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In Living Color was the brainchild of comedian Keenen Ivory Wayans and ran for five seasons (1990-1994). This comedy sketch series broke several grounds (for having a multi-ethnic ensemble cast, among other things) that were unprecedented in American television. However, it also courted some controversy from its parent network Fox, the censors, and the audience.
The show is also known for launching the careers of several then-unknowns such as Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Rosie Perez and Jennifer Lopez.
Apart from Keenen, his siblings Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon were also part of the cast throughout the series, while another sibling Dwayne worked as a production assistant and sometimes appeared as an extra.
Network Executives Wanted To Delay Any Potential Outrage
Fox assured to the show’s producers that they “wanted to push” the edge. However, executive Peter Chernin informed Wayans that Fox wanted to take some of the sketches (like “Men on Film,” and “Homeboy Shopping Network”) out of the pilot episode, and would broadcast them later once In Living Color had established an audience. Of course, Wayans didn’t agree to it, and eventually had his own way.
Before becoming “J. Lo” and a Hollywood A-list celebrity, Jennifer Lopez was once one of the dancers of the show, as one of the members of the Fly Girls dance troupe. However she didn’t make her dancing debut on In Living Color until the series’ third season, in September 22, 1991.
On the same episode that Jennifer Lopez debuted on In Living Color, Jamie Foxx also made his first appearance on the show. His played his onscreen character Wanda a lot of times on the series.
Damon Wayans was responsible for bringing rising stand-up comedian Jim Carrey into the show. Wayans had known Carrey since their days at The Comedy Store and the two also worked together in the film Earth Girls Are Easy.
It is interesting to note that a lot of other comedians auditioned for In Living Color, but didn’t make it. Among them included Martin Lawrence (in picture), Margaret Cho and Susie Essman.
John Leguizamo could have been another cast member of the show, but he turned the offer down. Fox offered him his own show House of Buggin‘, a Latino version of In Living Color. However, the series lasted only one season, and this eventually led to the creation of MADtv.
There Was Going To Be a Series Reboot
Both the original and later cast members of the show were set to star in a series reboot in 2013. But it was eventually dropped off for several reasons, including Damon Wayans changing his mind about it and not returning.
Damon Wayans was an SNL cast member from 1985 to 1986, but was unceremoniously fired because he ad-libbed during a live sketch. Chris Rock (in picture) was also once an SNL cast member before appearing in In Living Color‘s six episodes. In Living Color director Paul Millner had worked for SNL for three years. Before joining the series, Jim Carrey auditioned for SNL but didn’t make it.
Colin Quinn was a writer during the show’s fifth season while Molly Shannon stayed in the show for two years before moving to SNL.
Actress and dancer Rosie Perez came in for the show’s third episode as the new choreographer. She instructed her new wards to do dance moves that counteracted their years of training. Although there wasn’t any physical fighting, it was clear that there were tensions between them, and Perez said she felt the dancers hated her. But Keenen told Perez to just do her job. Perez remained in the series for another four years.
Homey D. Clown Was Based on Paul Mooney
Homey D. Clown is a well-known comedy writer, popularly recognized as the star of the Chappelle’s Show sketches such as “Negrodamus” and “Ask the Black Dude.” He applied his comedy writing to In Living Color and wrote many episodes.
Larry Wilmore Was a Writer for the Show
Among the many writers of the show, Larry Wilmore was also recruited by his brother Marc, who was already a writer for the show and a cast member in the fifth season. Marc also worked on The Simpsons and has been the co-executive producer since 2005.
The Frenchie Character Originated From a Night Out With Eddie Murphy and Rick James
In the show, Keenan visits his friends and discovers a closet full of cheap versions of Eddie’s red leather outfits from Delirious, his stand-up special from fans. Wayans comes up with a plan he thinks is hilarious and puts on one and a Rick James wig. To top it off, he also wears a gold chain with an F on it and gazelle glasses. Wearing this attire, he goes out clubbing. At the end of the night, Rick James invites him into his limo, and Keenan pretends to be Murphy’s cousin from Georgia for the rest of the night.
One Sketch Aired Only Once on Accident
Out of the many episodes In Living Color aired, one sketch aired accidentally and has since been deleted entirely from all DVD versions and syndications. The show also never re-aired on network repeats. This sketch was called “Bolt 45” and was aired on May 5, 1990. The sketch is a parody of the Billy Dee Williams commercials for Colt 45 beer which was interpreted by Fox to be mocking date rape. Keenan Ivory Wayans argues it was mocking the beer, but he lost the argument.
Wayans agreed to remove Bolt 45 just before Kim Cole’s character passed out on the table. However, Keenan argues that a network employee aired the wrong cut and was almost fired.
Keenen Quit When Fox Started To Air Repeats of the Show
Once the show reached its fourth season, Fox started showing episodes from previous seasons. Although it was common, Fox did not ask for permission, diluting the show’s value. This angered Wayans so much that he hid a tape of fully edited episodes in the ceiling panels of his office. Eventually, he gave up and left the show.
In Living Color is a Fox sketch comedy television that was released to color television to provide entertainment for a majorly black audience. The show was controversial because it decided to use a primarily black cast and black humor at a time when such humor was seen as controversial.