As Kim Wayans says in our extended feature on the 25th anniversary of “In Living Color,” her brother Keenen was always encouraging on-screen talent to draw on real-life circumstances and relationships to inject truth into their work. That was, as Damon Wayans explains, the big difference between “Saturday Night Live,” a writer-driven show, and “In Living Color,” a character-driven show where actors were eventually encouraged to pitch characters and concepts and work them out with the writers.
It's no surprise, then, that some of these characters would have personal connections with the performers. As you can see in anecdotes from Kelly Coffield, T'Keyah “Crystal” Keymáh and Kim Wayans, quite a few of them in fact came from other corners of their lives, be it someone they knew or something that would just organically spring to life in the day-to-day camaraderie of the show.
Learn more about the inspirations behind classic characters like Benita Butrell, LaShawn, Velma Mulholland and more below.
Kim Wayans on Benita Butrell
One of Kim Wayans' most indelible creations was Benita Butrell, a neighborhood woman breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience about passersby, always ending on a note of hilarious disparagement. But “nobody better say anything bad about Mrs. Jenkins!”
“Benita was based on a lady in my neighborhood, in the Robert Fulton Projects in New York City. It was actually a couple of ladies in my neighborhood that I grew up with. They were just quite colorful characters, just sitting around, yapping about everybody's business and smiling in your face. And the minute you turn your back, they had something to say about you, too!”
T'Keyah “Crystal” Keymáh on LaShawn
T'Keyah “Crystal” Keymáh had a handful of recurring characters, and one that stuck out in particular was LaShawn, a customer service worker who won't take any guff from anyone. But as Keymáh explains, there was more depth to her creation than merely that.