On January 26,1992, In Living Color changed television. “We decided to do a live episode during halftime of the Super Bowl in 1992,” recalled the show’s creator and host Keenen Ivory Wayans in a 2019 Hollywood Reporter oral history of the landmark series. “Before we did our halftime special, it was just marching bands. That was the time during the game when everybody went to pee. But after our special, the next year, they hired Michael Jackson.”
Indeed, Fox’s idea to present TV’s most dangerous sketch comedy series as savvy counter-programming opposite America’s most watched sporting event woke up sleepy football fans with a punch to the face. Cast members Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier’s “Men on Football” sketch — which featured ridiculously camp, effeminate culture critics Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather — let off a barrage of innuendos, joked about actor Richard Gere’s urban-legend dealings with a gerbil, and speculated about Olympic track great Carl Lewis’s sexuality. Censor lights exploded. Advertisers grumbled and threatened to pull money. But by the time the controversy dissipated, the special live episode had drawn an astounding 25 million viewers away from Super Bowl XXVI’s 79.6 million viewers.
In Living Color, with its mostly Black cast, was already the coolest, boldest, funniest show on television. Now it was a pop culture monster. It was just what Keenen planned when he first assembled the classic lineup of himself, brother and sister Damon and Kim, Grier, Tommy Davidson, Jim Carrey, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, Kim Coles, and Kelly Coffield.
From ’90 to ’94, the Emmy-winning show took dead aim at the more established, mostly White Saturday Night Live. Maybe it was because Damon Wayans had been fired from the long-running series in 1986. Many of his same characters that didn’t make it out of SNL’s writer’s room popped up later on his big brother’s bold experiment. Vaunted sketches and characters like Homey D. Clown and the aforementioned Men On Film set the stage for other rebellious favorites like Fire Marshall Bill, Frenchie, Funky Finger Productions, the Snackin’ Shack, Velma Mulholland, and Calhoun Tubbs.
Ultimately, conflict with network executives and internal politics led to a Wayans family exodus; in their wake, new blood like future superstar Jamie Foxx, veteran actress Anne-Marie Johnson, impressionist Ali Wentworth, and budding standup savant Chris Rock held down the show. The revitalization effort may not have taken — ratings dipped and the series was eventually canceled — but In Living Color still lives on, its legacy surfacing clearly in left-field sketch projects like Chappelle’s Show, Astronomy Club, and Sherman’s Showcase.
In a celebration of a show that gave no fucks, LEVEL presents the definitive ranking of every In Living Color cast member. Bring in the Fly Girls!
20. Reggie McFadden
Signature Character: Mr. Armstrong, the Dead-Armed Substitute Teacher GOAT Sketch: “The Dirty Dozens Game Show”
It’s obvious that McFadden’s unbridled comic talents were wasted during his time on In Living Color. Yet two moments stand out: roundly disrespected substitute teacher Mr. Armstrong, a lukewarm skit that would never get the green light today due to its mocking of the physically challenged, and the uproarious Dirty Dozens Game Show in which the Brooklyn funnyman, Jamie Foxx, and featured guest Biz Markie competed in a fictional battle of around-the-way snaps.
Post-Game Highlights: McFadden garnered buzz as one of the breakout stars of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam in the mid ’90s before going on to smaller roles in Little Nicky (2000) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001).
19. Carol Rosenthal
Signature Character: Tonya Harding
GOAT Sketch: “Tonya Harding for The Club”
Rosenthal certainly made the best of her under-the-radar run, channeling everyone from Sandra Bernhard and Lorena Bobbit to Marlee Matlin. And she seemed a little too real as disgraced figure skating champion Tonya Harding.
Post-Game Highlights: After smaller roles on Mad About You, Seinfeld, and the animated comedy As Told By Ginger, Rosenthal became a Hollywood casting director for commercials, print, and film.
