It has been 25 years since the debut of In Living Color, the sketch comedy series created by Keenen Ivory Wayans that won the 1990 Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series. The show launched the careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Lopez, and continually tested the patience of Fox and its censors. Here are 22 things you might not know about the series.
1. SIX WAYANS FAMILY MEMBERS APPEARED ON THE SHOW.
Keenen hired Damon, Kim, Shawn, and Marlon Wayans as cast members throughout the run of the series, while Dwayne Wayans was a production assistant and often appeared as an extra. Their other four siblings—Nadia, Elvira, Diedre, and Craig Wayans—did not participate.
2. I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA PROMPTED FOX'S INTEREST IN WAYANS.
After seeing Keenen's 1988 blaxploitation parody, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Fox's network executives told Wayans "that I could do anything I wanted, and that's what set the wheels turning," he recently recalled to Details. He decided he wanted to do his version of Saturday Night Live.
3. NETWORK EXECUTIVES WANTED TO DELAY ANY POTENTIAL OUTRAGE.
Despite initial assurances that they wanted to “push the edge,” Fox executive Peter Chernin told Wayans that the network wanted to take the “Men on Film,” “The Wrath of Farrakhan,” and “Homeboy Shopping Network” sketches out of the first episode, but assured him that they would run them later, once In Living Color had built up an audience. Wayans refused, and ultimately got his way.
4. FOX WAITED ONE YEAR BEFORE AIRING THE PILOT.
"Barry Diller was terrified of the show," producer Tamara Rawitt told Details. "He showed it to the NAACP. The NAACP was comprised of older members of the black community, and this was a hip, sassy, tongue-in-cheek show, so I don't think they got a lot of the humor." Before airing it, the network wanted to bring in members of organizations like the Urban League as consultants, but Keenen again refused.
5. JENNIFER LOPEZ WASN’T A FLY GIRL UNTIL THE THIRD SEASON.
Whereas Dancing With the Stars judge and choreographer Carrie Ann Inaba was a Fly Girl from the beginning and left at the end of season three, Lopez didn't make her In Living Color dancing debut until September 22, 1991, during the third season premiere. The same night, Jamie Foxx was introduced as a new cast member.
6. ROSIE PEREZ REPLACED THE ORIGINAL FLY GIRL CHOREOGRAPHER, WHICH CAUSED SOME TENSION.
Coming in before the third episode, Perez wanted the dancers to perform moves that went against their years of training. "There wasn't any fighting, but it was emotional for them," Perez recalls. "I was very young, so it took me a minute to digest it. I remember going up to Keenen's office like, 'They hate me!' He said, 'Just do your job.'" Perez remained there for four years.
7. HOMEY D. CLOWN WAS BASED ON PAUL MOONEY.
You may know the longtime comedy writer (who wrote for In Living Color) as the star of the Chappelle’s Show sketches “Ask a Black Dude” and “Negrodamus.” After the writers followed Keenen’s orders to mess with him, Mooney said, “Oh, homey don’t play that!” Damon Wayans and the writers worked from there.
8. THERE WAS AN OFFICIAL HOMEY D. CLOWN VIDEO GAME.
In 1993, Capstone came up with the MS-DOS point-and-click adventure. Players have to get Homey to a major television studio by the end of the day so that he can accept their offer of fame and fortune, with only “the streets of New York” standing in his way.
9. LARRY WILMORE WAS A WRITER ON THE SHOW.
The host of The Nightly Show was tapped to write for In Living Color by his brother Marc, who was a writer for the show turned cast member during the fifth and final season. Marc has been a co-executive producer on The Simpsons since 2005.
10. THERE WERE PLENTY OF FORMER AND FUTURE SNL STARS.
Damon Wayans was an SNL cast member during the show's 1985-1986 season, but was fired for ad-libbing during a live sketch. After Chris Rock left SNL, he appeared in six episodes of In Living Color, mostly as his character Cheap Pete from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Regular In Living Color director Paul Miller originally directed SNL for three years. As far as other SNL connections: Colin Quinn was a fifth season writer and Molly Shannon played an office trainee in a sketch two years before joining the NBC series, while Jim Carrey unsuccessfully auditioned for SNL three times before landing on In Living Color.
11. DAMON WAYANS WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING JIM CARREY.
Knowing Carrey from The Comedy Store and from working together on the movie Earth Girls Are Easy—Damon was Zeebo, Carrey was Wiploc—Damon strongly urged Keenen to hire him. It took a while to match Carrey’s financial demands, and Thomas Haden Church was almost cast instead before a deal was made.
