By Tyler Sonnichsen
If someone told me that the Wayans family was their biggest comedic influence, I'd either immediately suspect their comedic prowess, or, if I were having a more compassionate day, ask if they'd been in a coma since 1994. I know that Keenan, Damon, Marlon, and to a much lesser degree Shawn and Kim have enjoyed some success since then (critical or otherwise), but nothing they've done since then has been nearly as influential as their sketch comedy work on "In Living Color."
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I practically grew up watching reruns of the show on FX every night at 10 and 10:30 during high school. "Oh, so THIS was the show that Jim Carrey used to be on!" I thought as I got home in time from the 7:15 screening of 'Liar Liar' to catch scenes of him chopping off his fingers and blowing up family homes as Fire Marshall Bill.
As popular and enduring as Carrey's characters were (female bodybuilder Vera DeMilo is timeless), my favorite character on the show, if I had to pick one, was Oswald Bates. You could tell how much fun Damon Wayans had playing a self-educated prisoner who spoke in cryptic obscenities. You could also tell how much ad-lib freedom Wayans had, compared to his other characters like Homie D Clown and Anton Jackson the legendary bum*.
What I really liked about the recurring characters that made up the foundation of ILC was that most (if not all) of them had some legitimate statement they were making. Prison work-release (Homie D Clown) and rehabilitation (Oswald) programs were ridiculous. Gossiping is bad but we all do it (Bonita Butrell) Making serious points about the struggles people faced in the ghetto while having the guts to laugh about it (Lil Magic, Lassie '90). This is a serious contrast to pretty much any of the meaningless characters in about 75% of TV sketch comedy, particularly MAD TV, which had a collection of characters so annoying and unfunny it made you want to throw your TV out the window.
So, yeah, it's easy to bash the Wayans family, but given the contributions of Keenen and Damon during the 1990's (Marlon's performance in "Requiem for a Dream" doesn't hurt, either), there's no need to flatulate your liquids or coagulate the crux of the venereal infection, ya dig?
*As a credit to Damon Wayans' Anton character, I do think the exchange at the 2 minute mark of this sketch is probably one of the funniest moments in the entire series.