18. Anne-Marie Johnson
Signature Character: Mary Tyler Mo
GOAT Sketch: “Mary Tyler Mo”
A solid impressionist, Johnson all too briefly flexed her talents as Gloria Bunker and in Mary Tyler Mo, a direct spoof of the landmark ’70s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Johnson also proved to be proficient at physical comedy in the hilarious “Baptist Church Revival Olympics.”
Post-Game Highlights: The veteran comedy actress, who started off her career as a go-to performer for writer/director Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle), became a regular on Melrose Place, JAG, and Girlfriends — then scored a recurring role in Ava DuVernay’s romantic anthology drama Cherish The Day (2020).
17. Chris Rock
Signature Character: Cheap Pete
GOAT Sketch: “Cheap Pete”
Legend has it that Rock was fired from Saturday Night Live when producers discovered he was planning on jumping ship to In Living Color. The irony was Rock only appeared in two episodes — the Fox rival sketch comedy series was canceled just over a month after he signed his deal. But give the man credit: Rock still managed to make Cheap Pete, the ridiculously frugal character he first introduced in Keenan Ivory Wayans’ 1988 Blaxploitation romp I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, into one of the few standout moments of In Living Color’s last season.
Post-Game Highlight: Rock dusted himself off and became one of the most celebrated standup comedians of all time. He’s won four Emmys for his HBO variety series The Chris Rock Show (1997–2000) and landmark standup specials Bring The Pain (1997) and Kill The Messenger (2009), and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his coming- of-age sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris (2005–2009). His last standup event, 2018’s Chris Rock: Tambourine, is part of a $40 million two-special deal with Netflix. Not bad.
16. Shawn Wayans
Signature Character: Tony “Thadius” Roam
GOAT Sketch: “Snuff and Roam Go To Jail”
Truth be told, no one expected much from Shawn Wayans when he began his run on In Living Color. After all, he was introduced to viewers as DJ SW1, spinning records during the Fly Girls’ dancing segments. The youngster flashed a bit of potential with his Chris Rock and Jimmie Walker impressions before grabbing a rare spotlight as one half of the clueless duo Tony Rome and Snuff A. Luffagus.
Post-Game Highlights: After In Living Color, Shawn and his brother Marlon (more on dude below) created the hit WB sitcom The Wayans Bros. From there, Shawn co-executive produced classic ’hood flick satire Don’t Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), was a prominent fixture and co-writer in the first two editions of the gazillion-grossing horror spoof franchise Scary Movie, and helped co-wrote, and co-starred in the unlikely breakout 2004 hit White Chicks.
15. Kim Coles
Signature Character: Robin Givens
GOAT Sketch: “Love Connection”
Coles’ lone season was a turbulent one; she butted heads with show creator Wayans, and reportedly was frequently overlooked when the sketches were cast. One she did appear in, a controversial parody of Billy Dee Williams’ iconic Colt 45 beer commercial, was dropped from syndication and DVD collections after Fox took issue with the sketch’s date rape connotations. Bright spots persisted, though, including Coles’ pitch-perfect Robin Givens on the dating game show The Love Connection, and her performance as a member of the Jamaican family in the classic sketch “Hey Mon.”
Post-Game Highlight: Coles had the last laugh. Following her departure from In Living Color, she found fame as loveable airhead Synclaire on the successful Fox comedy Living Single (1993–1998). After scene-stealing appearances on Frasier(1993–2004), Coles eventually returned to her standup comedy roots.
14. Steve Park
Signature Character: Tommy Wu
GOAT Sketch: “Tommy Wu Seminar”
As the lone Asian cast member on In Living Color, Park often found himself navigating stereotypical terrain, even for a show that became notorious for flipping racial tropes on their heads. His library was a mixed bag of bit characters that included Connie Chung, Yoko Ono, Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu, and a rapping Korean grocer — but Park struck gold as shady, maniacal pitchman Tommy Wu dropping gems lines like, “You like diamond? You like pearl? You like hot tub? Then come to my seminar, you piece of animal dropping!!”
