An iCarly star takes the J School by storm.
By Gi Ferrigine and Nora May McSorley
Reed Alexander, best known for his work on the Nickelodeon TV show iCarly, is a lot more than Nevel Papperman. Reed is a published author, established healthcare advocate, experienced news writer and spokesperson for various healthy-living initiatives. After receiving his undergraduate degree at NYU, Reed is now at the Columbia School of Journalism where he is pursuing his passions in news and reporting. You can catch him on cold mornings walking through central with his triple espresso latte.
The Blue and White: You first started acting at 8-years-old. What was it like being a child actor?
RA: It was a very unique experience. I grew up in a family of lawyers– my parents are lawyers, my uncle is a lawyer. When I was very young, I was part of the theatre group at Pine Crest School in Boca Raton and we actually had Ariana Grande in our group. I really loved it. I started out just doing school plays as an after school activity. My parents signed me up for a million after school activities and I left all of them miserable. But then, I found the theatre group and I fell madly in love with acting. At one point during my time with the group, our acting teacher said to my mom, ‘Your son really seems to love this and I think you should encourage him to pursue it. There’s a lot of auditions in Miami that you could look into.’ At the time, my mother was running a law firm, my dad was becoming a senior partner at his firm. They were in their early 30’s so this was early on in their careers and to hear that their son wanted to have this acting career was so foreign to them. My parents eventually came around because they saw how passionate I was about it and I started doing auditions on tape with an agent in California. We were flying out there at least once a month and when I was 14, we finally moved there for a year and a half. I got to do what I loved at a young age which is honestly such a blessing. It was a really great growth experience—I grew up faster and I had great exposure to the professional world. Not everything was great about it, but I also had a very strong family. Their belief was the second this isn’t fun, we’re finished. My parents have always been so supportive; they could have said, ‘You’re going to law school. That’s what we did. You’re going to work for the family firms.’ Instead, they’ve always allowed me to do whatever it was that made me happy. I think that’s a really great approach to raising kids. It’s risky, but in the end, it works out.
Illustration by Kate Steiner
B&W: You won the Young Artist Award for Best Performance for your appearance in Will and Grace. What was that like?
RA: Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I guest-starred on Will and Grace in the beginning of the show. It was the final season of the first version of the show. I was a recurring character and it was great. It was a really cool opportunity to be a part of a project that was just so huge. By the eighth season, Will and Grace was like Friends. I think back then, this was a big cultural moment. People were really watching Will and Grace. It was such an honor to be on that show and I learned so much working with that cast. James Burrows was the director and he is probably the most venerated director in television today. He’s a legend. He taught me a lot when I was just 11-years-old and that was right before iCarly. Being on iCarly was a very different experience because I was working with kids. I am terribly fascinated and honestly, surprised that so many people come up to me on campus. People are so friendly and I love meeting the students here. You have to understand for me, it’s been five years since the show during which I have been doing other stuff. I’ve been out here as a journalist and going to college and living what I think is a vastly different life. Sometimes, I honestly forget. It comes flooding back all the time because I meet people everyday that watched the show and will come up and say hi. I was surprised to see that there was such a nostalgic remembrance of the show. It’s not what I think about everyday. Frankly, I am very consumed with reporting and assignments and planning panels. I was running a Healthcare Trade Magazine for the healthcare industry. Before that, I was the youngest reporter for The Wall Street Journal at the digital network at Dow Jones. I wrote dozens and dozens of stories every week and I hosted a web series that I also executive produced. Before that, I lived in Hong Kong and I worked for CNN as a Breaking News international reporter. I feel like what has happened since the show has really been the most exciting part of my life, but it’s not necessarily the most visible. When I see the reaction from people when they recognize me, it’s a lot of fun. I love meeting the people here, but first and foremost, I genuinely see myself as a Columbia Journalism student. That’s just a frame that not everyone is used to seeing me in.
[In reference in the viral Barstool video] Something happened with that video. It’s not the first time iCarly memes have blown up and that’s fine. I’m just surprised this one did. Kids came up to me on campus and a very healthy share of them asked what it was like to be a reporter. Or told me that they really wanted to go to the J School when they graduate undergrad and how they should go about that. Or what’s it like and how I got into covering the news. I am so thankful and happy to talk about those parts of my life. I’m equally happy to talk about those parts when I was acting. I did the show for years. We were nominated for Emmys; I was nominated for a Kid’s Choice Award. It’s been a very helpful thing. It has provided a great platform for me to write my book and get involved in food and nutrition. But when people want to know about what I am currently doing, that’s so fun and fulfilling.
B&W: You’re very passionate about food and nutrition. Tell us about that.
