This week, for Top 10 Tuesday, in celebration of the 25 year anniversary of In Living Color, TVEnthusiast is proud to present our top 10 list of memorable characters from the politically incorrect 90s sketch comedy series.
10. Vera de Milo
Superstar Jim Carrey bookends this entire list. First, in spot number 10, Carrey portrays a cartoonish steroid abusing female bodybuilder with horse like characteristics. Carrey made a name for himself on In Living Color for his ability to bring characters that belonged in animation to life, with his elastic face, and lanky build, he made Vera into a Hanna Barbera-esque spoof of societies shifting gender roles.
09. The Employees and Regulars of the Snackin Shack
The Snackin Shack was a black perspective, on white reaction to soul food eateries. The gross elderly waitress who routinely served used and expired food, the speedy cook who misheard conversations as food orders, and the strange customer who yelled out random “facts” completely out of context. The humor came quick, but not as quick as the food.
08. Mr. and Ms. Brooks
This elderly couple that remained “still together” was a spoof of societies impression of the sweet elderly black couple. Mr. and Ms. Banks HATED each other, but they could never admit it to each other or the outside world, so instead they kept trying to kill each other. The 2 laid fake affection on thick and heavy while plotting the downfall of their significant other. The perception of the kindly elderly black person has since been challenged by others, like Chris Rock, but for me, it was Mr. and Ms Brooks’ boiling hatred beneath the facade of love that had me laughing and my own ignorant thinking.
07. Benita Butrell
Benita was the friendly polite black woman that could hardly wait to rip off the false face of friendliness and get down to some hard gossip. Benita was the definition of 2-faced. She broke the 4th wall to give us the true meaning behind her fake friendly words, and the gap between her fake face and her hateful gossiping true face was the source of her humor. After each vile piece of gossip she would proclaim “But I aint one to gossip, so you didn’t hear that from me”, which acted as her transition back to her false face. Benita was brilliantly portrayed by Kim Wayans, one of the many Wayans Siblings on the show.
06. Cheap Pete
The brilliant Chris Rock followed up his dismissal from Saturday Night Live, by making appearances on In Living Color. Most notable, was his portrayal of Cheap Pete who would try and negotiate any price down to a $1.25, with concessions (smelling the bread, instead of eating it, for example). No matter the price stated, Rock’s Cheap Pete always answered with the same “Good Lord that’s a lot of money”, before offering his preposterous $1.25 alternative option. This character has personal meaning to me as well, as my Dad is a barter king at his local garage sales. He always tries to negotiate down to $1. Eventually, as a joke, I made him a hat that read “I’ll give you a buck” as a father’s day gift.
05. Clavell and Howard – Funky Finger Productions
Clavell and Howard, portrayed by David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson, were 2 obnoxiously upbeat black filmmakers under the moniker of Funky Finger Productions. With a level of shlock that would leave Corman and Troma scratching their heads in bewilderment, Funky Finger Productions pitched themselves at every opportunity, with the hustle to get into meetings they weren’t invited to, but no talent to back it all up. My favorite part about Funky Finger Productions is the ever elaborate business card reveals. It always begins with Clavel saying he is fresh out of cards, followed by Howard shocking his mark with a too loud “Bam” and a reveal of their card. which could be written on the back of a coupon, shaved into his hair, or any other manner of ineffective ingenuity.
04. Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather – Men on Film
This is the kind of sketch that could never be made today, with the growth of political correctness, and the entirely necessary shift in societal thinking on homosexuality. If Men on Film screened today, it would be a PR nightmare. That being said, it remains a funny, though insensitive, portrayal of flamboyant homosexual stereotypes. Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier represented Blaine and Antoine as sexualy obsessed and clownish, as they reviewed movies based on their homoerotic content. As such, anything with too much of a female presence ended up in the “Hated it!” category. Though the sketch started out as Men on Film, it later adapted to cover all manner of subjects with Men on Books, Men on Sports, and Men on Men, amongst others. While it is doubtful this kind of sketch could, nor should, be done today without massive controversy, it was an iconic sketch in its time.
03. Calhoun Tubbs
My favorite Blues performer, and introduction to the genre itself, Calhoun Tubbs comes in 3rd on this week’s list of In Living Color Characters for his thousands of 13 second songs which only consisted of slightly different and topical lyrics over the same blues riff. Tubbs started each song by mentioning a story, then saying “I wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it go.” Calhoun Tubbs was actually based on the famous Michigan street performer/storyteller Shakey Jake, who told uncanny tales of being born on Halloween, and having invisible bodyguards all set to essentially tuneless blues riffs. Calhoun Tubbs parodies the idea of such a figure, and made him insulting to those who crossed his path, immortalizing them in his song, which would only ever be played once.
02. Homey D. Clown
Homey D. Clown was a tough as nails clown from the streets, who dispensed street wisdom, and beatdowns, to those who crossed his path. An ex-con on parole, Homey wouldn’t perform the clown antics expected of him. For white folk in America, Homey D. Clown was a first exposure to the concept of “The Man”, a faceless figure representing white male dominance in business and government that holds minorities down. At the end of each skit, Homey would lead the children in his charge in a sing along about the evil’s of the man, that always ended with an elaborate rant about his struggles with “The Man”. The humor of Homey D. Clown came mostly from the gap between what is expected of a Clown and what Homey was as one. Don’t expect fun and games from that clown, ‘cause “Homey don’t play that!”
01. Fire Marshall Bill
The Cartoonish rubber antics of Jim Carrey take the top spot in our list of In Living Color characters with his portrayal of Fire Marshall Bill. The hideously disfigured Bill, was prone to many accident of his own making, in pursuit of preposterous safety lessons for school children. Insisting that there are hazards all around us, Bill would spout out his catchphrase “Lemme show ya something” before setting up an elaborate, and often impossible, disaster that would tear, scar, and burn his body. Each sketch ended with the complete destruction, at his hands, of the facility he was advising safety at. Fire Marshall Bill, lost limbs, and was even once left with only his, still living, head, but he returned every week to dispense more safety tips, and bring about absolute destruction.
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