Julien Neaves – Editor
On April 15 American sketch comedy series In Living Color turned 30. It was created by actor, comedian and filmmaker Keenen Ivory Wayans and was a showcase and career launching pad for his siblings Damon, Shawn and Marlon as well as other acting greats like Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx. It also introduced the world to actor/singer Jennifer Lopez who was back them a member of The Fly Girls, the show’s sexy female dance group that appeared between sketches.
The show, which had a predominantly black cast and irreverent humour, ran for five seasons and ended on May 19, 1994. In the many sketches there were a number of recurring characters who remain beloved to this day. For our celebration of this ground-breaking show’s anniversary we will be ranking 13 of the best characters. So now we gonna do what we wanna do, in living colour (in living colour)!
Keenen didn’t have that many characters on the show but this supa fly pimp-dressed party-loving mangler of the French language was good for a few laughs.
#12 Benita Butrell
Everybody knows that neighbourhood lady who knows everybody’s business; in Trinidad she would be called a “maco”. In the world of In Living Color that would be Benita Butrell, played by Wayans sister Kim. She would smile with her neighbours one minute and then air all their dirty laundry with the audience the next, a hilarious juxtaposition that worked every time. Just remember, you didn’t hear it from her.
Jamie Foxx became a feature player in the cast from the second season and his most memorable character was the extremely over confident, outspoken and facially challenged Wanda. The character could have been very one note but Foxx’s sassy line delivery adds an extra dimension to the comedy.
#10 Tom and Tom (Brothers Brothers)
Brothers Tom Brothers and Tom Brothers (that is not a typo) are the whitest black people you will ever meet. Played by Damon and Keenen, this interviewing/country singing duo believe every stereotype about black people and hate to hear them complain about their “problems”, leading to numerous misunderstandings and allowing for some biting racial satire.
#9 Homeboy Shopping Network
We have another pairing of Damon and Keenen, this time as two hustlers in a parody of the Home Shopping Network. Their inventive ways to cheat, scam and defraud people are always entertaining, at least until the authorities come banging on their “studio” door.
#8 Grandpa Jack McGee (The Dysfunctional Home Show)
Jim Carrey was easily the breakout star of the show and without In Living Color there would be no Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and so on. In this sketch he played the perpetually drunk, abusive, suicidal and ill-tempered Grandpa Jack McGee as he taught messed-up versions of common home activities. The character’s many odd mannerisms and barrage of insults made him quite memorable. And he loved pork and beans. PORK AND BEANS!
#7 Anton Jackson
Anton Jackson (Damon again) may be homeless but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying the finer things in life. Did I say finer? I mean the nastier things in life. When he’s not picking his nose to use as glue he’s showing you his “toilet” (a container of liquid and let’s-not-imagine-what-else). Anton’s antics will simultaneously make you smile and lose your appetite.
#6 Oswald Bates
You know that one person who thinks they are really intelligent but keep using words incorrectly and out of context? Well inmate Oswald Bates is the epitome of that. If Frenchie mangled the French language Oswald ran English through a shredder and had a blind monkey stick the pages back together. Played by Damon (seriously, after Carrey he was the other breakout star) this ill-informed pontificator had some of the most nonsensical, most gut busting dialogue of any character on the show.
#5 Calhoun Tubbs
David Alan Grier’s not-famous blues singer Calhoun Tubbs was not the funniest character the show ever featured but his snappy, rude songs and catchphrases made him quite memorable, whether he was aggravating prisoners or traumatising children at a birthday party. I wonder if he will write a song about this article. I’d like to hear it, hear how it goes.
#4 Vera De Milo
Carrey disappeared into many a character during his five years on the show, and one of his better ones was fitness enthusiast Vera De Milo. This flexing, husky voiced, steroid-addicted, horse-neighing woman was just utterly absurd and a guaranteed laugh every time she appeared.
#3 Blaine Edwards and Anton Mayweather (Men on Film, Sports, etc)
In Living Color aired during a time when people were not overly concerned with political correctness. For example, there is a recurring character of a disabled superhero called Handi-Man which is extremely difficult to watch today. But then you have the duo of the “Men On” series (Damon and Grier this time), two extremely flambouyant gay men discussing films and various other things. While the characters are quite stereotypical there is a liveliness and sincerity that still holds up today. And the double entendre-laced dialogue and sketch-specific snapping are so ridiculous you have to laugh. The characters’ “hated it” catchphrase when describing a movie they disliked (usually because there was not enough “manly mens” in it) has even survived into modern meme culture.
#2 Fire Marshall Bill
One of Carrey’s greatest strengths as a comedian has always been his proficiency in physical comedy. And that proficiency is on great display in Fire Marshall Bill who looks like a zombie, talks like something blew away half of his mouth, and physically demonstrates safety dangers on himself. So dedicated is Bill to safety he will cut off his own hand and blow up a building just to get his point across. It is gloriously absurd and surreal and really stands out among the show’s pool of characters.
#1 Homey D Clown
Fire Marshall Bill may have all the lethal antics and prosthetics but he has to take second place to the no frills comedy of Homey D Clown (yes, Damon again). This cantankerous, misanthropic, insulting, moderately violent clown is not here to brighten up anybody’s day but just to work off his community service. And if you ask him to act like a clown? He will verbally put you down and/or whack you with his sock thing and then tell you “Homey don’t play that”, a phrase I still use three decades later. Homey really deserves to get his own R-rated feature length film a la Bad Santa. Hollywood, make this happen!
So who’s your favourite In Living Color character? For the Top 10 Martin Characters you can click here.
Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. Also loves promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and is an aspiring author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Can also be found talking about TV and movie stuff on Instagram as redmanwriter and on Facebook at Movieville