By Tanner Stransky
Updated April 22, 2010 at 08:02 PM EDT

Image Credit: Everett Collection

Expectations were low for In Living Color when Fox launched the prime-time sketch-comedy series. ”I didn’t think we were going to get it on the air or get paid for it,” remembers Damon Wayans, 49, who, alongside his brother Keenen, created the groundbreaking show (which featured then unknowns Jim Carrey and David Alan Grier). ”We would have done it for free. We were just looking for a chance to express ourselves creatively.”

And express themselves the Wayans brothers certainly did. The show boasted a host of popular and controversial characters, including the gay, effeminate ”Men on Film” guys and Homey D. Clown, a straight-from-jail ghetto jester who would shoot down kids’ requests with the catchphrase ”Homey don’t play that.” ”You have to have affection for all your characters, but people love Homey,” Wayans says. ”On In Living Color, we did great characters that got into the pop culture.”

Color also brought us Fire Marshall Bill, a fire-safety teacher (played by Carrey) who continually burst into flames; spoofs of Oprah, Andrew Dice Clay, and Tracy Chapman; and the Fly Girl dancers, whose ranks included Jennifer Lopez and Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba. ”You just sit back and go, ‘Wow’ when watching their careers,” Wayans says. ”It’s sad it’s gone, because I think the dream was to have an institution that lived on like Saturday Night Live. It was the best time of my career.”