‘In Living Color’ Dragged ‘SNL’ for Sidelining Chris Rock

Rock didn’t get a lot of airtime on ‘SNL,’ and the competition noticed
‘In Living Color’ Dragged ‘SNL’ for Sidelining Chris Rock

A lot of late-night sketch shows have taken on Saturday Night Live and failed miserably — we’re looking at you Fox’s The Edge — but In Living Color was different. With its boundary-pushing humor, diverse cast and occasional Jennifer Lopez dance movesIn Living Color often felt far fresher and more relevant than its NBC rival. But In Living Color wasn’t always just a friendly competitor, in one memorable sketch, the show called out SNL for underutilizing one of its most talented cast members. 

In his three years on SNL, Chris Rock didn’t get a whole lot of time on the air. Rock contends that he only got the job because In Living Color was hot” so SNL needed “to hire a Black guy,” but once he was on board, Rock spent most of his time “on the bench.” As he later pointed out: SNL is “not the place for a Black guy, it’s not the hippest place.”

You know who else noticed that Rock was frequently MIA on Saturday Night Live? The folks over at In Living ColorA 1992 episode began with a cold open in which “Rock” (played by Shawn Wayans, sporting an insulting set of Austin Powers-esque false teeth) is hanging out backstage at Studio 8H, only to be hassled by a security guard (Jim Carrey) who doesn’t recognize that he’s a current cast member. 

Rock defends himself (“I’ve been in two whole sketches this season!”), but even a tour group doesn’t clue in, confusing him with past Black cast members Eddie Murphy and Damon Wayans. Oddly enough, one of the tourists in the sketch is played by Molly Shannon, who would go on to join the SNL cast just three years later.



Eventually Rock is visited by “Garrett Morris” (played by Jamie Foxx) who he doesn’t recognize. The whole thing is a mock commercial for the “Anonymous Express Card” — “never be the only Black guy on an all-white show without it.” Although it should be mentioned that Rock wasn’t the only Black SNL cast member at the time. Tim Meadows and Ellen Cleghorne were also on the show, a bizarre omission to make, considering that Cleghorne had previously appeared in Season Two of In Living Color


The sketch feels especially pointed, considering that it not only addresses SNL’s history of sidelining Black performers, but specifically namechecks Damon Wayans, who, at the time was obviously on In Living Color, but had previously been fired from SNL by a “berserk” Lorne Michaels for improvising during a sketch. Wayans’ act of self-sabotage was born out of frustration with the roles he was offered on the show, inspiring him to turn a thankless police officer part with a few lines into a flamboyant character reminiscent of his brief appearance in Beverly Hills Cop (and later his gay film critic persona on In Living Color). 

Shawn Wayans’ Rock also complains that In Living Color is the show that he “should have been on in the first place.” That sentiment was later borne out when the real Rock left SNL for In Living Color.

“I wanted to be in an environment where I didn’t have to really translate the comedy that I wanted to do,” Rock told Marc Maron in 2011. Unfortunately, Rock only appeared in a handful of episodes before In Living Color was canceled in 1994. 

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