Reed Alexander, known for his role as Nevel Papperman on iCarly, is striving to make waves in the world of journalism.
After working on Will and Grace and iCarly, Alexander wrote a cookbook, and throughout his book tour and interviews for his television performances, he became attracted to the world of journalism. He got his undergraduate degree at New York University, spent some time working as a reporter for CNN in Hong Kong, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in New York City and is currently finishing his master’s degree at Columbia University.
The Post sat down with Alexander to discuss iCarly, journalism and more:
The Post: What got you interested in acting?
Alexander: When I was 8 years old, I went to a school called Pine Crest, which was in Florida. I couldn’t tell you what exactly it was that drew me to drama. I was so young, and I loved acting and the idea of acting, probably because it just felt very supportive and fun, and I always liked being on a stage or in front of a camera, something that hasn’t really changed. Not a lot of people know this, but another member of my drama group in school was Ariana Grande. But being from Boca Raton, which is not a very big city, and my parents were both lawyers, and we didn’t really have any other actors in the family, this was a real divergent for us. But they’re very supportive, and I started auditioning a lot for various roles and got an agent in Los Angeles, which was very helpful.
I started doing some short films and commercials and television work, and then when I was about 11, roughly two-and-a-half years after I first told them I wanted to act, I landed a role on Will and Grace on NBC, which was the original run of the show. And then after that, iCarly came along, and that was great because it gave me seven years where I could work with kids, but in my position, I really had the best of both worlds because I was a recurring actor, which gave me the chance to play a part that has been very memorable to a lot of people. A lot of young people know Nevel, and they remember the famous lines like “Rue the day,” but because it was recurring, I could also do other things. I was very fortunate to be able to balance those.
P: What was it like being on one of the most beloved Nickelodeon television shows?
Alexander: It was such a thrill. I mean, I remember the first time I walked on to the set on iCarly, and the first set I went on was the loft where they would broadcast their web show. This was probably June of 2007, and I believe the show debuted in September 2007. Even then we knew that we had something really, really special and unique, but I don’t think any of us knew that it would become the dominant most popular kid sitcom of the era. This idea of having a web show was really revolutionary and brand new back in 2007 … so iCarly was revolutionary in that way. It was just very forward thinking. Not to mention it was funny. I mean the writing was good, the plots were entertaining, people really bonded with the show, and we ended up going for I think five seasons in like seven years, which is really unprecedented for kids’ television. Most kids shows get three seasons, and then kids grow up and age out of the show, they bring on a new show and they do like a cycle, you know, it’s sort of formulaic. Ours really broke that mold.
It’s been amazing to see. The show went off I believe in 2013 with new episodes, but it’s still in reruns. I can’t tell you how many people I meet, even as I’ve begun this new chapter of my life as a journalist, who talk to me about the show or who are still watching it or with younger siblings watching it. There’s a new generation of kids growing up watching iCarly, and you know what? It’s still relevant.
P: What was your favorite memory from working on iCarly?
Alexander: Oh my gosh, I have so many. One of them was I loved the work culture. As a kid who was working on a series, you couldn’t have had it better because we would go for dinner together at our favorite Japanese restaurant across the street after work, we had the best green room with an Xbox and everything you could want. I can’t tell you how often I talk to people who worked on that show, I mean on a daily basis. These are my family, and let me say that’s rare in the industry that years later, people are still checking in on each other and care the way that we do. Some of my specific memories that I loved, I remember being nominated personally for a Kids Choice Award in 2013 and had 16 million votes or something like that. One that I love was shooting “iFightShelbyMarx,” which was a two part episode with Victoria Justice. Some of my scenes were shooting until 1 or 2 in the morning, and it was really fun because I got to come into work really late and have the morning to run around L.A. and keep busy. We had a big crew and tons of people, and it was like going to a campfire or bonfire party late at night, but you’re with all your friends, and you’re working, and there’s cameras, and there’s very little that’s more fun than that.
