Week by week, "In Living Color," the Fox network's two-month-old comedy show, has lined up and skewered black celebrities and politicians ripe for the sticking -- Arsenio Hall, Oprah Winfrey, Marion Barry, Louis Farrakhan, Billy Dee Williams, M.C. Hammer and Jesse Jackson among them. A mock black history documentary titled "King: The Early Years" turned out to be a look at fight impresario Don King as a youngster promoting a fight in his schoolyard.

"I now have a chance to have fun with the people that I idolize, that I watch on a day-to-day basis, that I've read about," says Keenen Ivory Wayans, executive producer, writer and cast member, who appears on camera as the host at the top of each show.

"Now it's our turn to have fun with our celebrities and our political people and our community, and share that with other people. There's definitely a black perspective on our show. But it's not limited to a black audience. We live in the same country. We travel, we eat, we sleep, we go through the same things that our white counterparts go through."

When Wayans went to Las Vegas recently to take in a fight, he saw "Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Jesse Jackson, Don King -- almost everybody I've ever made fun of on the show. And everybody was really cool."

He pauses. "I heard Whitney Houston was mad at me." It must have been over the skit in which Houston, not known for her dancing, makes a pathetic attempt at a Janet Jackson-style video for a song called "Rhythmless Nation."

Who can expect to see themselves pilloried next? "We're going to do Prince. Tina Turner. There're so many. Bryant Gumbel ..."

Wayans's plucky half-hour show, which features an interracial cast in skits -- and, in between, women dancers doing routines to hip-hop and house music -- has attracted a wide enough television following to garner very respectable ratings and ensure that Wayans will be interrupted by well-wishers when he dines out.

Last Sunday's show ranked 14th nationally, and although the summer season reruns don't pose much competition, the high ratings are still remarkable: The Fox network doesn't reach all the major markets, as the three main networks do. Fox has picked up the show for next fall.

Right now, the staff inhabits shabby if comfortable quarters in Hollywood on the fifth floor of a Fox office building where the numbers are worn off the elevator buttons. A brightly crayoned sign proclaiming "In Living Color" marks the entrance to the suite of offices, where birthday celebrations and other shenanigans are frequent. Keenen Wayans's 32nd birthday was a couple of weeks ago -- "two drag queens came in and had this act put together. It was pretty scary."

Wayans's office has a delicious view of the Hollywood sign in the hills. Outside his office this afternoon there is a persistent weird howl of laughter from down the hall.

"You thought we were torturing one of the writers?" he asks. "We want better ideas!"

In fact, the howler is his younger brother Damon -- "In Living Color" cast member, writer and comic delight. There are several Wayans siblings on the show, including Kim, who was in the mock "Star Trek" skit, "The Wrath of Farrakhan," as a rebellious Lt. Uhuru (who snaps at Capt. Kirk, "I'm tired of being your occasional chocolate fantasy!"). She also distinguished herself in her sendup (literally) of Oprah Winfrey, who eats so much in the course of one of her television shows that she floats away at the end.

Another of the 10 Wayans children, Shawn, is the deejay seen mixing records during the dance segments. A fifth, Marlon, who just graduated from high school, has aspirations to be in the business, as does a sixth Wayans, Dwayne.

"Our relationship is not like employee-employer," says Keenen Wayans, the oldest sibling on the show. "It's big brother-little brother-little sister."

"In Living Color," says Kim Wayans, is "pretty much doing the same stuff we've been doing all our lives -- cutting up and snapping on each other... . Except we get paid this time." She describes Keenen as "even-tempered, very much in control."

Down the hall, Damon Wayans can still be heard howling in amusement. And outside Keenen's office, someone is being feted with a cake and a chorus of "Happy Birthday."

The boss's assistant, in T-shirt and bright print pants, appears. "Do you want me to close the door since we're kind of loud out here?" she asks.

"Tell those pants to keep it down," Keenen cracks.

Keenen Wayans has made a career of groundbreaking satire in which black actors and writers weigh in on the foibles of life. With Robert Townsend, he co-wrote "Hollywood Shuffle," a funny and biting look at black actors struggling in Hollywood (in which both he and Damon appear as well). And he directed, wrote and starred in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," the 1989 spoof of black exploitation and action movies.

With a multifaceted film career in steady ascent, Wayans says he had no interest in doing television. "Fox approached me very aggressively and said, 'You can do what you want to do,' and I said, 'Anything I want to do? Ummmmm ...' "

What he wanted to do was "In Living Color."

"It just comes from years of watching 'The Carol Burnett Show' and 'Laugh-In' and 'Saturday Night Live' and 'SCTV' ... and me as a comedian wishing I could be on a show like that... . This was just a perfect vehicle for myself and several other people I knew -- David Alan Grier, Jim Carrey, Tommy Davidson, my sister Kim. I knew what potential they had."

Fox, he says, "was very excited about doing the show, but along the way they started to get nervous about some things. They didn't try to make changes. I think they knew that would make me walk away... . There were some compromises along the way. I'm a rebel -- but not a maniac."

