If you were an active TV watcher in the 1980s and early 1990s, then you probably remember seeing Billy Dee Williams‘ commercials for Colt 45. The TV commercials used Williams’ popularity from the original George Lucas Star Wars films to help elevate the image of the malt liquor style of beer. Instead of showing people drinking malt liquor out of brown paper bags, Williams’ Colt 45 commercials had him surrounded by beautiful women, hosting sophisticated parties and even appearing to be a dream-like hero.
The Colt 45 commercials were ridiculous and ripe for parody. But in 1990, a FOX-TV sketch comedy show called In Living Color took things too far. Their “Bolt 45” commercial parody sketch was immediately banned for its date rape references and almost completely scrubbed from existence. Here’s the mostly unknown story behind Bolt 45.
In Living Color’s Censorship Battles
In Living Color (1990-1994) was an evening sketch comedy show on FOX television. Comedian Keenen Ivory Wayans was the show’s creator, producer, and main star. Unlike most shows on television at the time, the cast of In Living Color was mostly black and much of the humor of the show catered to African-Americans. The popular sketch comedy show was known for being controversial and Keenen Ivory Wayans was very outspoken about the censorship battles he would frequently have with FOX-TV executives. But one of their biggest censorship issues was over a sketch called Bolt 45.
NERD NOTE: The popularity of the TV show In Living Color helped launch the careers of many people connected with the show including actor Jim Carrey, comedians Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier, T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh, and Carrie Ann Inaba, Jennifer Lopez and Rosie Perez (choreographer) from the show’s dance troupe called The Fly Girls.
Bolt 45: The In Living Color Sketch About Date Rape
On the May 5, 1990 broadcast of In Living Color, Keenen Ivory Wayans starred in a parody of a Billy Dee Williams endorsement for Colt 45. In the sketch, Wayans plays a sophisticated man who brags about how strong “Bolt 45” is and how quickly it can get your date wasted. After consuming several cans, a woman gets knocked out by the strong malt liquor.
Waynes then says, “Somehow I knew she wouldn’t refuse me.” The sketch ends with his date, played by actress Kim Coles, passed out on his dining room table. Waynes then starts to climb on top of her.
Mixed Up Master Tapes
The Bolt 45 sketch wasn’t supposed to air on broadcast TV. Unlike Saturday Night Live, In Living Color was pre-taped and FOX censors immediately banned the sketch soon after it was performed. However, Bolt 45 did air on TV once, accidentally.
The master tape for the episode was supposed to replace Bolt 45 with a skit called “The Exxxon Family” starring Jim Carrey. The skit is about a clumsy Exxon boat captain who can’t even manage a coffee spill in his kitchen. It’s a reference to Captian Joseph Hazelwood and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. However, the original master tape was broadcast that night with the Bolt 45 sketch.
Embarrassment & Damage Control
Despite FOX’s efforts to censor Bolt 45, the sketch aired on broadcast TV. The network then went into damage control and tried to make sure that this mistake never happened again. FOX wanted Bolt 45 completely wiped from existence. All tapes were ordered to be destroyed immediately. And the skit was cut from both broadcast reruns of In Living Color as well as all complications of the show on DVD, VHS and digital. The only surviving copy of Bolt 45 is from Internet user UncleBernie2 who recorded the original broadcast on VHS and shared it on YouTube.
What Would Happen If Bolt 45 Aired On TV Today?
Can you imagine what would happen if Bolt 45 aired on broadcast television today? It’s likely that In Living Color would have immediately been canceled, Keenen Ivory Wayans would be blacklisted in Hollywood and the PR nightmare from the skit would dominate headlines. Date rape is a crime. Using date rape as a punchline makes rape look like a joke. Bolt 45 shouldn’t have only aired on TV, it shouldn’t have been performed, written by writers or even thought about in the first place.
Coldcock Malt Liquor: SNL’s Colt 45 Parody
Unlike In Living Color, NBC’s sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live, decided to parody Billy Dee Williams’ infamous Colt 45 malt liquor ads without using date rape as a punchline. In a sketch called Coldcock, that aired in Season 17, Episode 4 (1991), Tim Meadows, Chris Rock, and Ellen Cleghorne, get punched by a cartoon fist that knocks you out. The tagline is “It’s all just talk unless it’s the one they call Coldcock.”
NERD NOTE: Billy Dee Williams is probably best known to film audiences as the character Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Other notable projects featuring Williams include Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Nighthawks (1981), Batman (1989), Moving Target (1996) and Undercover Brother (2002).
Banned For Life: Bolt 45
What do you think about In Living Color’s Bolt 45 sketch? Did SNL do a better job of parodying the Colt 45 commercials with Coldcock?