P: How did you find your way from the world of Nickelodeon to the world of journalism?
Alexander: I knew when I was probably 15 that I wanted to become a journalist and that acting wasn’t something I was going to do forever. And I love the profession, don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I had as an actor. But I also think that I just had different ambitions for what I wanted for my life. I’ve always loved news. I’d been traveling overseas a lot and watching international news on BBC World News and CNN International and got very familiar with a lot of how the world was telling stories. I would say being on the Today Show and being around broadcast journalists was the catalyst that changed things for me because I was always around reporters. They were interviewing me about iCarly and about my work, and at the same time I had great admiration for their jobs, and I thought they had the best job in the world. I realized, you know, I don’t have to be an actor forever, and I think when this show comes to an end, it’ll be around the time I’m going to college, and I think I should try and focus on journalism to see if I like it.
So I went to NYU for journalism … and it worked out great. So I did that in my undergrad years, and I moved to Hong Kong and became a reporter at CNN, which was the network that made me want to become a journalist in the first place. Then I went back to New York City and took a job at the Wall Street Journal where I was a reporter for a year covering breaking news and finance, and I hosted an interview series for Wall Street Journal Video. Then I became managing editor of this health care magazine, writing very serious healthcare news, and now I’m at Columbia, and I’m about to finish my master’s.
P: What type of journalism do you gravitate toward? What about journalism do you love?
Alexander: I surprise people when I tell them that I really have less interest in covering entertainment because I think most people assume that, you know, having been an actor and grown up in the entertainment industry, that's really the thing I'd want to cover, and that's actually really not the case. I enjoy covering it on some level, but it's not what I'd want to do professionally. The kind of news I really liked is actually very hard news. I love business and politics. I really love covering mental health. I've done a lot on mental health, including a huge investigation I did at the beginning of this year … I went back to Parkland, Florida, to cover the impact of the school shooting two years later and did a trauma recovery story on how it affected teachers in that school. I love world news, you know, foreign politics, foreign relations. That's very interesting to me. I've covered it all, though, from pop culture, which I have covered, to business, which I've covered very heavily, to global affairs and politics. And I'm fortunate that I've had the chance to cover stories in pretty much any field.
I think going forward, I'd like to find a role that combines writing and broadcast work. But I actually love writing. I mean, even though when I set out to become a journalist, my real focus was not to be doing newspaper and print work, it was to be doing television work. The truth is, I've gotten a great deal of exposure to newspaper-style writing, and it’s a lot of fun. And it trains you in vital journalistic skills that you don't often get if you're only doing camera work. So, I think I'd be very keen to continue to do that kind of publishing and writing and research going forward. But that said, you know, I've had some really cool opportunities in this industry.
P: What inspired you to write your cookbook, KewlBites?
Alexander: I had been getting very active in the food space. I started really cooking publicly around the time I was 15, which is the same year I became very interested in news. And that was the first time that I went on the Today Show and was cooking on shows. I was making generally healthy recipes for young people. And this was a really fun part of my life because I was living in Los Angeles working on iCarly, and one thing I loved to do was cook, and I wanted a place to share it with people. So I started a blog, which isn't around anymore because I just kind of moved on to other things. But that was really the first place that I was writing and telling stories and I would interview people and do Q&As with people like nutritional experts. I think Jennette McCurdy did a Q&A with us once from iCarly, which was fun, on her healthy habits and her lifestyle. But we were really taking off. And it was a small team: me and a few other people around me, and the site really was building. So eventually I had been on so many shows, even on Jimmy Kimmel I was cooking, that people were saying, “When are you gonna come out with a cookbook?” And I had partnered with the Clinton Foundation, and I used to travel around the country going to different schools and talking to hundreds of students about how to live and everyone was like, “you really need to write the book.” So I thought, “OK, I'll do it.”