Post-Game Highlights: Park shares the distinction, alongside Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx, of being the only three cast members to appear in Oscar-nominated films after their In Living Color careers: His quick turn as troubled compulsive liar and stalker Mike Yanagita in the celebrated dark comedy Fargo (1996) drew notice. Yet Park, who would go on to marry fellow castmate Kelly Coffield, shook up the entertainment industry in 1997 when he wrote an open letter detailing racist remarks an assistant director had made during his appearance on the mammoth sitcom Friends.
13. Marlon Wayans
Signature Character: Mr. Ugly Man
GOAT Sketch: “Mr. Ugly Man”
The youngest of 10 Wayans siblings, Marlon appeared on In Living Color as a Similac-breathed supporting cast member doing random spot duty with such blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em roles as a rookie cop in brother Damon’s absurd “Head Detective” and as a mugger in the “Super Bimbo” skit. But it wasn’t until ’92 when Marlon broke out with Mr. Ugly Man, a brazen spoof of Shabba Ranks and his 1991 crossover-dancehall classic “Mr. Loverman.” The image of a faux Shabba’s unsightly face breaking a mirror is pure hilarity.
Post-Game Highlights: Like his brother Shawn, Marlon starred in the aforementioned The Wayans Bros., Scary Movie, and White Chicks. He also showed his dramatic chops in the critically acclaimed film Requiem for a Dream (2000) and played lead in Little Man (2006), Naked (2017), and the NBC sitcom Marlon (2017–2018). Most recently he was seen in the Netflix comedy Sextuplets (2019), which he co-wrote and starred in … as seven different characters.
12. Jay Leggett
Signature Character: The Irish Singer
GOAT Sketch: “Depressed Irish Singer at the Men’s Shelter”
Not content with being boxed in as “the fat White guy,” Leggett proved to be a steady presence on the show’s final years. And while he became best known as the comically depressed Irish singer Shamus O’Shandy, he also did a mean Rush Limbaugh.
Post-Game Highlights: Leggett co-wrote, co-produced, and appeared in the 2004 film Employee of the Month. But his passion was teaching as the lead instructor at Comedy Now L.A., where he taught acting, screenwriting, and improv. Leggett passed away of natural causes in 2013.
11. Ali Wentworth
Signature Character: Super Bimbo
GOAT Sketch: “Amy Fisher’s ‘Bang for Your Buck’ Seminar”
After making brief appearances on the series’ second and third seasons, Wentworth officially joined the cast in 1993. She displayed a striking talent for impersonations, offering takes on Sally Struthers, Cher, and Sally Fields. Even more impressive was Wentworth’s transformation into New York tabloid bad girl Amy Fisher: She more than held her own alongside In Living Color great Jim Carrey, who went full meta as scumbag boyfriend Joey Buttafuoco. And when it came time to anchor her own skit as the ditzy Super Bimbo, she showed and proved.
Post-Game Highlights: Yep, that’s Wentworth as Jerry’s girlfriend in the classic “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld. After taking on smaller acting gigs in Jerry Maguire (1996) and Office Space (1999), Wentworth created the Starz series Head Case (2007–2009), playing an audacious therapist to vapid Hollywood stars.
10. Marc Wilmore
Signature Character: Isabel Sanford
GOAT Sketch: “Isabel Sanford’s Weezies’ Throat Drops”
Like his older brother Larry, Marc was a writer on In Living Color. But while his sibling and future executive producer (The Bernie Mac Show, Black-ish, Insecure) stayed in the cut, Marc performed double duty as a cast member — relishing in moments such as an absurd Black reimagining of Archie Bunker and a dead-on version of The Jeffersons’ Isabel Sanford.
Post-Game Highlight: From 1999–2001, Marc was a writer on the Fox claymation series The PJ’s and voiced neighborhood parole officer Walter. Other high-profile writing stints at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Simpsons followed.
9. Kelly Coffield Park
Signature Character: Velma Mulholland
GOAT Sketch: “Velma on a Blind Date”
If Park was a basketball player, she’d have Curry-Lillard range. During her four seasons on In Living Color, she played Woody Allen, Andrew Dice Clay, Kathie Lee Gifford, Sinead O’Connor, and Barbara Bush — and that’s just for starters. Whether as a child in a Homey D. Clown skit or sinking her teeth into the low-key exceptional Velma Mulholland, a film noir throwback who appears as a comically out-of-place, grainy, black and white caricature, Park always brought her A-game.
