It was the show that launched the careers of Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier and Jamie Foxx (who has just put his name forward to star in the reboot of Spawn), as well as Jennifer Lopez and show creators Damon, Shawn, Kim and Marlon Wayans. In Living Color was the only comedy sketch show to ever rival the dominance of Saturday Night Live, but it was short lived. With its first airing on April 1990, the show, having run its course and with none of the Wayans involved anymore, In living Color finally came to an end in May 1994, but it has not been forgotten.
During its four years of running, In Living color was a comedy revolution. With a predominately black cast, it was the first show if its kind to center on black subject manner, and it was never afraid to raise controversy or test the censors. The series gained a huge following during the four years it was on air, so it when it was mooted In Living Color would be revived to celebrate the twenty year anniversary since the show’s demise, which coincided with Fox’s 25th anniversary, fans waited with baited breath, only for the plans to fall through earlier this year. However, considering how high the bar was set by the original show, and the fact that the comedy scene has moved on from the sketch show format, any plans to return In Living Color to the screen would have probably been a disaster.
As with the more mainstream Saturday Night Live, In Living Color was a mix of sketch, live music and even had their own group of in-house dancers, The Fly Girls, featuring Jennifer Lopez. In Living color wasn’t afraid to play with stereotypes, with many of the skits poking fun at white and black culture. It was also the first popular TV show to embrace hip hop, bringing it to a wider audience. The show featured some notable acts, including Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Tupac Shakur, many of whom were virtually unknown at the time.
In Living Color hit the American airwaves during difficult times in America. The late 1980s and early 1990s were dour. America had been hit by recession, unemployment was high and the early 90s saw tensions rise after the Los Angeles Riots, which caused the gap between black and white America widen. During this period, nearly half of all black families did not even having basic healthcare provision, and the entire country was recovering from some serious public health issues, such as the HIV epidemic of the 1980s. What the country needed was something to inject some health and vitality back into the nation and provide a respite and cure to the racial tensions. In Living Color was like a dose of Viagra. If laughter is the best medicine, then Living in Color did more for healthcare among the urban communities of America in the nineties than Medicaid did. While people today turn to natural remedies and supplements to put a spring in their step, In Living Color became a much needed weekly shot in the arm. The show also provided a much needed boost to the ailing comedy scene, injecting freshness into the stake format of the sketch show. At the time, comedy had become pretty safe, with few acts wanting to risk the wrath of the censors and networks, but In Living Color turned the ailing sketch show into a healthy and frenetic mix of one-off sketches and returning characters, such as Jim Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill, which is still immensely popular on YouTube; the critics Antoine Merriweather and Blaine Edwards, played by David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans, which popularized the catch phrase “Hated it!”, and of course, Damon Wayans’ Homey D. Clown.
Censorship and controversies
In Living Color regularly fell afoul of the censors. Perhaps the most notable episode was during an alternative Superbowl show that was aired simultaneously with the official CBS Superbowl XXVI festivities in January 1992. During the half hour live show, entitled, “In Living Color Super Half Time Party,” Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier adlibbed the suggestion that movie star Richard Gere and track star Carl Lewis were homosexual. While the show attracted more than 20 million viewers, it also attracted the wrath of studio bosses, who began scrutinizing the show’s scripts, causing tension between the Wayans’ family and the network. This culminated in the departure from the show, of first Keenan, then Shawn, Kim and finally Damon. Without the original creators onboard, In Living Color seemed to lose momentum, and it went from primarily a sketch show to having to rely on celebrity guests to boost ratings. In addition, Jim Carrey, who had recently started becoming a big name in Hollywood and only featured in a few sketches, which left very few of the original cast members left, culminating in the shows cancellation in May 1994.
While the reboot of In Living Color has been cancelled, the show’s legacy will live on. Apart from launching the careers of stars such as Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez and Jamie Foxx, many modern urban comedians regard In Living Color as a milestone in comedy. While the sketch show is no longer in vogue, with their risky and edgy attempts to poke fun at both black and white culture, In Living color has helped spawn a new generation of urban and black comics, such as Chris Rock, who have been able to push the boundaries of even further.
Written By Lisa Parton