An entertaining yet candid examination of the popular sketch show In Living Color.
When the pilot for In Living Color aired for the first time on April 15, 1990, America had never seen anything like it. And they loved it. Over five seasons, the show broke racial, cultural, and comedy boundaries, creating unforgettable sketches that dealt almost exclusively with Black subject matter.
In Living Color: A Cultural History celebrates the iconic show and its creators, while also providing a conscientious examination of the sketches themselves. Bernadette Giacomazzo reveals how the show successfully tackled topics that are still salient today, from diversity in Hollywood and workplace racism to mass incarceration and “blackfishing,” while other sketches have not aged quite so well. Giacomazzo also looks at how the show helped break the careers of Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and David Alan Grier, amongst others, and how its most infamous sketches—such as Fire Marshall Bill, Homey the Clown, East Hollywood Squares, and Men on Film—helped shape comedy in the twenty-first century.
In Living Color was one of the few sketch shows of the 1990s that effectively tackled racial and social issues with humor. It did so more successfully than Saturday Night Live ever did, because, unlike the long-standing late-night show, In Living Color had a largely Black writer's room. This cultural history finally gives the influential show and its creators the recognition they deserve for their role in changing the face of television.
Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, and photographer who is currently the SEO manager at Blavity, Inc. Her work has been featured in People, Teen Vogue, Us Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, and many more. For nearly a decade, she was the news editor of Go! NYC Magazine. Giacomazzo was also the executive editor of LatinTRENDS Magazine and the Eye Candy editor of XXL Magazine. Based in New York City, Giacomazzo has also worked on various film and television projects and is the author of the critically acclaimed dystopian fiction books, The Uprising Series.
Giacomazzo (Swimming with Sharks) writes a thorough analysis of what a monumental TV show In Living Color came to represent and the sociocultural background that played a role in its shaping. At a time when the fragility of the white identity would not leave a lot of room for Black sketches and comedians, Keenan Ivory Wayans internalized the experience of earlier enterprises like The Richard Pryor Show to create a series that would give the main stage to unapologetic Blackness and Black comedy. Giacomazzo discusses many of the skits that rewrote the history of Black sketch shows, acknowledges episodes that were left out from syndication over the years, and invites readers to look through the cultural lens of the times when they were produced. It is undeniable In Living Color (1990–94) represented an invaluable milestone in opening up a conversation about race and social and cultural justice. A must-read book on the history of a show that molded Black comedy sketches and brings together different threads of social awareness, race, entrepreneurship, comedy, resilience, and bravery in the face of a world not used to seeing “in living color.”
In Living Color, the sketch-comedy hit of the early 1990s, broke particular ground in its initial airing and continues to maintain cultural relevancy today. Created by Keenen Ivory Wayans with a largely Black cast, the show managed to find success in the largely white television landscape. The iconic opening line of its theme song—“You can do what you want to do”—became the ethos of a program that spoke directly to the experiences of being Black in the 1990s. Giacomazzo takes a deep dive into the history of the show, examining how the characters and sketches operated in its initial run as well as providing a rundown of sketches that were deemed too raw for future airings, illustrating when the “do what you want to do” philosophy ran against censorship standards. While the show is known for introducing the Wayans family, Jim Carey, and even “fly girl” dancer Jennifer Lopez, Giacomazzo demonstrates how In Living Color’s legacy resonates much further than the careers it launched. An incisive and rigorously researched look at how television is created and consumed, particularly a show by Black creators for Black audiences, this is a worthy addition to any library’s media-studies collections.
12/6/22, Library Journal: This book was highlighted as a “best book of the month.”