You made sure you had no other plans that night. And if you missed it, you had a friend or neighbor tape it for you. We’re talking the early 1990s, long before TiVo. So any way you had to do it, you caught In Living Color, the wild and irrevocably black sketch comedy show produced and hosted by Keenan Ivory Wayans.
It premiered 20 years ago on April 15, 1990 and eventually rivaled Saturday Night Live in launching successful careers of its cast members. Jim Carrey, credited early on as James Carrey, was the only white guy on the show and later became one of the biggest comedic actors of the ‘90s. It’s hard to believe that the star of such white bread box office smashes as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar got his big break on a hip hop-inspired predominately black comedy show. But he did.
In Living Color also later launched the huge careers of other cast members. Jamie Foxx played a cross-eyed drag queen named Wanda years before he picked up an Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles. Before she became J. Lo, the Latina pop diva, Jennifer Lopez was one of the hip-shaking, hair-tossing “fly girls,” the dancers during the opening and closing credits on the show. Rosie Perez choreographed their moves years before she earned an Academy Award nomination. Cast members David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson later found success outside the mainstream in film and theater.
However, the show didn’t just give national exposure to brilliant comedic actors. Musical acts starting their careers in the early ‘90s rapped and sang on the ILC stage. Public Enemy, Jodeci, En Vogue, Eazy-E, Queen Latifah, Tupac, and a young Mary J. Blige all performed on the show.
But it’s the sketches that remain memorable – and side-splittingly funny two decades later in reruns. Even now, they push the boundaries of censorship, just as they did back in the days of Hammer pants and high-top fades. In Living Color brought to the mainstream the slang and inside cultural jokes heard in black neighborhoods at the dawn of the ‘90s. It was rough-edged comedy, obviously influenced by the styles of Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney and Eddie Murphy, but it spoke directly to the hip-hop generation.
The show introduced the comedic brilliance of the Wayans Brothers. And although Keenan, Damon and Marlon have made a lot of money in movies and TV production since then, they haven’t topped the audacious, on-point humor they showcased on In Living Color.
There was an exciting boldness to the show, brimming with comedy that was very much of its time but still manages to transcend time. That’s the hallmark of a stone classic.