Before Damon Wayans became a TV action star, before Jamie Foxx became an Academy Award-winning thespian and Grammy-winning musician, and before Jim Carrey became one of the biggest names in the history of the comedy genre, these legends had to start somewhere. For each of them, the big turning point to stardom was being a member of the In Living Color cast from 1990 to 1995, which boasted an ensemble of many brilliant comedic talents from various cultural backgrounds, which was also predominantly Black - a rarity for sketch comedy series on TV, especially at the time. The Emmy-winning hit is still celebrated today for its bold sense of humor, clever use of parody, and, most importantly, the many illustrious careers it would jump start, including the one who put it all together.
Keenen Ivory Wayans
Before creating In Living Color and serving as its host for the first four seasons, Keenen Ivory Wayans began chasing down a comedy career in the 1980s, eventually scoring hits as a writer and actor in director and star Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle in 1987, and making his directorial debut with the Blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka the following year. He would go on to direct, and occasionally star in, several more big screen comedies, such as great parody movies like Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood and the first two installments of the Scary Movie franchise. Wayans’ most recent success was as a writer, producer, and director of the TBS original The Last O.G. starring Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish
Keenen’s eldest younger sibling, Damon Wayans, actually had a brief stint in the Saturday Night Live cast (he was fired after 11 episodes) before becoming a founding In Living Color cast member, where he originated his role of Homey D. Clown. By then, he had already had a big screen presence, having starred in films like Earth Girls are Easy with future co-star Jim Carrey, leading him to quickly land game-changing roles like former football pro Jimmy Dix in the 1991 buddy cop movie The Last Boy Scout opposite Bruce Willis, as well as more comedy films like Major Payne, which he also wrote. Wayans’ biggest TV successes post-In Living Color would have to be co-creating and leading My Wife and Kids, and playing Roger Murtaugh on Fox’s series adaptation of Lethal Weapon, but he reportedly has a new ABC sitcom in the works called Let’s Stay Together.
Pretty much any Wayans brothers project you can think of involves Shawn Wayans - who, actually, is rarely seen in projects without his family, excluding the action thriller New Blood (also starring the late John Hurt) from 1999. Before joining the In Living Color cast, Shawn made his acting debut in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, the directorial debut of his older brother, Keenen. He would cast him in almost every other film he has directed and/or written since, including White Chicks from 2004, 2006’s Little Man, and 2009’s Dance Flick - the most recent parody in which most of the Wayans Family is involved. Shawn’s most recent gig was playing a puppy on HBO’s animated series Animals., along with his younger brother.
Shawn Wayans’ career is quite synonymous with Marlon Wayans, and they've shared the screen in most of the aforementioned movie titles above, as well as their aptly titled sitcom, The Wayans Brothers, in the mid-to-late 1990s. Despite only appearing on one season of In Living Color, Marlon (who almost played Robin in Batman Returns) has gone on to lead a pretty eclectic career, including intense dramas like Requiem for a Dream and popcorn flicks like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, while often returning to spoofs like the A Haunted House movies, and Fifty Shades of Black in 2016. Marlon would later get his own short-lived, self-titled NBC sitcom, play multiple characters in the Netflix movie Sextuplets, and will next appear in the music biopic Respect as Ted White, the ex-husband of Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson).
Let’s take a break from the Wayans brothers and talk about a Wayans sister - Kim Wayans, who has also been involved with many of the titles mentioned above. However, she is known for plenty outside of the family business, including the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World before joining In Living Color, the late ‘90s NBC sitcom In the House (alongside LL Cool J and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast’s Alfonso Ribiero) after, and appearing in the drama Pariah with The Falcon and the Winter Solder cast’s Adepero Oduye in 2011. Kim has since made notable guest appearances in various kinds of shows, including Fox’s New Girl, the hit reboot of crime procedural Hawaii Five-0 on CBS, and BET’s series spin-off from Boomerang, one of the most popular Eddie Murphy movies from the early 1990s.