RA: Before I became a reporter and while I was on Nickelodeon, I became very interested in cooking and I really had started cooking heavily while I was living in California. I became a huge force in the food space. I was, for many years and still continue to be to this day, a Today Show contributor, cooking every couple of weeks on the show. I worked with Michelle Obama pretty heavily on her Let’s Move initiative. I traveled across the country a lot, speaking at schools, after writing my cookbook. I worked with Rachael Ray and we recreated recipes in 20,000 public schools for 30 million students according to USDA standards. And then, I wrote this book. And I have been, for a long time, an ambassador for the Clinton Foundation. President Clinton actually wrote the quote on the cover of the book. He called it ‘a valuable guide for a new generation of Amercians’. And that was pretty incredible. I went to 30 cities on the book tour and it was just very, very successful.
But then I kind of gave it up because I realized that food and acting were wonderful parts of my life that I had really valued, but they weren’t really where my heart was anymore. What I really wanted to be doing was asking questions and telling stories. In the beginning, a lot of people looked at me and thought I would obviously be an entertainment or a popular culture reporter. That’s probably what I would have assumed on the outside because I came from the crucible of the entertainment industry. Franky, if I were an entertainment reporter, it would be very easy because I could just call up people I knew everyday and profile them and my job would be done. What really attracts me is hard news, breaking news, world news, foreign affairs. Sure, I’ve written for other magazines and done light-hearted features and profiles. There’s a place for all that. But the real work that stood out was covering the Parkland Shooting, North Korea, policy, etc. When I was at the healthcare magazine, I really believed that we should be having a broader discussion around addiction and mental health in our country. Mental health is a huge passion point for me. I covered a lot of stories of people who have survived Substance Use Disorder and have come from some very trying times. Those are the stories that really drew me in– the deeply reported investigations, the hard-hitting pieces. It was hard when I first started because people were saying, ‘What on earth does Nevel from iCarly know about covering breaking news?’ Imagine if Nevel from iCarly is telling you your news! You might laugh so it was twice as hard starting out, having to overcome that as opposed to someone who didn’t have that history. I don’t regret it at all; I’m very happy I did what I did, it was just a hard career turn, from being an actor on a kid’s sitcom to now writing for these news outlets. I had to convince people that I was the real deal. I put those questions to bed for sure, but early on in my career and in college when I was declaring my major, that was a question people asked. I don’t fault them for asking; I think it is a legitimate question.
B&W: How has your experience at Columbia differed from your time at NYU?
RA: I’m madly in love with them both. I think my educational experiences have been unique insofar as, all of my education has been in a big city which is quite valuable for what I do as a journalist. Being in New York and having access to libraries and public resources and meeting all the people that come and go has been very valuable. There’s always news happening somewhere if you look closely. My time at NYU could not have been better. I was very involved in student life there and I ended up being graduation speaker and senator for my school. I had a ball. Columbia is a vastly different experience in the best way. I don’t think academically being a grad student is so much harder than being an undergraduate student. I think I had a pretty thick and fast undergraduate schedule. I am the biggest fan of academia. One of my biggest dreams is to eventually be an adjunct journalism professor either here or at NYU teaching undergrads how to do what we do because I think it is a really important art. It’s our responsibility to pass that knowledge along.
I feel like I go to Hogwarts now that I’m at Columbia. I feel like I’m at the Hogwarts of Journalism and our dean is Dumbledore. He’s just so incredibly brilliant. He’s a lot younger than Dumbledore, but he’s equally talented and skilled. He’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He used to be the managing editor of the Washington Post. Our teachers are, likewise, the best in the business. But I love being at Columbia. Nothing gives me greater pride than walking on that quad, walking under the Butler windows. When you look at the names up there: Virgil, Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, it’s riveting. It really is not lost on me. Honestly, I haven’t told anybody this, but my favorite thing to do is, if I get out of school late, I go and sit on the ledge under the Alma Mater and I look out onto the quad where the whole school is illuminated and I just feel like I rule the galaxy. In the seat of knowledge under the Alma Mater and looking across to Butler, it gives you the chills. What an honor.
B&W: If you were a cocktail, what would you be and why?
RA: Espresso martini for sure! I knew the answer — I was prepared! The executive producer of iCarly and I travel a lot together. We’ve been to Bali and Indonesia and Thailand…a million places. And every time we’re together we have an espresso martini, so it’s quite sentimental. And I love the drink because the vodka can really chill you out but the espresso wakes you right back up again. My advice is to have them lighten it, because if it doesn’t have Kahlua or some kind of cream, it’s really heavy. But if you lighten it — it’s emulsified, it’s just like a shake or smoothie with all the wrong stuff and all the right stuff. And it’s just outrageous!
B&W: Are you planning on dressing up for Halloween this year, and if so, any ideas?