Post-Game Highlights: Park’s credits include performances in Quiz Show (1994), Jerry Maguire (1996), Scary Movie (2006), and on a handful of television shows, including 30 Rock (2010).
8. T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh
Signature Character: Cryssy
GOAT Sketch: “Black World”
At times it seemed like Keymáh’s vibrant theatrical energy could have easily thrived on the Broadway stage. Whenever she appeared she lit up the screen, proving to be just as well adept at pulling off impersonations like Whoopi Goldberg playing a rabbi in Sister Act 3: This Ain’t Kosher and no-nonsense, straight-from-the-block queen LaShawn as she was Cryssy, the precocious little girl with the wild imagination.
Post-Game Highlights: From 1996–2000, Keymáh played Erica Lucas on Bill Cosby’s pre-scandal CBS show Cosby. She also appeared on Disney Channel hit sitcom That’s So Raven for three seasons.
7. Kim Wayans
Signature Character: Benita Buttrell
GOAT Sketch: “Crystal Waters: My Songs Are Mindless”
Kim Wayans wasn’t just good for a Wayans sibling. At times she upstaged Keenan and Damon brilliantly, carving out her own string of top-shelf wacky characters. She did a better Grace Jones than the iconic force of nature herself, nailed Tracy Chapman, and perhaps received her most emphatic response when she lampooned early ’90s house music queen Crystal Waters. Yet Kim will forever be associated with the perpetually nosey next-door neighbor Benita Butrell (“But I ain’t one to gossip, so you ain’t heard it from me…”), who dishes scandalous dirt on everyone on the block — including her beloved Miss Jenkins.
Post-Game Highlights: Kim Wayans was a regular on the LL Cool J NBC sitcom In The House (1995–1998) and on The Wayans Bros. as cousin Sheila. After making a dramatic turn in the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival winner Pariah (2011), Kim went on a variety of projects, most recently seen in the BET series reboot of Boomerang.
6. Keenen Ivory Wayans
Signature Character: Frenchie
GOAT Sketch: “Frenchie at a Bachelor Party”
Keenen Ivory Wayans was no fool. The chief visionary and host of In Living Color knew when to get out of the way and let his talent-rich crew take over the screen. That’s not to say that the creator wasn’t capable of some pretty hilarious moments. His delightfully scathing “Brothers Brothers” sketch with Damon was exceptional. His Mike Tyson impression killed. And the uncouth, Jheri Curl-rocking Frenchie may just be the most loveable rogue to come out of In Living Color — period.
Post-Game Highlights: In 2000, Wayans became the highest grossing Black director of all time when his slasher-film parody Scary Movie grossed $278 million worldwide (Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler now holds the record at $1.3 billion). After helming White Chicks and Little Man, the vet returned to television as the showrunner for the third season of Tracy Morgan’s The Last O.G.
5. Tommy Davidson
Signature Character: Howard Tibbs III
GOAT Sketch: “Funky Finger Productions” (aka The B.S. Brothers)
As reoccurring gags go, no matter how many times Davidson (Howard Tibbs III) abruptly yells “BAM!” as he pulls out a fake business card, the shady showbiz grift never gets old. But Davidson’s true superpower was mimicking a seemingly endless array of musical artists. You want “Black or White” era Michael Jackson? He could do that. MC Hammer? Yup. An over-the-top Sammy Davis Jr.? Sure. Davidson made it look too easy. The Coming to America TV show’s loss was comedy’s gain.
Post-Game Highlights: Davidson is a survivor. After leaving In Living Color to deal with his own substance abuse issues, he battled back, landing a role in former fellow cast member Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995). Then there’s his off-the-rails portrayal of Cream Corn in the 2009 cult comedy Black Dynamite. Next up, Davidson is set to reprise his role as the voice of Oscar Proud in the animated series The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, which will air on Disney + in the near future.