One of the biggest names, if not the biggest, from the original cast is Jim Carrey, who dazzled audiences with the same incredible manic energy and inventive characterizations on In Living Color that he would later bring to big screen classics like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb & Dumber, or The Mask - all of which came out in 1994. Of course, not all of the best Jim Carrey movies are zany, ridiculous comedies, such as the way-ahead-of-its-time media satire, The Truman Show, or the visually stunning romantic fantasy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, from director Michel Gondry, whom Carrey would work with again on the inventive TV dramedy Kidding for Showtime. The two-time Golden Globe winner, who recently played Joe Biden on SNL during election season, will reprise Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which is set to release in 2022.
Jim Carrey may be a comedy legend, but Jamie Foxx, who joined In Living Color in Season 3, is the only one from the original cast who can say he has an Oscar, which he won for his performance as Ray Charles in Ray. The A-lister has done everything you can think of, from recording chart-topping R&B hits (which he recently funneled into his vocal performance as part of Pixar’s Soul cast) to starring in comic book movies (which he is set to do again by reprising Electro in Spider-Man: Far From Home and leading the upcoming Spawn reboot). The former host of Beat Shazam, who has also been cast as Mike Tyson in an upcoming mini-series about the controversial boxer, returned to the world of sitcoms 20 years after UPN’s The Jamie Foxx Show ended in 2001, as the star and co-creator of the Netflix original Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!
David Alan Grier
Also appearing as Jamie Foxx’s onscreen father on Dad Stop Embarrassing Me! is his In Living Color co-star David Alan Grier, who has, actually, kind of become a go-to for grouchy old men on sitcoms recently (i.e. NBC’s short-lived The Carmichael Show and Fox’s short-lived The Cool Kids, to name a few). However, you would likely recognize him from 1995’s Jumanji with Robin Williams, the cult Black horror anthology movie favorite Tales from the Hood, and plenty more roles from his brilliant stint on the sketch show to the present, which prove his impressive range of talent. The Netflix’s Coffee and Kareem actor will next appear in the live action, big screen adaptation of the iconic Clifford the Big Red Dog books.
T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh
Another In Living Color veteran who appeared in Tales from the Hood is T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, who might be one of the more underrated cast members for how impressive her career following the sketch comedy series would become. She had a brief role in Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 follow-up to Pulp Fiction), has lent her voice to various animated DC TV shows like Batman Beyond and Teen Titans, and appeared in the fourth installment of the Sharknado movies, but she likely best known (especially to younger audiences) for the hit Disney Channel sitcom That’s So Raven as Raven-Symoné’s onscreen mother, Tanya Baxter. Keymáh returned to her In Living Color roots by launching her own viral variety series called The Cool Crystal Show in 2021.
Another In Living Color veteran who found success on the Disney Channel, as the voice of Oscar Proud on The Proud Family, and also appeared in Sharknado 4, is Tommy Davidson, who actually made his acting debut in the failed pilot for a TV series sequel to Coming to America in 1989. The comedian would also continue to work with his In Living Color co-stars in other movies, like Booty Call with Jamie Foxx in 1997, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls with Jim Carrey, and the Spike Lee satire Bamboozled with Damon Wayans. In 2022, Davidson will reprise Oscar Proud in an upcoming reboot of The Proud Family called The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, and is reuniting with his Black Dynamite co-star Michael Jai White for the western comedy The Outlaw Johnny Black.
Jennifer Lopez (Fly Girl)
I mentioned earlier that Jim Carrey could be the biggest name from the In Living Color cast, but an argument could be made that the show’s true biggest star overall is Jennifer Lopez. She got her big break as one of the series’ famous dancing Fly Girls before becoming one of the most worshipped actresses and pop divas of all time, having recently earned rave reviews for her performance in the Hustlers cast in 2019 and making gold status for a song that will be included in her upcoming rom-com Marry Me, which was set to be one of her next 2021 movies until it was postponed until 2022. JLo also has an action rom-com called Shotgun Wedding, an action thriller called The Mother, and a biographical thriller called The Godmother, among other projects, on the way.
Admirers of the comedy world always like to compare a former Saturday Night Live cast member’s career to their time on the long-running sketch comedy. However, the In Living Color cast is viewed with far less scrutiny, not just because the show lasted on a fraction of SNL’s run, but because the stars have gone on to do things so unique compared to what they were known for on the series, while never forgetting the show which helped launch their careers.