Stuck in a holding pattern after 'In Living Color,' Kim Coles is now flying high


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Relationships. Kids. Marriage. Men. Women. Dogs. Cats. Household appliances. Sex. Weight. Infomercials. Diets. Oprah.

Pick a subject. Any subject. Toss it out there. Like a skeet shooter, comedian Kim Coles follows its path. Takes aim. Fires.

On "dogging" men in her stage act: "I actually like men more than women. I think they are more logical thinkers. Basically, I draw a line: Dog only men who deserve to be dogged."

On her concerns about being a female comic: "This is a profession that's dominated by men. The act itself is male. It's very presentational. Very aggressive. There's a mike in your hand, which is obviously a phallic symbol."

How a vegetarian can make a Burger King commercial: "I'm really an opportunist vegetarian. Burger King asked me to take a bite out of a burger for money, and I did it. So sue me. A girl's gotta work, ya know?"

That's what Ms. Coles is doing. Working. Working a crowd of television executives, critics, publicists, current stars and former stars.

Standing in a Los Angeles sound stage, Ms. Coles is busy explaining where she's been and what she's been doing.

The last we saw of her she was leaving "In Living Color" in a huff, denying reports that her firing from the sketch comedy series was the result of a love affair gone bad with the show's creator and executive producer, Keenen Ivory Wayans.

That was two years ago. Up until now, until she landed a co-starring role on "Single Life," the new Fox sitcom about four female buppies, she was stuck in a holding pattern.

SG Shortly after leaving "In Living Color," she signed on with Lorimar

Television to develop a series built around her humor -- witty, sly, observational -- to pitch to the networks.

The show, about a sassy, independent woman, sort of a "That Girl" with a '90s sensibility and an urban flair, was presented to ABC, which passed.

Last year she entered into a similar "holding contract" with NBC, but the network, easing out of its failed youth movement, didn't find a show appealing to urban audiences much of a priority. They never made it to the script stage. Ms. Coles waited patiently for the phone to ring.

"It's almost embarrassing when people come up to me and say, 'Where have you been?' " Ms. Coles says. "I had to explain why I didn't have a show. The public doesn't care. NBC knew I had a holding deal. The industry knew I had a holding deal. It means a network believes in you. It means whether they make a

show or not, you still get paid. That's wonderful."

Not so wonderful is that you're not working. The public doesn't see you. And in Hollywood, visibility is everything.

"Waiting around made me fat, lazy, depressed," Ms. Coles says. "I couldn't do anything with another network even if they called. I didn't go on the road. For months I sat around watching 'Gomer Pyle' reruns.

"NBC finally gave up and let me loose," she says. "By then, I was pretty much shell-shocked and just wanted to wait for a project first. Wait for someone to come to me."

Yvette Denise Lee came. Ms. Coles "was our first choice," says the co-producer of "Living Single," Fox TV's new Sunday night entry. "We knew the kind of character we wanted, which was a lot like the person Kim is on stage, someone who could give us innocence and naivete and make it funny."

In "Living Single," Ms. Coles is Synclaire James, cousin of KhadijahJames (Queen Latifah), owner of a black women's magazine. Kim Fields ("Facts of Life") and Erika Alexander ("The Cosby Show") co-star.

"The show is about being young and deciding the next step in your life," Ms. Lee says. "It's also about how your friends can help you get there or sometimes keep you from taking the wrong step. Each one helps the other keep their feet on the ground. I'm sure all the women can relate to this."

Ms. Coles can. She is Brooklyn born, raised and securely planted. Her trek to Hollywood has been well-covered: large-size model discovers comedy (she went from modeling to emceeing the shows to stand-up clubs), sheds pounds (50 and counting), bolts to Los Angeles.

She met her husband, playwright Anton Edwards, at a comedy club in 1985 and married him eight months later. Their chosen fields have made them a bicoastal couple.

"We're stubborn," she says. "We're in cities we need to be in at the moment. He's achieving the kind of success and critical acclaim in New York that wouldn't happen for him in Los Angeles. This is a fluffy place, and I need to be where things are fluffy. And he needs to be where things are real. So we cope."

Ms. Coles had become a regular on "Showtime at the Apollo" when she was cast on "In Living Color" in 1990. She never became a major player in the ensemble that included Damon Wayans, Jim Carrey and Tommy Davidson. The weekend before production of the second season, Ms. Coles got a call from Keenen Wayans' assistant, who told her not to come in on Monday.

"Now that I look back on it, it became evident that, and I'll try to be nice, it was Keenen's job to make his sister [Kim Wayans] a star," Ms. Coles says. "I'm not trying to say I'm the best stand-up comic out there. I'm not. But I've seen Kim before, and in my opinion, she isn't very good. And for the record, I would say this to her face.

"Keenen would take things right out of my hands and give it to her. Writers write, but he casts the show. We'd sit around a table, and he'd divide it out. 'Kim you read this, you do so and so, you do so and so.'

"I've read where he said he let me go because I wasn't versatile. Howcan you show versatility when you're not given a chance? Part of it was my fault, too. Instead of fighting it, I'd just sit in my dressing room and cry."

Now Ms. Coles is laughing. She's a standout in the series, which is well-positioned (following "Martin," preceding "Married . . . With Children") to become a hit. And if it doesn't, well . . .

"I got a new attitude, child," she says. "Nothing very, very good or very, very bad lasts for very, very long. So why sweat it?"

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