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How the Los Angeles Riots, which started 30 years ago today, impacted TV comedy

  • "In 1992 ― just four months after the cops who beat Rodney King nearly to death were acquitted, and the resulting civil unrest in Los Angeles led to an attack on truck driver Reginald Denny ― In Living Color decided to tell a joke about it. But not just a joke," says Candice Frederick. "They did a full sketch, a faux-PSA where King (David Alan Grier) and Denny (Jim Carrey) warned people not to get out of their cars. Because, well, you see what happened to them when they did. It was one of those moments in comedy that was, especially so soon after a series of tragic events, as shocking and uncomfortable as it was irresistibly funny — especially for Black people." The Cosby Show didn't tackle the L.A. Riots because the series finale aired the second day of the uprising. But spinoff A Different World did and "fumbled a storyline that attempted to reckon with the L.A. uprising, and featured Gilbert Gottfried as a racist cop," says Frederick. As Frederick points out, NBC's Los Angeles affiliate actually cut away from the L.A. Riots coverage to show The Cosby Show finale. Meanwhile, Bill Cosby recorded a “thoughts and prayers”-like video statement that appeared at the end of the episode. “Not that Cosby would ever have commented on what happened in L.A., but he literally couldn’t comment on it,” says Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African and African American studies at Duke University.. “His show was not equipped to comment on what was happening in that moment.”

    TOPICS: In Living Color, The Cosby Show, A Different World, African Americans and TV, Los Angeles Riots, Retro TV