RA: Oh my god — I have no ideas! I think I have to, though. The J School has a gala on the 18th, and I’m on the government, so I’ll have to go and present myself. I don’t know, I’ll probably wear a bag over my head because I’ll look so tired from school. The only thing I can wear is something to hide myself. I’m all ears for suggestions!
B&W: You’re rocking some bleach blonde hair right now. You could be Ken, the Barbie doll.
RA: (laughs) People have said that before, but I don’t know. I’m not quite as fit. I’m like Ken that stopped working out for four years. That’s me.
B&W: What is your favorite part of the city?
RA: My favorite part of the city is Central Park and Midtown, and along like Madison Avenue in the 50s and 60s. I’m so happy there. I live on the Upper West Side now, but I lived on the Upper East Side for years. I really like SoHo — that’s my second favorite. But the grand, old Upper East Side in all its glory…that’s my favorite. And the park is right there and you have nature! Because I’m madly in love with the Central Park Zoo. I love zoos and animals — like, ethical zoos that are good to the animals. And I love animals so much that the Central Park Zoo is a favorite of mine.
B&W: Do you have any pets?
RA: No. I feel really bad, but they’re like, lots of work. And I think I’d never be home — with school and everything — to walk the dog, and if I had a dog walker I’d never see the dog.
B&W: What is you go-to coffee order?
RA: I live at Pret, because they’re fast. I literally uber to school everyday and the stop is the Pret. And I will always have a skim latte, extra hot. It has to be burning. On fire, like, a thousand degrees. Extra hot, it’s true! (laughs) Nobody wants it to be lukewarm. I drink it in a hurry, so that it’s still hot.
B&W: Doesn’t it hurt?
RA: Eh, no. It doesn’t hurt any more than screaming, “Rue the day!” at the top of your lungs for seven years. At this point, my vocal chords are fried! Doesn’t make a difference now.
B&W: What does you ideal fall day look like?
RA: Oooo. Hmm. I would say that it would start out with that I should be doing more of, which is cardio. I do indoor cycling, I’m like madly obsessed. I think it would start out with the exercise classes that I really need to do more of, early. And then, as the morning is starting, hopefully it’s like 45 degrees out. I go for a walk, have a coffee — I love morning walks with a coffee. My mom’s in town, we’re going to do that. So I’d probably do the park. The other thing I’d do is Sunday’s, if I’m not busy, my aunt and I will go for like seven mile walks in Central Park. So if it’s a weekend fall day, I’ll start with that. The next thing I’d do is go to my favorite place for lunch: Forty Carrots. It’s so good. Maybe leave this part out because people might laugh, but it’s at Bloomingdales, on the seventh floor. So I would love to get lunch at Forty Carrots. And then I’d probably catch an afternoon Broadway matinee, because I love going to the theater — it’s so fun. And then I would do dinner. Ideal fall day, perfect meal that I’d be craving, I’d go to my favorite place — it’s this Mediterranean restaurant call Avra, (spells it out), on 60th and Madison. I had my graduation party from NYU there, which was so much fun. It’s like, the best. So that’s my perfect fall day. And I’d be soaking up the cold the whole time — I’m obsessed with cold. It’s funny, I’m from Florida and I’m so anti-heat. I guess I grew up with heat, so I’m sick of it. And still, after seven years in New York, cold is still fascinating to me. I’m so tired of hot weather vacations — I’m sick of all that. I just love ice. I love snow, I love cold…it’s so clean, it feels so refreshing. I don’t get regular seasonal depression. I get it in April! Can you just die from the nonsense I say?! I must sound like a moron.
B&W: What are you most looking forward to in the near future?
RA: That’s a great question. Ok, short term and long term. The short term is the throwaway answer and the long term is the real answer. So the short term is that I’m actually very excited for December. My birthday is December 23rd, and I’ll be in both London and Paris that day. I’m going to take the EuroStar, so on my birthday I’ll be in transit to Paris. Or, I think it’s the other way. I’m going to go to bed in Paris and wake up in London. Long term what I’m really excited about is that, you know, it’s such an honor to get to do what we do…something you love. I get to get up every day and be a student doing the work that I love, and now I’m going to be going into a career that I love. So what I’m most looking forward to is really carving out an opportunity where I can ideally have a broadcast presence, because I love being in front of the camera. But also get to write and ask the really tough questions about serious news in foreign affairs. I am so excited to be back out on the scene. And not that I’m rushing this — I am so happy being a student, I think it’s one of the most wonderful times of life. But I will know that I’m going into such a wonderful chapter in a new career that I am obsessed with. So that’s like the long term thing that excites me is knowing every day — well presuming that I don’t get hit by a bus tomorrow because I tend to run through the street a lot — that I can hit the ground running in a career that just stimulates me. All the time.