The show pokes fun at lots of situations and stereotypes -- such as the Jamaican family, the Hedleys, each of whom has about three dozen jobs. There was the Home Boy Shopping Network. And there are two effeminate male art critics in skits called "Men on Art" and "Men on Films."

That last one made Fox nervous, although Wayans didn't anticipate any problems. ("We pick on everybody.") Indeed, Wayans says the network only got one letter of criticism.

Fox also voiced some concern about the "The Wrath of Farrakhan," in which the Nation of Islam leader takes over the Starship Enterprise and frees the minorities on board. It aired on the second show.

"They didn't see how it was going to be funny," Wayans said. "When I say to the network, 'Trust me, it'll be funny,' that's what they have to do -- they have to trust that I'm going to find the beats in the sketch that will make the sketch funny."

He explains: "We have fun with stereotypes, but we don't buy into stereotypes... . We don't do chicken and watermelon jokes." He defends his "Men on Art" skits, which lampoon two presumably gay men, by saying: "It's not gay-bashing jokes. We don't make jokes about any issues that are sensitive to any community. We don't do crack jokes. We don't do AIDS jokes... . We're reckless, but not irresponsible."

Though Wayans wears a number of hats as executive producer, writer and cast member, clearly his biggest responsibility is his producing job. That restricts his on-air time. "This show was more of a showcase for other people than for me."

Damon is the Wayans brother who gets the bigger chunk of air time -- and more kudos for his comic acting. His repertoire includes the father of the wacky Jamaican family, and he's one of the two critics in the "Men on Art" skits.

"Damon is funnier than I am," Keenen declares. "He's more of a performer. He's more in tune with that part of himself than I am. I think I'm very funny. I know I'm funny. But we're talking about funny-er... . He's out there, you know?"

But it was Keenen who created the wickedly funny impersonation of Arsenio Hall as a gyrating, somersaulting talk show host who mentions that Eddie Murphy is his best friend. And mentions it again. And again. And again. In the skit, Hall interviews "Mayor Marion Barry," inquiring about his new book. ("I didn't write a book," the mayor corrects him. "I was booked.")

He plays Hall with a padded rear end to emphasize the one feature the host would like to deemphasize. "That's something that he hates," says Wayans with just a little glee. "He tries to hide it with those long jackets."

Wayans says he prefers acting to writing. "It's innately what I think I am -- more a performer." With his chiseled cheekbones, he certainly has the looks for it. His ideal role, he says, would be in an action romance a` la "Bird on a Wire." "I'm writing that part," he says of a current screenplay effort that would create a role like the one Mel Gibson plays in that movie. "Writing came as a result of there not being any outlets for me to perform in. So I started writing my own."

The typical role given to black film actors -- a role Wayans has managed to avoid as well as to mock -- is that of sidekick. "We're going to do a sketch called 'Sidekick,' " he says. "It's every black actor you've ever seen -- he has no life, he has no lines. He's basically reacting to the other guy's life. He's happy when the other guy gets a girl. He takes the bullet for the other guy. He's just a sidekick... .

"I always make the joke: Hollywood doesn't have black actors, they have black reactors."

Wayans considers the '70s the heyday of black actors. "That's where Billy Dee Williams came from. 'Lady Sings the Blues'? That was an incredible film. There has never been a black man with that much magnetism before." ("In Living Color," by the way, has already taken on Williams in a parody of his mellow-voiced beer commercials.)

Wayans dismisses the notion that many of the popular black action films were exploitative of blacks. Quite the opposite, he contends. Many of those films showcased black talent. And the really bad ones were insignificant, he says -- and at worst, forgettable.

"With the exception of the ones that were pimp films, they were just bad action movies," he says. "They were just cheaply made and poorly written. It wasn't like all these guys were criminals. They were heroes. Fred Williamson and Jim Brown. They were always fighting crime. That's why I used to go."

Wayans contends that opposition to so-called black exploitation films sounded the death knell for all studio-made black movies for a time, including films such as "Sounder." "I get really angry thinking about it... . It really undermined the black film industry at that time. Once that became an issue, it gave Hollywood an excuse to back off. We had black box office stars then. Now we have Eddie Murphy and that's all."

He admits that many of the critics of those films were black. "The problem with the black community is the ones who have the voice most of the time don't speak for the majority."

Wayans was majoring in engineering at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama when he quit a semester before graduating to return to New York to try his luck at stand-up comedy. "I had always wanted to be a comedian, but I didn't know how. I didn't know anybody in show business."

A self-admitted "campus clown" at Tuskegee, Wayans used to entertain students near a fountain in the center of campus. "There weren't a lot of kids from New York down there, and everyone was fascinated with New York. And I would tell all these stories about New York and do all the characters -- a lot of the characters you see on {"In Living Color"}. They were like my practice audience."

One day someone in his audience told him to "check out a place called the Improv. And I asked him what that was. And he told me Richard Pryor started there -- and that's all he had to say. When I went home I called and found out what the audition process was, and that was the beginning."

His parents, who raised their 10 children in a housing project in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, now live in a house that Wayans bought for them in a New York suburb. They had wanted him to finish college, but they knew he had to pursue his dream of performing. Now they not only watch the show but call him all the time with their suggestions.

"They try to write for it every week," he says with a chuckle.