in living color

Keenen Ivory Wayans television sitcoms
Keenen Ivory Wayans

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Created by Keenen Ivory Wayans, In Living Color premiered in April 1990 on Fox with a novel approach to sketch comedy: Let the audience see the funny stuff without making it sit through two music sets, a bit of hit-and-miss news satire and three or four other bad skits.

Well, that and the idea that it was OK to have more than one black person in a comedy ensemble. Anyone who remembers Garrett Morris languishing away on Saturday Night Live as the occasional maid or butler couldn't argue with that idea.

homey d clownIt began with a remarkable cast, which included Mr. Wayans, his siblings Damon and Kim, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson, Kelly Coffield, Jamie Foxx and a guy named James Carrey, now better known as Jim. Throw in Rosie Perez as choreographer for the show's Fly Girls, and how can you lose?

Having a predominantly black cast gave In Living Color the kind of credibility that Saturday Night Live, no matter how talented its cast, could never match. Imagine this: a black guy playing a boxer actually being interviewed by another black guy.

And it was one thing for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd to dance around the country trying to sing like their black idols; it was another for Mr. Grier's character Calhoun to lampoon every old blues slide-guitar player to come out of the Delta.

jamie foxx"You act like you never seen a black man," he says while entertaining at a pizza restaurant birthday party. After arguing with one of the kids, he sings: "Little smart-ass wanna be famous, y'know I think he's gonna wind up on a carton of milk."

In Living Color earned instant credibility by making fun of whites, blacks, Asians, gays, straights, you name it.

And In Living Color somehow managed not to be overtaken by Mr. Carrey, although his bizarre, frantic turns at such characters as Fire Marshal Bill and a Xena-like warrior goddess came close, lemme tell ya. It's also interesting to hear "All righty, then!" uttered occasionally in its embryonic, pre-Ace Ventura form.

Some of the show's biggest laughs came from Damon Wayans, whether playing a disgusting wino, Homey the Clown or half of the outrageously gay "Men on Film" team with David Alan Grier.

Kelly Coffield's film-noir dame who was caught in a modern, fullcolor world gave Dana Carvey's "Why, I oughta pound you!" characters a run for their money, Johnny.

damon wayansAnd there was Grier's "Loomis Simmons Psychic Line: I predict your next phone bill will be $2 higher. I predict your next phone bill will be $4 higher. I predict your next phone bill will be $6 higher ..."

Foxx's scary-looking "Wanda" provided two of the show's catch-phrases: "I'm ret t'go" and "I'll rock your world."

Unfortunately, In Living Color, came along back when David Letterman could still laugh uproariously at the notion of a network called Fox. You know, back before Fox had done things like buying the rights to the NFL's NFC broadcasts.

jim carreyThat lack of network cachet gave the show a lack of credibility, even while "Saturday Night Live" was resting on the Church Lady's laurels.

The Wayans family left "In Living Color" in the middle of the 1992-93 season after a dispute with Fox over repeats, and the show muddled through for one more season, managing even without its founder to hit more than miss.

The shows they produced have so far aged very well, an occasional cultural reference notwithstanding (anybody remember "Down With O.P.P."?).

At this point, Carrey is probably the only cast member happy the show broke up. But commercials for "Most Wanted," Keenen Ivory Wayans' movie, were airing during "In Living Color" re-runs. Maybe this movie made him happy, too.

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In Living Color Links | British Comedy on American TV | Essential AfroCentric Comedy