On April 15, 1990, Fox premiered this first episode of In Living Color, Keenen Ivory Wayans' upstart sketch show that launched a generation of black comedy and turned his entire family into celebrities. The show was also a launchpad for the careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and even Jennifer Lopez, who appeared as one of the Rosie-Perez-choreographed "Fly Girls" dancers early in her career.
This first episode features future Dancing with the Stars star Carrie Ann Inaba as one of the Fly Girls and Shawn Wayans as DJ SW1 keeping the party going. Carrey plays Chuck Woolery hosting an episode of Love Connection with Robin Givens (Kim Coles), whose tabloid marriage to Mike Tyson (Keenan Ivory Wayans) was huge at the time. Tommy Davidson then introduces a Great Moment in Black History revealing Slick Johnson as a fourth member of the Apollo moon landing crew who was left behind due to fuel concerns. Keenan and Damon Wayans then introduced the Homeboy Shopping Network for stolen goods, and later Damon busts out a Redd Foxx impression in a Sanford and Son spoof. David Alan Grier plays an Equity Express Gold-card holder who gets grilled when he tries to use it by store management (Kelly Coffield) determined to harass him for not being white enough to have that card.
The episode ends with their first breakout characters "Men on Film," featuring Damon Wayans and Grier as flamboyantly gay critics Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather, who signaled their approval of a movie by giving it "two snaps up," a play on Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert's "two thumbs up" rating system. This was a controversial sketch that divided the gay community. Some found the over-the-top stereotypes offensive and dangerous, while others were perhaps hungry for any gay characters on television at all, and found them to be encouraging and fun, since there wasn't really any bashing going on. Grier claimed the inspiration came from the people he had worked with on Broadway doing Dreamgirls, and keenan Ivory said that the sketch was just "a play on the extremes of the stereotype."
Other popular characters from the early run included Damon Wayans' no-B.S. Homey D. Clown and Carrey's insane Fire Marshall Bill. The show ran for five seasons, although the Wayans family was mostly gone by the end of Season 4 due to Fox executives often interfering with the creative content, among other reasons. The show has an indelible place in history, though, and has inspired many, imncludimngy the upcoming second season of HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show, which features appearances by original In Living Color cast members Kim Coles and Kim Wayans.
Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.
TOPICS: In Living Color, FOX, Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Kim Coles, Kim Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Rosie Perez, Shawn Wayans, T'Keyah Crystal Kemah, Tommy Davidson