Damon Wayans was the second major cast member from “In Living Color” to leave the show, after Kim Coles. He departed following the third season to pursue a big screen career, starring in films like “The Last Boy Scout,” “Blankman” and “Major Payne.” But during his time with the show, he left an unmistakable signature that can be felt across a number of colorful characters.
Think of “In Living Color” and you're bound to have the image of an angry, put-upon clown flash through your head (Homey D. Clown), or perhaps a pair of flamboyant critics giving the weekend's latest release “two snaps up” (“Men On…”). These were some of Wayans' trademark sketches, coming at a time when, as he says in our extended feature on the series' 25th anniversary, he was eager for redemption after being fired from “Saturday Night Live.”
Here are the beginnings and inspirations for those sketches and more, in his own words.
On Homey D. Clown
One of the most iconic characters produced by the “In Living Color” laboratory was Homey D. Clown. An ex-con forced to work as a clown as stipulated by his parole agreement, Homey had his share of anger issues and took out his hatred of the system and “the man” on unsuspecting (often times spoiled) brats looking to have a good time at a birthday party or other such gathering.
“Oh Homey's always gonna be funny. Homey would be great now. There's just so much stuff that's not being dealt with in terms of black voices, because it was his subconscious voice. I used to do a character in my act, The Angry Black Comic. I actually did it on 'Saturday Night Live.' His thing was, 'Good evening, white people. On my way down here tonight I killed three white people. Oh, you ain't laughing? Then you would have been dying,' you know?
“And then, Paul Mooney, he was the angriest black man in the world and he prided himself on that. Like, he wouldn't even pitch ideas for sketches in front of white people. 'Not in front of the white people, Homey. One on one, me and you, Keenen, and I'll tell you everything. Not in front of the white people.' And he would say 'Homey,' you know, 'Homey this, Homey that. Oh Homey, Homey. Not in front of the white people, Homey.' So this guy, Sandy Frank – these are writers – and Matt Wickline said, you know, this is funny. The clown who won't perform. So they wrote Homey D. Clown and I put the angry black man voice on Homey D. Clown because I just thought it was appropriate, and the rest is history.”
On Anton Jackson
Anton Jackson was a Damon Wayans creation that ended up with a life outside of “In Living Color.” The character appeared briefly in one of the early scenes of the 1992 film “Mo' Money,” which starred Wayans and his younger brother Marlon. He also popped up as a witness in the O.J. Simpson trial in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch when Wayans returned to host in 1995.
“Anton was actually a combination of people. I had an uncle named Gene who was a heroin addict and I remember he came by my house high on the heroin. He had white stuff all over his pants and my mother's like, 'Eugene, what the hell is on your pants?' And he said [Anton Jackson voice] 'Oh, I just came from seeing the twenty-five cent movie. You'd be surprised what they show for twenty-five cents!' He was at the porno house watching movies and had jerked off!
“And then my sister's boyfriend, when she was dating this guy, he was speed-balling. That's when you mix heroin and cocaine, right? And you shoot yourself with it. He actually sounded a lot like my uncle Gene and he was trying to impress my mother when he first met her. He looks at my mother, he kisses her hand and he goes, 'Now I see where Deidre gets her big ass from.' So romantic. He was trying to be Don Juan!”
On “The Adventures of Handi Man”
Handi Man might have been a bit of a precursor to Wayans' work in the 1995 film “Blankman.” A superhero for the handicapped, it seems like the kind of sketch that wouldn't fly at all today, given its perceived insensitivity. But it had very personal beginnings nevertheless.
“I was born with a club foot and I used to talk about it on stage; you've got to turn the camera on yourself. So I decided, 'I'm gonna start talking about my club foot and the pain of having this, you know, orthopedic shoe that I had to wear as a kid.' The joke that started Handi Man was I was saying I got into a lot of fights as a kid, because I had to defend my shoe. And I said, 'I guess you don't find too many handicapped bullies.' And then I would tell a little bit about, like, 'Uh oh, here come the Crips,' and you have these handicapped guys roll up and go [standard un-PC mentally disabled voice] 'Give me your lunch money.' So that was the birth of Handi Man, and then talking about how it's like they need a superhero. You never find a handicapped superhero. And then I start doing Handi Man on stage.”
On “Men on…”
Probably the most enduring sketch of the entire series has to be “Men on…,” a parody of “Siskel & Ebert” featuring two homosexual hosts, Blaine Edwards (Damon Wayans) and Antoine Merriweather (David Alan Grier) critiquing everything from films (usually) to art to even fitness and vacation, with an iconic lead-in courtesy of The Weather Girls' 1982 classic “It's Raining Men.” It's an interesting note in Damon Wayans' filmography, considering he was let go from “Saturday Night Live” for going off-script and making a character flamboyantly gay.
“Everything's underneath the bullying umbrella now, so anything you say about gay people is, you know, 'bullying.' And it's like, have gay people lost their sense of humor? It's just something different about a guy acting like a girl. That's funny. I'm not saying you go embarrass somebody to the point of them killing themselves, but come on, it's funny. And the point of view is funny. Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather thought everybody was gay and were just hiding it, and they were there to bring them out of the closet. That was the idea behind 'Men on…,' and I think people would laugh because we would have so much fun with it. It's all about presentation and how you deal with it. If you're mean-spirited about what you're doing, it comes off bad. But I think people would embrace it.”