How Damon Wayans Getting Fired From SNL Lit His Future In Living Color
Between 1990 and 1992, Damon Wayans was one of the driving forces of In Living Color. Created by Damon’s older brother, producer/writer/director Keenen Ivory Wayans, the sketch comedy show was an integral platform in the acting careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson, and many others.
What SNL was for NBC, In Living Color would be for FOX’s Sunday (and later, Thursday). Notably, two of ILC‘s biggest cast members had history with Lorne Michael’s storied sketch show on the older network. Jim Carrey auditioned for the 1980-1981 season but did not make the cut during a transitional period for the show. Damon Wayans did earn a spot, and was part of the Season 11 cast, alongside Robert Downey, Jr., Joan Cusack, Jon Lovitz, and Randy Quaid.
Two years removed from Eddie Murphy’s exit from the cast into a booming Hollywood career, Wayans was viewed by many as the replacement, as a Black actor in the otherwise white cast. Damon had also appeared briefly in Murphy’s 1984 Beverly Hills Cop film ahead of joining Saturday Night Live.
OkayPlayer recently interviewed David Peisner, author of the newly-published, Homey Don’t Play That: The Story Of ‘In Living Color’ And The Black Comedy Revolution. In the conversation, Peisner explains how Damon Wayans felt the pressures to fill one of Comedy Television’s biggest shoes.
“I did talk to Damon [Wayans] a little about the pressure that was on him on Saturday Night Live to be the ‘next Eddie Murphy.’ When Damon actually [became a cast member on] SNL, there was a party for him that Eddie came to,” Peisner reports based on his interviews and research. “Eddie took him aside and gave him some advice: ‘Don’t get integrated into the cast. If you want to stand out, write your own sketches. Even if you only do one sketch, make sure it’s centered around you. Otherwise, you get sucked in and become Garrett Morris.'” Morris, who worked on The Jamie Foxx Show in the 1990s, was a founding cast member at SNL, who often played background to breakthrough stars including John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Ackroyd. “Damon tried to take Eddie’s advice, but it didn’t necessarily serve him that well. Lorne Michaels was trying to protect Damon from the Eddie comparison and bring Damon along slowly. Damon didn’t have the patience for that. He felt like he was being overlooked. He felt like he wasn’t being given opportunities. And he felt that a lot of that was happening because he was, essentially, the only Black guy there.”
On March 15, 1986, Damon Wayans’ frustrations with founder/producer Lorne Michaels and the SNL process boiled to the surface. “During a sketch that he had a bit-part in, he went totally off-script and turned his character—who was supposed to be a cop—into an extremely effeminate caricature,” explains Peisner. “In fact, what he turned him into was a version of what would, years later, become ‘Blaine Edwards’ in his famous In Living Color sketch ‘Men On Film.’ Lorne Michaels fired him on the spot.”
Notably, Wayans’ effeminate caricature is also what he used in Beverly Hills Cop, his first credited film appearance, ahead of small roles in Roxanne, Colors, and a script his brother co-wrote, The Hollywood Shuffle.
Ideas that stayed in the writers room at NBC in the ’80s became gold for FOX years later. “When In Living Color started up, Damon actually used a lot of sketch and character ideas he’d first had at SNL but which he was never able to get on the air there.”
At his next sketch comedy show, Damon Wayans was at the top of the totem pole. There, he would introduce characters including “Blaine Edwards,” “Homey D. Clown,” “The Head Detective,” “Handi-man,” “Anton Jackson,” and inmate “Oswald Bates.” Notably, Damon Wayans performed as “Blaine Edwards” during later visits to SNL as a Hollywood star.
Elsewhere in the OKP discussion, David Peisner discusses how In Living Color is partly responsible for the NFL adding musical guests to the Super Bowl halftime show. The interview explains how Jim Carrey used an argument with Keenen to create an Ace Ventura: Pet Detective gag years later, and reports of tension between “fly girl” choreographer Rosie Perez and Jennifer Lopez. Peisner’s Homey Don’t Play That: The Story Of ‘In Living Color’ And The Black Comedy Revolution is available in print, digital, and audio-book.