The rubber-faced, two-time Golden Globe Best Actor winner Jim Carrey first achieved water cooler notoriety in 1990, on the then-new Fox network’s In Living Color. When his lipless, burn-victim safety inspector Fire Marshall Bill debuted, the character launched the catchphrase “Lemme show you something!”–and Carrey’s career.
In an oral history of the groundbreaking show marking 25 years since it went off the air, Carrey reveals to the Hollywood Reporter that Fire Marshall Bill’s origin story is darker than anyone knew.
“We came up with a sketch called ‘Make a Death Wish Foundation’ about a dead kid whose posthumous wish was to go to an amusement park,” Carrey says. “That did not make it on air […] But I came up with the face of the kid, and it eventually turned into the ‘Fire Marshall Bill’ face.”
Show founder Keenen Ivory Wayans recalls that Fox execs wanted the emerging network to push TV limits, as they had with Married with Children, 21 Jump Street, The Tracey Ullman Show, and December 1989 newcomer The Simpsons–but with Color they were never sure how far they could go. “At that time, Fox wasn’t even a network. They were a startup,” he says.
Fox CEO Barry Diller almost cut the gay movie review parody sketch “Men on Films”—which went on to become an audience favorite—from the pilot. Wayans recalls, “I called Barry and said, ‘I understand your concern. But do me a favor. At least come to the rehearsal and see it on its feet.’ He said OK. He came down. He watched the rehearsal. And it was like a bomb went off in the studio audience. People were stomping their feet and clapping and laughing. Barry stood there watching. His face didn’t move. But then he turned to me and said, ‘OK,’ and he left. So we were able to do it.”
Carrey sums up the In Living Color experience this way: “We were warped out of our minds.”
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