Wayans feel vindicated as 'Living Color' fades

August 23, 1994|By Luaine Lee | Luaine Lee,Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service

Fox's impudent comedy show "In Living Color" may have joined the dead poets' society, but its influence lingers on.

Not only is Jim Carrey -- the white face in the crowd -- a smash hit in "The Mask," Damon Wayans is now starring in his own feature as the homemade superhero "Blankman."

"In Living Color" was produced by Damon's older brother, Keenan. And at first everybody at Fox thought of Damon as a tag-along shadow of his handsome sibling.

"They never believed in me," says Damon Wayans, who at 34 is two years younger than Keenan. "They gave me half a contract so I didn't have to commit to the five years, then after the first couple of shows, they saw that they messed up. I never wanted to be on longer than 2 1/2 seasons anyway, but . . they gave me a lot of money."

He returned, but didn't stay long. "Once they disrespected my brother, then the right thing to do was to go."

The show's originators walked when the network began running "Color" twice a week in prime time. That would dilute the value of the program in syndication later, they complained. When the two sides couldn't agree, the Wayans skipped.

"In Living Color" was a cheeky, politically incorrect romp -- poking fun at black and white people with gleeful abandon.

"When we were there you laughed with us," says Damon Wayans. "When we left you started laughing at us as black people. A lot less TLC was put into the sketches. . . . It's a testament to my brother's genius that the show got canceled because they thought they could do without him."

Censorship was always a problem for "In Living Color," even though Fox was the young, upstart network, willing to take more chances than the others.

Eric L. Gold, who manages Carrey and the Wayans (the dynasty includes a sister, Kim; Shawn, 23; and Marlon, 21), says of the Wayans: "They self-generate. There's a lot of comedians who work up 45 minutes [of material], do that every night in clubs and live off of that. Keenan Wayans, as a starting point, wrote. Being black in Hollywood is difficult.

"Nobody was giving these guys the time of day. Black filmmaking, the truth is, it came out of desperation that no one would give these guys an opportunity. So they wrote. They took the bull by the horns and wrote."

Because the Wayans and Carrey are writers, they can control their own destiny, says Gold.

Keenan Wayans did "Hollywood Shuffle" with Robert Townsend and "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," and has a new film due, "Low Down Dirty Shame."

Damon Wayans was primarily an actor in "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Earth Girls Are Easy," but he is now creating such vehicles as "Blankman" and his next film, "Major Payne."

David Alan Grier co-stars with Damon Wayans in "Blankman." Audiences roared at Grier and Damon and their "Men on Film" skits on "In Living Color," in which they played roaringly effeminate film critics who hated anything that had to do with male-female relationships.

"When we did 'Men on Film,' David used to hide props like a fan, and pull it out when we were doing the skit trying to break me up," says Damon Wayans. "It was like Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on 'The Carol Burnett Show.' "

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