When you think about legendary sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a lot of things come to mind: Will Smith truly moving on from the world of music and becoming the accomplished actor he is today, the Carlton dance, Will and Jazz’s handshake. You might even recognize that the project might not have happened without Quincy Jones on the production side. It dealt with the trials and tribulations of an inner-city kid being thrust into a very rich suburb and learning not only how to stay grounded, but how to evolve into a man. Stars Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton) and Tatyana Ali (Ashley) both won NAACP Image Awards, and the six-season show, which is both the pinnacle of ‘90s fashion and an example of the fun, goofier side of hip-hop, has stood the test of time. One thing that’s rarely brought up though is who the hell even created this thing? The answer might surprise you.

Andy Borowitz might be better known for being “America’s satire king,” whether it’s via his Borowitz Report (which was one of the longest-running features on Newsweek’s site that also ran in the Los Angeles Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer) or for his coverage of the 2004 Democratic National Convention alongside Lewis Black for The Daily Show. He’s been a stand-up comedian, written numerous articles for The New Yorker (which bought The Borowitz Report in 2012), and was commissioned by the Library of America to pen The 50 Funniest American Writers, released in 2011. He even had some prior sitcom writing work, contributing stories for early 1980s shows like Square Pegs and The Facts of Life.

With Fresh Prince turning 25, we caught up with Borowitz (who also won an NAACP Image Award) to talk about how he ended up creating The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (with former wife Susan Borowitz)​, what it was like meeting Will Smith for the first time, and if he can still spit the theme song by heart.

What is the origin story of Fresh Prince? Did you expect it to become as big as it did? 
In 1990, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were kind of on the hip-hop scrap heap. Will’s hits, like “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” were a few years behind him, and the record industry considered him old news, with newer and edgier acts like 2 Live Crew grabbing the spotlight. Will was also massively in debt to the IRS, one of the occupational hazards of being having a hit record when you’re a teenager and spending all your money on crap. So, given the mess he was in, he observed a longstanding showbiz tradition of people whose careers were in trouble: he agreed to do a sitcom. The same year, fading movie star Burt Reynolds did the same thing—his show, Evening Shade, was scheduled directly opposite Fresh Prince.

So how did you become the guy to make the show? How did the ball get rolling?
I was in an overall deal to write and produce sitcoms for NBC. Brandon Tartikoff, the chairman of NBC at the time, approached me about writing the pilot. I remember him asking me, “Have you heard of Fresh Prince?” I told him that I had.

Photo by Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

I asked to see some tape of Will, but he had never acted before, so they showed me the video of “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” It was a great video, so I was like, why not?

Quincy Jones was one of the executive producers of the show. A lot of the fish-out-of-water stuff came from imagining Will living in a family like Quincy’s in Bel-Air. I remember Quincy quoting one of his daughters' phone messages from camp: "Dad, the water here sucks—please FedEx Evian." From stories like that, the character of Hilary was born. Some trivia for Fresh Prince superfans: the character of Carlton was named after my college friend Carlton Cuse, who went on to produce Lost.

The show came together very quickly though, in a matter of weeks—nothing like the customary development hell—and was the highest testing pilot at NBC that fall. The audience loved Will right from the start. So there was some reason to expect the show would be successful, and it turned out to be the highest rated new show that season. But I could never have predicted the magnitude and longevity of its success—that it would be popular around the world and that it would still be so big 25 years later. You can’t predict a hit like that, and it’s due to the incredible charisma of Will Smith and the rest of that amazing cast.

Also Watch