(Note from Sean: This post contains no hockey content.)
Bragging Rights is a series with a single goal: to determine which member of a cast, a team, a band, or a presidential cabinet is killing it the most, years later. Our writers will take turns giving their takes on who has the bragging rights from the posse of their choosing. In this installment, Sean McIndoe reexamines one of the great upstart comedy shows of all time: In Living Color.
Twenty-five years ago today, the Fox Broadcasting Company debuted a new half-hour sketch comedy show. It was created by Keenen Ivory Wayans, with a cast largely made up of his family members and various unknowns, and it was unlike anything audiences had ever seen on prime-time broadcast television. It was called In Living Color, and it was brilliant.
By law, any American sketch comedy show must be compared to Saturday Night Live, so let’s get that out of the way right now: From the moment it debuted, In Living Color was roughly 10 times funnier and at least 100 times cooler than SNL.
Remember, this was 1990, right at the end of SNL’s Jon Lovitz–Nora Dunn era, which is to say that the show was a perfectly serviceable comedy program aimed mostly at grown-ups. It was good. It was fine. But this was before Mike Myers took over and Adam Sandler and Chris Farley showed up. If you were under the age of 30, SNL just didn’t have much there for you. Then In Living Color materialized, with an in-house DJ and dance troupe and a mostly black cast, and suddenly “Well, isn’t that special?” didn’t seem so cutting-edge anymore.
Some of In Living Color still works today; other parts, not so much. But at the time, the show felt different and subversive and hilarious. What we didn’t know was that it would also produce an almost ridiculously long list of future pop culture stars. In Living Color didn’t have a long run; technically, the show lasted five seasons, and the last one doesn’t even really count, because there weren’t any Wayans brothers and only a handful of the original cast was still around. But in just the four years it was on the air, you could make an excellent case that In Living Color produced more star power than any era of Saturday Night Live short of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
But who ends up with bragging rights? Before we get to the top three, let’s count down the honorable mentions, in roughly increasing order of future prominence.
Tommy Davidson — One of the only cast members to perform in all five seasons, Davidson went on to appear in various other film and TV roles, maybe most notably as the voice of the dad on The Proud Family.
Anne-Marie Johnson — In addition to various other roles, including a stint on Melrose Place, she was vice-president of the Screen Actors Guild from 2005 to 2010. She ran for the presidency in 2009 but lost.
Alexandra Wentworth — Wentworth appeared from 1992 through 1994. One year later, she played Jerry’s girlfriend in Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi episode. She was also in Jerry Maguire and Office Space, and is married to George Stephanopoulos.
David Alan Grier — Grier was a successful dramatic actor before appearing on In Living Color. In the years since, he’s returned to Broadway with several productions while also making appearances on TV and film in various comedy roles. Somehow, he also managed to host Saturday Night Live once.
Heavy D — Already a successful rapper by the time In Living Color debuted, Heavy D contributed two different themes for the show, both of which are generally considered to be among the best five songs ever recorded. He went on to add acting to his résumé, in addition to continuing his music career and getting name-dropped on “Juicy.” He died in 2011.
Kim Coles — An original In Living Color cast member, she went on to become best known for her starring role on the Queen Latifah sitcom Living Single. If it was the early ’90s and you wanted to make a TV show that had the word “living” in the title, Kim Coles was your first phone call.
Molly Shannon — Before her long run on SNL, Shannon made a handful of appearances on In Living Color.
Larry Wilmore — Wilmore was a writer on the show but never had much screen time (although his brother Marc was part of the cast). Earlier this year, he replaced Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central with The Nightly Show.