[REVIEW] Homey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and the Black Comedy Revolution, by David Peisner

Tablet displaying colorful cover for the book Homey Don't Play That. The tablet is lying on a red blanket, surrounded by multicolored balls of yarn.

(Buy it HERE.)

I’m often grateful that I came of age during the 90s. While I didn’t have the easiest of childhoods (who did?) there was something magical about the Black cultural renaissance happening in that decade. Hip-hop, neo-soul, comedy, tv shows, literature, films–there was something special happening then and I’m glad it was the decade that shaped my tastes. ⠀
In Living Color is definitely one of the top 10 sketch comedy shows of that era and all time. This book does a great job of explaining why and how it had the impact that it did. It begins with the Wayans family, principally older brother Keenan, and shows how their childhood games slowly turned into hard work and networks, then standup gigs, critically acclaimed cult films, and eventually, a long running sketch show that kickstarted the careers of several members of the family and also luminaries like Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx and of course–Jim Carrey. It’s interesting to follow everyone from bombing 5 minute standup sets to high ratings and global syndication. Peisner really shows the process that eventually led to a hit show, and the backstage drama that eventually led to its end. He also connects the dots on how broad its influence has been–we owe Chapelle’s show and Key and Peele largely to the success of In Living Color (Fun fact: Chapelle used to hang around backstage begging for a spot on the show, but it was cancelled before he could convince anyone to give him a shot.) ⠀
If I have one criticism of this book, it’s that the cast of contributors to In Living Color was very large and not everyone gets equal page time. It would be impossible to give everybody the same spotlight, but the book is mostly about Keenan, Carrey, and a host of (mostly white) writers and execs who are hard to keep track of. I wanted to know more about the other cast members, but our glimpses of them are brief. Still, as a huge fan of the show, I liked this. It provides a clear over-arching narrative that contextualizes the show’s importance in American culture. ⠀⠀
Four stars and two snaps up in Z formation to Homey Don’t Play That.


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