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Will Smith may have been the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but when the beloved '90s sitcom aired its series finale 25 years ago, it was Alfonso Ribeiro who got the literal last laugh. In the closing moments of the show's two-part farewell, "I, Done," which aired on May 20, 1996, the Banks family leaves their recently-sold mansion, headed off to different futures. But one person got left behind: emerging from the bathroom to find a dark, empty house, Ribeiro's endearingly goofy Carlton runs down the stairs — hiking up his pants as he goes — screaming: "Hey, who turned out the lights!" The studio audience erupts in laughter as he exits, and with that it's farewell to Bel-Air.
"It was really an honor that they gave me that last joke," Ribeiro tells Yahoo Entertainment on the 25th anniversary of the sitcom's series finale. "Obviously, Will carried the show, but the Carlton character got some of the bigger laughs. It felt fitting to the show, but it was still an honor that it was given to me." (Watch our video interview above.)
Besides giving him the last laugh, "I, Done" also awarded Ribeiro a final opportunity to perform The Carlton — one of the biggest TV dance crazes of the '90s alongside The Urkel and The Bartman. Smith joined in the fun, but had a hard time keeping up. As the Men in Black star confessed on last year's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion show, he could never master The Carlton, and his co-star admits that he expressly avoided giving him any pointers. "My goal was to let him look bad," Ribeiro jokes. "If he had perfected it, it might have been The Will, and we couldn't have that!"
One element of the Fresh Prince finale that viewers may have forgotten is that it confirmed that the show takes place in the same TV universe as such classic comedies as Diff'rent Strokes and The Jeffersons. Phillip Drummond and Arnold Jackson (Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman) and George and Louise Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford) pop up as prospective buyers of the Banks mansion and the Jeffersons actually end up purchasing the place. (Hemsley and Sandford had previously reprised their iconic roles for a Season 5 episode of Fresh Prince.) As the most successful Black-led sitcom of its era, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the natural heir to those earlier shows.
"It was very cool that icons in the business wanted to be part of [the finale]," Ribeiro says now, adding that the Fresh Prince cast was accustomed to hosting famous visitors. "We were one of the few shows at the time to have that kind of impact on network television. So at every taping, there were actors, comedians and singers who would just come and hang out."
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is currently streaming on HBO Max.
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo
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