12. CARREY’S INFAMOUS ASS-TALKING SCENE FROM ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE CAME FROM AN INCIDENT IN THE WRITERS ROOM.
Frustrated one day with Keenen’s constant rejections of pitched sketches, Carrey stood up and read a sketch of his from his butt, in Keenen’s direction. The two almost fought before Keenen walked out of the room.
13. MARTIN LAWRENCE DIDN’T PASS THE IN LIVING COLOR AUDITIONS.
14. JOHN LEGUIZAMO TURNED THE SHOW DOWN.
John Leguizamo was another potential cast member that never came to be. "I wanted to do it, they wanted me to do it, but I got talked out of doing it," Leguizamo told Details. "You know your representation talks in your ear, and the whole thing gasses up your head. They're like, 'You're blowing up, John! You've got to have your own show, John.' Later Fox offered me my version of In Living Color, House of Buggin', which eventually became MADtv. But I was a huge, huge fan of the show."
15. THE FRENCHIE CHARACTER ORIGINATED FROM A NIGHT OUT WITH EDDIE MURPHY AND RICK JAMES.
Visiting his friend Murphy, Keenen discovered a closet full of cheap versions of Eddie’s red leather outfit from his stand-up special Delirious, sent from fans. Wayans thought it would be funny to put one on, as well as a Rick James wig, a gold chain with an F on it, and gazelle glasses, and go out clubbing. The night ended with Rick James inviting him to join him in his limo, where Keenen pretended to be Murphy’s cousin from Augusta, Georgia for the rest of the night.
16. DAVID ALAN GRIER LIKED TO TRIP UP DAMON WAYANS DURING THE "MEN ON FILM" SKETCHES.
Grier would purposely hide props from Wayans, then surprise Damon with them during tapings to get him to crack.
17. IT’S CREDITED WITH MAKING THE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOWS ENTERTAINING.
Fox aired a Doritos-sponsored live episode of In Living Color during halftime of Super Bowl XXVI, causing some 20 to 25 million viewers to switch to Fox from CBS' presentation of the game. The official NFL halftime show was called “Winter Magic,” which consisted of a skating performance from Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill, and a song by Gloria Estefan, all with a winter season and Winter Olympics theme. Michael Jackson performed during intermission of the next year’s Super Bowl, and high-profile musical acts have headlined halftime shows of the big game ever since.
18. THE LIVE "MEN ON FOOTBALL" SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SKETCH CAUSED SOME TROUBLE.
After Wayans and Grier implied that Richard Gere and Carl Lewis were gay, both men got upset. Gere’s agent threatened a lawsuit, but nothing came of it. Lewis' situation was resolved following an apology letter. The “live” show was on a five-second delay (Keenen has said it was 30 seconds), but the censor that night did not edit out the jokes, because Lewis’ sexuality was “openly discussed” in Hollywood at the time.
19. ONE SKETCH AIRED ONLY ONCE, BY ACCIDENT.
Deleted entirely from all syndication and DVD versions, and never re-aired on network repeats, “Bolt 45” managed to see the light of day on May 5, 1990. A parody of the Billy Dee Williams commercials for Colt 45 beer was interpreted by Fox to be mocking date rape, and Keenen Ivory Wayans lost his argument that it was only mocking the beer. Wayans begrudgingly agreed to cut “Bolt 45” before Kim Coles’ character passes out on the table, but a network employee (according to Keenen) aired the wrong cut and was almost fired for it.
20. KEENEN QUIT WHEN FOX STARTED TO AIR REPEATS.
During the fourth season, Fox began to show episodes from previous seasons without permission, diluting the value of In Living Color before its upcoming syndication deals. Wayans was so furious that he hid a tape of a fully edited new episode above the ceiling panels in his office so nobody from the network could get to it. Eventually he gave up and left the set for good.
21. THE WAYANS FAMILY MADE AN ON-AIR PROTEST.
Damon and Marlon Wayans were free to leave with their brother, but Shawn and Kim stayed because they remained under contract. So they and other cast members expressed their displeasure with the situation by wearing black shades and not participating in Jamie Foxx’s Christmas number at the end of the first episode following Keenen’s departure.
22. THERE WAS GOING TO BE A SERIES REBOOT.
Both old and new cast members were set to star in a reboot of the series, only for the project to be canceled in 2013. Keenen said the reason for the cancellation was because he didn’t believe a full season’s worth of quality material was possible. However, a comedian who was set to become one of the new cast members said that Damon Wayans changed his mind and decided not to come back, leading to the shutdown.