John Ridley
Credit: Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images

Will Smith probably didn’t know it at the time, but he was helping to develop a future Oscar-winning screenwriter while headlining The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Writer John Ridley — who won his first Academy Award on Sunday for adapting 12 Years of Slave — credits his long career as a TV comedy writer for helping him transition successfully to the big screen. Ridley, whose small screen credits include Fresh Prince, Martin, The John Larroquette Show and The Wanda Sykes Show, drew upon Solomon Northup’s autobiography to write the screenplay for the Steve McQueen-directed movie that won best picture Sunday.

“I remember the gentleman who gave me my first job, and to stand there [at the Oscars] with Will Smith a moment later!” Ridley said after the show. “I wrote jokes for that guy. It was a wonderful, wonderful beginning and honestly when I think about that, it’s all the more stunning that somehow I ended up here.

“I love TV, I’m still doing TV. TV matters and if it were not for television, when I was working on Martin, working for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, when people were kicking open the doors for people of color, I would not have ended up here. I am so thankful for that time, and I’m so thankful to be here.”