‘In Living Color’: Martin Lawrence and Several Other Celebrities Tried – But Failed – to Make It Onto the Show

The sketch comedy show In Living Color was both something very new for TV, and incredibly popular. It’s an incredibly important piece of television history as well and featured many prominent celebrities of color, as well as live music. Therefore, many celebrities wanted to be on this show: it would put them in a network with other major celebrities, and it would reach a massive amount of viewers. However, the interest in the show meant that it wasn’t easy to get on, and many comedians and actors that are big names today actually failed to get on the show. Who were these comedians that didn’t make the cut? And where did they go with their careers instead?

'In Living Color' cast at the 25th anniversary, smiling in front of a white background
(L-R) Tommy Davidson, Shawn Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Kim Wayans, and David Alan Grier | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

‘In Living Color’ was a variety show that centered people of color

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In Living Color was the brainchild of Keenen Wayans, a Black actor and comedian who had been approached to head his own show. Wayans took the opportunity to make a variety show that did something new with its comedy and centered actors, comedians, and musicians of color. It started airing in 1990 and quickly received immense amounts of critical praise and popularity. Its comedy sketches were edgy and unique, and frequently satirized the state of race relations.

Celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and David Alan Grier even got their starts on In Living Color. On top of these comedy sketches, In Living Color featured many musical acts, from artsy hip hop acts like Digable Planets to popular R&B groups like En Vogue. The show also had its own dance troupe: The Fly Girls, which included actors Rosie Perez and Jennifer Lopez.

Celebrities from Martin Lawrence to Margaret Cho auditioned for ‘In Living Color’

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Because so many major comedians and celebrities featured on In Living Color, and because In Living Color was doing something so innovative, many celebrities wanted to be on the show. According to Mental Floss, renowned actor, Martin Lawrence didn’t make the cut, and neither did Margaret Cho or Susie Essman. It’s most likely that there are more celebrities that wanted to be on In Living Color but were passed up. Additionally, John Leguizamo was talking with the producers about being on the show but ended up deciding against it. Fortunately, all of these celebrities continued on to have excellent and influential careers themselves.

Lawrence, Cho, and Essman still have massive comedy careers

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All three of the aforementioned celebrities had careers spanning from before In Living Color and continued to have very successful careers. Lawrence’s big break came in 1987 where he landed a major supporting role on the sitcom What’s Happening Now!! He also spent a year hosting Def Comedy Jam, and most recently in 2020 starred in Bad Boys For Life. Susie Essman is most known for playing Susie Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but was also a popular touring comedienne throughout the ’80s, appearing in comedy specials starting in 1988.

Margaret Cho is also a massive name today, rising to prominence in 1994 when she created All-American Girl, one of the first sitcoms focusing on an Asian-American family. On top of being an iconic Asian comedienne, Cho is also an LGBTQ icon and has been open about her bisexuality. It’s fortunate that missing out on In Living Color didn’t stop these talented performers from having amazing careers. At the same time, it would have been amazing to see these performers with the cast of this show. Perhaps in the future, there will be more collaborations!