4. Jamie Foxx
Signature Character: Wanda Wayne
GOAT Sketch: “Ugly Wanda: Masseuse”
When Foxx made his debut on the third season of In Living Color, it didn’t take long for the rising Texas comic to make his presence felt. Not only did he inject new manic energy into impressionist favorites like of Bill Cosby, Prince, and Little Richard, he created the show’s truly last great original character. Foxx’s facially challenged Wanda Wayne became so popular someone created an hour-plus YouTube compilation featuring the ugliest woman alive. “I’m gon’ rock yo world,” indeed.
Post-Game Highlights: The star of The Jamie Foxx Show (1996–2001) has a film resume that most actors would sell their souls for: Players Club (1998), Any Given Sunday (1999), Dreamgirls (2006), Django Unchained (2012), and his most recent Netflix superhero Project Power (2020), just for starters. But that wasn’t enough: The multi-talented Foxx had the nerve to win an Oscar for his title role in 2004’s Ray Charles biopic Ray — and a Grammy for his platinum 2010 R&B single “Blame It.” More like Jamie Flexx.
3. David Alan Grier
Signature Character: Calhoun Tubbs
GOAT Sketch: “Men on Films”
Like Saturday Night Live’s ultimate team player, the late Phil Hartman, the theatrically trained David Allen Grier displayed the innate ability to make everyone around him better. Just watch him in any In Living Color sketch and you’ll marvel at how he was as exceptional as a straight man or part of a duo as he was taking center stage. “Men On Films” might just be the show’s best-known recurring sketch; Cephus and Reesie is so dumb that it’s brilliant; and Grier’s down-on-his-luck bluesman, Calhoun Tubbs, had every kid in school saying, “Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Hear it goes!”
Post-Game Highlights: Before In Living Color, Grier had already nabbed a Tony nomination for his role as Jackie Robinson in The First. He later added two more nominations in 2009 (Race) and Porgy and Bess (2012). Currently, the Boomerang (1992) and Native Son (2019) star is gearing up to be the voice of Clifford the Big Red Dog in the upcoming comedy film. Get that family-movie money, man!
2. Jim Carrey
Signature Character: Fire Marshal Bill Burns
GOAT Sketch: “Vanilla Ice — White White Baby”
There’s a reason why Carrey was this close to getting the top spot. The Canadian-born actor and comedian was the proverbial force of nature who went beyond being “funny for a White dude.” Vera de Milo, the Bad Karate Class guy, Rev. Carl Pathos — Carrey rarely missed. Just check out his trademark pyromaniac Fire Marshall Bill, a character so thoroughly and intrinsically weird that it seems like Carrey was beamed down from another planet.
Post-Game Highlights: Carrey only went on to become one of the biggest box office stars in Hollywood, amassing a total gross over $2.5 billion. How hot was the former Las Vegas performer? Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all came out the same year. But it was The Truman Show (1998) that helped Carrey make the leap to serious acting circles.
1. Damon Wayans
Signature Character: Homey D. Clown
GOAT Sketch: “Star Trek: The Wrath of Farrakhan”
The third eldest Wayans tops our list, fueled by a sheer volume of first-tier sketches. Among the best: Handi Man, The Head Detective, “Men On Films” costar Blaine Edwards, and sesquipedalian ex-prisoner Oswald Bates. But Damon was after more than just chuckles. He seemed to excel at making the comically impossible a reality. A black nationalist clown who relishes bopping kids over the head would have never gotten past the Big Three network censors, but Homey D. Clown blew up — even producing the show’s most famous catch phrase (“Homey don’t play that!”).
Post-Game Highlights: After a very public exit from In Living Color, Damon starred in such films as Major Payne (1995), the 1996 trio Bulletproof, The Great White Hype, Blankman, and Spike Lee’s prescient Bamboozled (2000). The biggest shock of all, though, came when the irreverent talent transformed himself into a family comedy fixture on the ABC series My Wife and Kids (2001–2005). Who knew?