Kevin Hart, The Chapelle Show, Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, modern day Saturday Night Live. All of them and many more owe some part of their success to the visionary Keenen Ivory Wayans. As the patriarch of the Wayans Clan, perhaps overall the most talented family in all of Hollywood history, he kicked down doors and helped transform the face of television in front of and behind the camera.
His resume is impeccable. Writing credits on 23 movies, producer on 14, staring in 22, and director of 7. He even wrote the opening sketch for Eddie Murphy’s Raw which is arguably the greatest stand-up comedy documentary/film of all-time. His best known and most influential work was on the show he created, In Living Color. It was a groundbreaking sketch comedy show that pushed boundaries and broke new stars. It went head-to-head and bested SNL forcing them to hire more people of color, get edgier, and just step their game up. The show was so good Chris Rock quit SNL to join In Living Color’s cast at one point.
And the biggest move he made was using his platform to open the door for his family. In Hollywood the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” rings truer than almost anywhere else. Especially when opportunities for people of color behind the camera are so limited it’s important for someone who makes it to not just crack the glass ceiling but beak it wide open and bring their people with them. Wayans might be the best example ever of doing that. Damon Wayans, Marlon, Wayans, Sean Wayans, and Kim Wayans were all major contributors on the set and in the writing room. And they’ve gone on to work together to create more films and TV shows and bringing up a new generation in the biz with Damon Wayans Jr.
It’s easy to get caught up in the new new but Keenen Ivory and the Wayans have earned the upmost respect. Classic classics (Hollywood Shuffle), hood classics (Don’t Be A Menace), guilty pleasure classics (White Chicks), Wayans has done it all and he’s done it his way. In Living Color wasn’t toned down for network television. They addressed race, sex, and played hip-hop at every chance they got. And believe it or not, in the 90’s all of those subjects (yes even the music) was deemed too taboo for TV.
From launching the careers of two Oscar nominated actors (Carrey and Jamie Foxx) to having one of the biggest stars of this generation (Bruno Mars) remake the In Living Color intro for a music video, Wayans’ fingerprints can be found all over today’s Hollywood and popular culture at large. He has been and continues to do it for The Culture.
Written by @TalentedMrFord
Follow him on Instagram and Twitter