you’re in the studio going, ‘is this real? Am I really here?’ It’s kind of dream-like, you know?”
Who are some other musicians you’d like to collaborate with?
“I mean, Paul McCartney wouldn’t be too bad [laughs].”
You started out as a child actor. Were you always passionate about making music?
“Yeah, I was passionate about being an entertainer. My dad sat me in front of the TV, and instead of putting on Nick Jr. or something, he put me in front of Jailhouse Rock and all the Elvis movies. Then it would be Marx Brothers, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and The Munsters. I just got filled with all the good stuff. I can remember just learning to walk and trying to dance like Elvis and sing like Elvis, so I was very, very passionate about music at a very young age.”
A lot of fans remember you from early roles on shows like Home Improvement and The Amanda Show. What was it like as a kid working on sitcoms and variety shows?
“Growing up I was so into Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin and the Marx Brothers, so I really liked comedy and sketch comedy growing up, I just really loved it. Dealing with sketch comedy and buddy teams like Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby—I just loved buddy comedies. So being able to do something like Drake & Josh was something of a dream come true. I always wanted to be a Dean Martin to a Jerry Lewis. It was really awesome when I got to work with Josh [Peck], I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing: I get to do what I’ve wanted to do for my whole life.’ I get to be the straight man to this wacky, crazy, funny guy and I get to allow myself to be funny and crazy, too. And sketch comedy stuff like The Amanda Show, being 12 years old and being able to wear the craziest costumes and be wild and out there and everyone’s saying, ‘Yeah, keep doing that.’ It was a great outlet as a child to be able to just be creative and explore all these different characters. It was cool to really expand your creativity at such a young age.”
Fans really love Totally Kyle. Where do you think he would be today?
“[Laughs] Where’s Totally Kyle right now? Well, probably just chillin’ in his garage checking the surf report. I actually have a really cool idea that I’ve been running by the fans and they really seem to love it. When I do all these concerts, I do all these meet and greets and they all want me to do Totally Kyle. They’re like, ‘Would you do the one about the radio? Would you do this one?’ So I thought how cool would it be if Totally Kyle opened for me at my concerts? If I put on the wig and it’s all black and it’s like ‘From the garage, it’s Totally Kyle!’ and I’m like, ‘Hey, what’s up guys? You’re coming out to see Drake,’ kind of opening for myself as Totally Kyle. I’ve been running it by the fans and now the fans are dying to come and see Totally Kyle. I won’t be just repeating old sketches from The Amanda Show, we’ll be writing all new ones and getting people to come see Totally Kyle live, then I walk off stage and come back on to play my rockabilly show for them.”
There are so many pitfalls child stars can have after finding fame at such a young age—drinking, drugs, rehab, etc. How did you remain above it all?
“I really, really love what I do and there’s nothing I love more than getting on stage and playing for an audience or working on a part, getting in front of the camera, and meeting all the cool people I get to meet, and going all the cool places I get to go. Anything that would get in the way and deter that is really not worth it. I just love what I do way too much. What I do takes a lot of focus and a lot of energy—I sleep maybe two hours a night—so I think if I was out drinking or trying to get on the party train it would get in the way of everything I’m trying to do artistically and creatively.”
Lately, you’ve been posting and speaking out against bullying. What drove you to be an advocate for the issue?
“I think we’ve all had experiences with that. We all have a place in our heart where we’re sensitive. You know, I had three older brothers growing up and they weren’t the easiest on me, but just growing up and going to school, I liked weird stuff! I liked old movies, I didn’t like the new bands that were on the radio and I couldn’t skateboard or do the kick flips or all that stuff. I grew up on the beach, but I didn’t surf like all the other kids, so yeah, there definitely was kind of a disconnect with me and the kids that I worked with. I definitely know what it feels like to have people say, ‘Oh, you’re not cool enough,’ or ‘The stuff you like is weird.’ I liked comic books when I was growing up and I liked nerdy things. I thought school was cool. I think everybody gets picked on. It just comes with the territory.”