“In Living Color” shifted the landscape of sketch comedy.
Over the course of five seasons, the half-hour show created by Keenan Ivory Wayans pushed boundaries, tested censors and was unabashed in its approach to racial and social issues, often making it fair game for critiques from black leaders and celebrities alike.
Homey Don’t Play That! The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution, penned by journalist David Peisner and released last week, offers a fascinating inside look at the trailblazing Fox series. Moreover, Homey Don’t Play That dissects how ILC carved a space in the culture of comic innovation while delving into the evolution of black comedy, and the backstory of Wayans’ rise from struggling comic to running an Emmy-winning series.
“ILC” premiered on April 15, 1990 and became a launchpad for the careers of several newcomers including Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, Ali Wentworth, Kelly Coffield, T’Keyah Crystal Keymah, David Allen Grier, “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba and Keenan’s siblings: Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon Wayans.
The show also gave hip-hop and R&B/soul a platform on primetime network television, welcoming Heavy D (who was a friend of Shawn Wayans and rapped the show’s theme song), Public Enemy, MC Lyte, Arrested Development, Gang Starr, Black Sheep, Mary J. Blige and Digable Planets, among many others. (Unfortunately, Tupac Shakur’s planned solo performance on “ILC” collapsed after a backstage disagreement left him in handcuffs, according to the book.)
Despite bringing in more than 20 million viewers at the height of its popularity, tension behind the scenes chipped away at the show’s original lustre and the series was canceled in 1994, following the season five finale.
Check out seven revelations from Homey Don’t Play That! below:
1. Most of the standout characters on ILC were created before the show even existed.
Damon’s infamous “Men on Film” character, Anton Jackson, was a throwback to a character that he created as a teen. Kim’s portrayal of Li’l Magic was a version of her childhood self, while Foxx auditioned for “ILC” as Wanda, a character that would become a staple on the show. Similarly, Keymah’s character, Cryssy, was a variation of the self-written piece “Blackworld” that she used to audition for a spot in the original cast, and the first incarnation of Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill dates back to his early ‘90s standup.
2. David Spade, Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler auditioned for “ILC”.
Before they made it to “Saturday Night Live”, Spade, Schneider and Sandler tried out for a spot on “ILC” that ultimately went to Carrey.
3. Homey D. Clown was inspired by comedian Paul Mooney.
The show’s resident “angry clown,” played by Damon, would be considered woke by today’s standards. Homey came to be after Paul Mooney, a friend of Keenan’s, joined “ILC” as a staff writer (though he never wrote any sketches). One of the show’s writers came up with the idea for Homey from watching Mooney around the office, and Damon perfected Homey by adding elements of the “Angry Comic” character from his standup act.
4. Every week was a “party” on set.
As it sprinted into its second season, “ILC” became a hot spot for its eclectic mix of foot traffic. The show’s green room welcomed everyone from Bruce Willis and Ricki Lake to Rodney King, activist Angela Davis and astronaut Mae Jemison.
5. Jennifer Lopez allegedly had a rocky start with some of the Fly Girls.
J.Lo was recruited to the cast of dancers in season three under choreographer Rosie Perez. According to the book, Lopez allegedly initially “rubbed some of the dancers and crew the wrong way.” Inaba claims in the book that she and Lopez “never really got along” due in part to Lopez’s unapologetic ambition. Meanwhile, the tension between Lopez and Perez allegedly got so bad that the two “nearly came to blows,” so says Lopez’s former manager, Eric Gold, in the book. Gold claims Lopez was tired of feeling bullied by Perez, and Keenan had to settle their rift. However, in the book, Keenan downplays the drama, saying that Lopez “made very smart choices and [fighting is] not a choice she would’ve ever made.”
6. Mike Tyson confronted Keenan for mocking him in a “Love Connection” sketch.
“ILC” had a mostly open policy on targeting famous faces, meaning no one was particularly off limits (at least in the early days). During season one, Tyson allegedly confronted Keenan about his infamous “Love Connection” sketch, where he over-exaggerates the boxing champ’s high-pitched voice. A few months later, though, they ran into each other again and Tyson had softened to the idea of being impersonated on the show.
7. The magic began to fizzle out in season four.
The atmosphere around “ILC” was deteriorating fast. As stated in the book, “ILC” was “at best, tense” and “at worst, downright poisonous.” Wentworth, who joined in season four, described the environment as a “really cold, destructive place to work.”
According to the book, Keenan left the show following ongoing clashes with the Fox network over what he saw as attempts to devalue the show’s syndication appeal. The book also claims that members of the cast weren’t always fond of him either, alleging that he ran the show more as a dictatorship than a democracy, and is accused of playing favourites with his siblings. Once Keenan walked from “ILC”, Damon, Shawn, Marlon and Kim followed suit. The book says Keenan wasn’t heartbroken to find out that “ILC” sank after his departure.
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