15 Trivia Tidbits About Keenen Ivory Wayans on His 65th Birthday

You probably know about ‘In Living Color,’ but did you know he appeared on the second ever episode of ‘Cheers,’ too?
15 Trivia Tidbits About Keenen Ivory Wayans on His 65th Birthday

Writer, director and actor Keenen Ivory Wayans has more than secured his spot in comedic history. Creating In Living Color, one of the most influential sketch shows of all time, he helped to launch the careers of *deep breath* Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson and his siblings Damon, Shawn, Marlon and Kim. He’s also conquered the big screen with the first two Scary Movie installments, revitalizing the spoof genre in the process, an area he was already familiar with thanks to his work in the cult hit I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

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And so, today, on Wayans’ 65th birthday, we decided to pay tribute by diving into some facts about the comedy trail he has blazed thus far...

He Led the Way for the Wayans’ Family

While Damon, Shawn, Marlon and Kim are the best-known of Wayans’ siblings, Keenen is actually the second of 10 children. He grew up in Manhattan and was the first to enter show business, beginning a career in stand-up in 1977.

He appeared on ‘Cheers’

Wayans had a speaking part in the second-ever episode of Cheers. He was credited as “Keenen Wayans” and played a bar customer whose drink order gets screwed up by Shelley Long’s Diane.

‘The Tonight Show’ Was ‘The Greatest Moment of His Career’

During an interview with the Archive of American Television, Wayans said that his 1986 debut on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was “the greatest moment of my career because it was the only dream I had — to be on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Everything after that was gravy.”

He Helped Write ‘Eddie Murphy Raw’

Wayans was a producer on the legendary 1987 comedy special and co-wrote the opening sketch about a young Murphy telling a dirty joke to his family. The sketch also featured Samuel L. Jackson as Murphy’s uncle.

He’s a True Renaissance Man

Wayans wrote, directed and starred in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, a parody of 1970s blaxploitation films. The concept of a blaxploitation parody and the film’s title came from Wayans’ conversation with Murphy in the mid-1980s. A couple of years later, Wayans got Murphy’s blessing to write the film, which ended up being about soldier Jack Spade returning to “Any Ghetto, U.S.A” to avenge the death of his brother.

United Artists Gave ‘Sucka’ a Tepid Endorsement At First

United Artists originally gave I’m Gonna Git You Sucka a limited release in just five markets, not including New York and Los Angeles. Despite this, it placed second after the hit comedy Twins. Sensing a potential hit on their hands, United Artists gave the film a wider release, and it ended up making $13 million off of a $3 million budget.

‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka’ Led Directly to ‘In Living Color’

After the success of I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Wayans held a screening of the film for all the major studio executives. The first call he got afterward was from Fox’s television department, who offered him “total freedom” to develop a project for them. He came back with pitches for the sketches “Men on Film,” “Wrath of Farrakhan” and “The Homeboy Shopping Network.” From there, Fox greenlit the pilot for In Living Color.

Fox Nearly Chickened Out on ‘In Living Color’

After In Living Color’s pilot was shot, Fox recommended pulling the same three sketches that led to them greenlighting the project, “Men on Film,” “Wrath of Farrakhan,” and “The Homeboy Shopping Network,” fearing they were too offensive to kick off the show. However, Wayans disagreed with deceiving the audience into thinking the show was something it wasn’t. “I wanted to kick the door in, guns blazing,” Wayans told the Archive of American Television. “I don’t want to trick the audience; I want them to know what we’re doing.”

Slang was the Key to ‘In Living Color’s Edge

In that same interview series, Wayans explained that In Living Color was able to push the envelope through the use of slang. He said, “The advantage that we had was the slang. We knew that there were things we could say that (the network censor) had no idea what they meant. We would get away with murder.” 

‘In Living Color’ Is Responsible for the Modern Super Bowl Halftime Show

In 1992, In Living Color had to compete with the Super Bowl, which traditionally crushed — and still crushes — anything that airs opposite it. However, Wayans and other producers realized there was a window of time where they might succeed: halftime. Halftime shows existed back then, but they weren’t very popular, so Fox aired a live episode of In Living Color during it, complete with a countdown clock in the corner telling viewers when to switch back to the game on CBS. The episode was so successful that the NFL countered by hiring Michael Jackson to perform the following year, and the halftime show has been a major spectacle ever since.

Frenchie Came from Another night with Eddie Murphy

Wayans spent more time writing and producing In Living Color than he did performing on it, but he did have a couple of popular characters, including Frenchie — a Jheri-curled ladies man — and Iceman, who was one of the two salesmen on “The Homeboy Shopping Network.” While the latter was obviously inspired by the Home Shopping Network, Frenchie was born out of a night when Wayans was hanging out with Murphy. Wayans put on a cheap ripoff of the Delirious suit that a fan had sent Murphy, as well as a Rick James wig, and he stuffed a sausage down his pants. That night, he introduced himself to everyone as Murphy’s cousin Frenchie. Coincidentally, they also bumped into Rick James, with James taking an immediate shine to Frenchie.

He Left ‘In Living Color’ Because Fox Began ‘Devaluing’ the Show

In an oral history for The Hollywood Reporter, Wayans said, “What started to happen into the fourth season was that it was a business. Fox started to rerun the show before it got into syndication. They were using the show to launch other shows. And they were devaluing it. I felt like they were exploiting me. So I left (in the middle of the season).”

He Took a Crack at Drama — and Quickly Receded

In 1997, Wayans wrote and starred in the film Most Wanted, where he played a Marine wrongfully accused of killing an officer. Wayans starred alongside Jon Voight, who was nominated for a Razzie for his performance but lost to Dennis Rodman for the equally terrible Double Team.

He Thinks His Short-Lived Talk Show Was Mediocre

From August 1997 to March 1998, Wayans hosted the syndicated talk show The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show. His goal was to elevate the tired late-night talk show format with more sketches and variety, but the grind of putting on a daily show didn’t support his vision. He later referred to it as one of his “least favorite experiences” because he said he’s “not good at mediocrity.” 

He Found Directing ‘Scary Movie’ to Be ‘Redeeming’

In the 2017 oral history of Scary Movie, Wayans said that the success of the horror parody was “sort of redemption after having to move on from In Living Color.” He later went on to direct Scary Movie 2, as well as White Chicks and Little Man. All four films saw him team up with little brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans, while White Chicks also unleashed the greatest Vanessa Carlton cover in recorded history.

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