Now, this is a story all about how Will Smith’s life got flipped, turned upside down. In 1989, a year after he and DJ Jazzy Jeff unloaded their breakout hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” he was in serious debt to the United States Treasury, Bureau of Internal Revenue. Smith had no flow and needed a gig. Bad.
This video retells how The Fresh Prince of Bel Air got started. It’s a delightful five minutes, but very real. Anyone who’s had a 1099 filed on them knows the bad feeling, crawling up your back like a spider, when you get to April and remember you gotta pay the tax man. It is painful as shit. Ask Wesley Snipes or Willie Nelson. Smith was nearly bankrupted by his $2.8 million obligation to the government. His income was garnished, which is kind of like withholding, except a lot worse.
Smith, according to this video, dug himself out with old-fashioned hustle. He went over to Stage 29, Paramount Studios Los Angeles, and hung around at The Arsenio Hall Show. That’s where he got introduced to Quincy Jones, the entertainment impresario most recently in the public eye for a bizarre Q&A with Vulture back in February.
Jones eventually arranged a meeting with Brandon Tartikoff, the man who greenlit The A-Team, raising NBC from the dead in the 1980s, creating Must-See-TV and marking Thursday nights for appointment television. By Smith’s retelling, Tartikoff had almost no say in the matter. “Did you like it?” Jones asked Tartikoff. “Good!” And that’s how he became the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro, James Avery, Karen Parsons and Joseph Marcell became pop culture icons for their roles as Will, Carlton, Mr. Banks, Hilary and Geoffrey the butler, respectively. Smith moved on to a tremendously successful film career, winning two Oscar nominations in the process. His production company, Overbrook Entertainment, is behind Cobra Kai, which premiered on YouTube Red May 2.