In Living Color, created by Keenen Ivory Wayans, was a groundbreaking sketch comedy show that was prominent in many African-American households. During a time when there wasn’t much racial diversity on television, the sketch comedy show broke barriers employing a predominantly Black cast, rivaling Saturday Night Live’s mostly all-white cast. The show would light up television screens for five seasons in the early 90s, while also introducing us to some of our favorite actors of today.
Audiences were introduced to previously unknown comedians like Jim Carrey (who was one of only two white people in the original cast), Jamie Foxx, and David Alan Grier. In Living Color also had other incredible key players in the cast, among them were Tommy Davidson, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, Kelly Coffield, and Wayans siblings Damon, Kim, Shawn (who also served as DJ), and Marlon. The show also employed an in-house dance troupe known as The Fly Girls, choreographed by Rosie Perez, and also famously introduced the world to singer and actress Jennifer Lopez.
Also part of the show’s original cast was Brooklyn native Kim Coles. The actress and comedian was heavy in the stand-up circuit for years prior to her casting on the show, having appeared on Showtime At The Apollo and many other big stages, and becoming the opening act for Sinbad’s comedy show as well. Her ability to appease audiences with her act caught the attention of Keenen Ivory Wayans, which led to her eventual casting. “I got the show because of my stand-up,” she mentioned in a past interview. “Keenen was looking specifically for stand-up comedians who could perform as actors or sketch-comedy people.
The show became her big break. She would be known for her impressions of celebrities like Robin Givens, Marla Gibbs, and Downtown Julie Brown. The show’s first season became a massive hit with audiences and even went on to win the “Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series” in 1990.
However, when the show arrived for its much anticipated second season, fans noticed that Coles was absent from the cast. Much explanation wasn’t given for her departure, and many speculations began to arise. Reports of her firing due to a love affair gone bad with Keenen Ivory Wayans spread, which the “Kids In America” actress denies. The story goes that the weekend before production commenced of the second season in 1991, Coles got a call from Keenen Wayans’ assistant, who told her “not to come in on Monday.”
Upset about the speculations surrounding her departure, she expressed her feelings in a 1992 interview. “I’ve read where he said he let me go because I wasn’t versatile,’ she said. “How can you show versatility when you’re not given a chance?”
The actress also expressed feelings of being overlooked in favor of his sister, Kim Wayans. “Now that I look back on it, it became evident that, and I’ll try to be nice, it was Keenen’s job to make his sister (Kim Wayans) a star,’ Coles revealed. “I’m not trying to say I’m the best stand-up comic out there. I’m not. But I’ve seen Kim before, and in my opinion, she isn’t very good. And for the record, I would say this to her face.”
Coles added, “Keenen would take things right out of my hands and give it to her. Writers write, but he casts the show. We’d sit around a table, and he’d divide it out. ‘Kim, you read this, you do so and so, you do so and so.”
She takes part of the blame for her departure, however, saying “Part of it was my fault, too. Instead of fighting it, I’d just sit in my dressing room and cry. It’s a show designed for and by men… Most of the work is written for the men – That’s the way Keenen is. He’s very male-oriented. I don’t want to say macho. He doesn’t hate women, but he’s a man and absolutely comes from a man’s perspective. That’s the first complaint.
“Secondly,” she adds, “any work that was given to the women, most of it went to two of the women, which were his sister and Kelly Coffield. That just developed as a pattern on and on and on.”
After leaving the show, and despite the bad departure, she expressed that she learned a lot from the experience. After a few guest walk-on roles, she was cast in one of the biggest sit-coms created, Living Single, where she starred as Synclaire James. The show’s creator Yvette Denise Lee said that Coles was their “first choice” for the show. “We knew the kind of character we wanted,’ Lee says, “which was a lot like the person Kim is on stage, someone who could give us naivete and make it funny.”
The show aired on Fox from August 22, 1993 to January 1, 1998. The success of the show garnered Coles an NAACP Image Award in 1998 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role.