It was 100 recipes. It took 18 months to produce this book. We would cook these recipes, sometimes like four a day, and it was me in the test kitchen, often alone, when I was probably 17 years old. It was the most gratifying project I had done to that point. It taught me a lot about project management, working with colleagues. I mean, it was really, very cool. And I was so thrilled with the result. We went on a 30-city book tour when it was over, including to some overseas cities. So I guess I was inspired by it because after all the time that I had been running my site, and all the time that I had been on shows, everybody said to me, “You really need to have a tangible product. You need to have something you can show.” And it's funny because I'm in Rhode Island with my family right now, and we've rented a home here to escape the current situation in New York City, and we brought the book with us. We've been looking through what recipes to make, which is hilarious, and doing some cooking from that, and I promised them that I would do like a solo cooking night in a few days when things get a little less busy for me. But, you know, I guess that's why I decided to do it — so that I would be able to really leave a relic of my time in cooking in people’s homes.
I haven't heard a lot about the book in the last couple of years because most people want to talk with me about journalism now, but people are sending me pictures of what they're cooking from the book, you know, now that they're under quarantine, and they're making recipes. And let me tell you, nothing is more fun for me. It's like when people recite a line from the show that maybe is, like, an off-the-beaten-path kind of a line, not necessarily “rue the day” but something I haven't heard in a while, you know, like “haberdashery” or “tapenade.” It's so funny when people, when people think about those things, and when they're cooking the book, and that's really fun.
P: What’s something about you that people would never guess is true?
Alexander: That I actually really love TikTok. I feel like no one would really guess that about me. I actually love TikTok. What I would like to do … is to profile some big TikTok stars and do like a series of five or 10 profiles on what you don't know about these leading TikTok celebrities. I think that would be really, really fun. I should carve out time because I find them to be incredibly talented and amusing. And I'm living for “bored in the house. I'm in the house bored.” I'm obsessed, and I know all of the big stars and all their dances, and I follow them. I mean, I've never made a TikTok, but I have so much respect and, like, adoration for people who do because I actually think it's really hard work, like, to be that coordinated and to, you know, be that creative and to be that brave to get in front of a camera. I'm totally comfortable in front of a camera, but usually it's not doing that. So for people who can dance and move and, you know, twist and move to the beat, I think that's so funny.
The other thing people probably wouldn't guess about me is I'm actually an amateur DJ. It’s true. I used to be really good. I haven't done it living in New York, but when I was in Palm Beach last year, I DJ’d in a nightclub and like, 100 people came. I DJ’d until like 2:30 in the morning. It was so crazy. I think nightlife is so much fun … But before we all started thinking about social distancing, I really did enjoy nightlife, and I was so fascinated by it that I learned to DJ, and the time I DJ’d that club was wild ... It was just a lot of fun. So I think that's something that people wouldn't know about me.
P: Ultimately, what is your goal in life?
Alexander: That's a great question. I’ll answer the question two ways: I’ll answer it from a career perspective … and then I’ll answer it from a more philosophical perspective. So the career perspective is, I'd love to have a position where I can do what I really love to do for the next many years as a reporter, and then become an editor and get the chance to maybe launch my own publication or to take over the helm for a senior editor a role at a celebrated publication or newspaper. I'd love to eventually have a news program of my own to show.
The other alternative is, you know, I would like to think philosophically about what would really make me happy. And I think building a life where I can be a journalist in any way shape or form would mean that I will have, and you know, I've been lucky I've been doing it, you know, but I want to continue to do it for years ... I've definitely been one of the lucky ones because I got to have a career that I really love and have a great deal of passion for. And no matter what form that takes, I think as long as I'm doing reporting and I'm surrounded by people that I really care about, and I've got good people in my life and friends and family. I think that that will be, you know, the ultimate form of like being successful. Because I really have this belief system that it's not your job title, or do you work for the biggest company, or how much do you make every year. It's really not about that. If you are a happy person who does something that you enjoy, and you're surrounded by good people … I think when those fundamental elements come together, that's the definition of success. So as long as I'm getting to do things that stem from there, I think I'll be satisfied.