Lori Beth Denberg remembers the exact moment she knew she was funny.
"I was at summer camp. I was probably 13, and I remember looking around the lunch table and realizing everyone was laughing because of what I was saying and the jokes I was making," she tells VICE. "I saw the results, and I liked it."
The Northridge, California, native latched onto that high and spent the early '90s religiously studying comedians on TV, while doing community theater and drama at school. And then, when she was 17, a winning high-school performance caught the eye of a Nickelodeon talent scout and earned her an audition for a then-untitled sketch comedy show.
"I had no other plans after graduation. I was not a good student," she says. "I'd probably be working at a fast-food place and have five kids and a [drug] problem."
Instead, her first professional audition landed her a starring role on All That and cemented her place in millennial nostalgia for decades to come.
This is All That!
In 1994, an 18-year-old Denberg moved by herself from Southern California to film All That at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. Given a rental car and the code to the side door at Nickelodeon Studios, she spent her downtime jubilantly riding the E.T. and Back to the Future rides on loop.
The show itself provided a dream-like escapism, serving as a quasi- Saturday Night Live Jr. with a stable of kid comedians performing off-the-wall sketches alongside a rotating roster of musical guests. (Highlights of the latter included Aaliyah, Spice Girls, and The Backstreet Boys.)
"It wasn't namby-pamby. It was weird, edgy stuff that was still family-friendly but with plenty of double entendres," she says. "I think that struck a chord with kids because they're usually spoonfed everything on TV."
As the oldest of the cast—which at various points included Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, and Nick Cannon—Denberg often took on the "adult" roles, playing a mom, teacher, or iconically, the Loud Librarian. Other memorable characters included Minnesotan Connie Muldoon and the deadpanning vital information newsreader.
The close-knit cast quickly became like family, and Denberg says she still feels maternal toward her former co-stars.
"We did a Comic-Con panel in New York a few years ago, and afterwards Josh [Server] was like, 'Let's go to the bar and get a drink,'" she says. "We're in our 30s and 40s, and my immediate reaction was, 'We can't do that! You're a kid!' I was so stuck in that Nickelodeon mindset."
Her protective streak extends to Bynes, whose private struggles became unfortunate tabloid fodder in the mid-2010s.
"She is an extraordinarily sweet and smart girl who obviously had some troubles," Denberg says. "I love her, and I want only good things for her. I haven't heard a lot about her recently and that's good to me. With her, no news is good news. I hope that she's enjoying herself and being healthy and living her life the best she can."
While still shooting All That, Denberg began to appear as a regular panelist on Nickelodeon game show Figure It Out. There, her job was to ask yes or no questions to guess the hidden talent or invention of a kid guest, whose claim to fame would be something like "Invented Barf Buddy Bucket" or "Hangs Lizards from Tongue." Endless excuses were made to drop mass quantities of slime on the celebrity panelists' heads, and host Summer Sanders kept the energy level at a sugar high. It was, understandably, wildly popular.
"I took it very seriously. And I learned quickly to sit back and let the slime go down the front," she says. "It's funnier, it's messier, but most importantly, if the slime gets in your butt crack, you have no traction to walk. I had countless bras and underwear that were just green, and there was no coming back from it."
Because Denberg often solved the puzzles at the eleventh hour, a conspiracy theory later arose that she had rigged the game and robbed innocent children of coveted prizes like a trip to Busch Gardens or Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
"I felt like a real celebrity because there was a huge conspiracy theory on the internet that I was given the answers," she says. "They thought I would figure it out right at the end so that Nickelodeon didn't have to give the kids the grand prize, and then I would get a kickback. It's certainly not true."
Former jilted contestants also rallied together to create a now-defunct "Lori Beth Denberg Ruined My Life" Facebook page, which, she says, gave her "great pride."
The end of an era
During Denberg's tenure on All That, former Nickelodeon showrunner Dan Schneider served as a producer and writer, and he would go on to launch network hits like The Amanda Show, iCarly, and Victorious. When he suddenly parted ways with Nickelodeon in 2018, at the height of the #MeToo movement, rumors of his "abusive behavior," foot fetish, temper, and possible misconduct bubbled to the surface.
"He's not my favorite person," Denberg says. "He is not a pleasant person to work for, and I'm not confirming anything, but I'm not disappointed he won't be darkening the doors of any more people working for him—and it's not just kids, it's anybody."
(The 2019 All That reboot is now helmed by original series writers Kevin Kopelow and Heath Seifert, who Denberg says make it feel like "the ship being driven the right way.")
By the time All That finished its fourth season in 1998, Denberg was approaching her mid-20s and ready to branch out.
"You don't really see a lot of 25-year-olds in kids' TV shows," she says. "It was just time to move on."
She joined The Steve Harvey Show sitcom, playing teenager Lydia Gutman in 67 episodes, and went on to play Martha Johnstone in Dodgeball and cameo as herself on Workaholics. On the side, she became an ordained minister and still officiates weddings (à la Johnny Tsunami).
Today, Denberg (known as "LB" to her friends) is 43 and currently on a "Nostalgia Personified" tour with former All That co-star Danny Tamberelli, doing interactive live shows at various bars and breweries around California.
"It's really exciting for the Nickelodeon fans to be hanging out with us and drinking beer, you know, very grown up," she says.
She and Tamberelli have also teamed up for a new, extremely self-aware digital series called Tonopah Five, which sees them playing versions of themselves: people somewhere between being "a goddamn '90s icon" and everyone's "favorite has-been."
And Denberg—who gets recognized on a near-daily basis, even when she just wants "to go to the market at two in the morning and buy tampons and ice cream"—isn't running away from her past anytime soon. She's appeared on multiple episodes of Nick's All That reboot, reprising her Loud Librarian role and handing over the Vital Information reins to a new generation.
"I still get emails from people telling me they were picked on a lot when they were a kid because they were heavy or gay and things were hard—and that I made them laugh," she says. "That really means a lot. TV was such a big deal to me as a kid, and to know that I was part of that in a really positive way for other people, it's just so gratifying."