If America had a first family of comedy, it would undoubtedly be the Wayans family.
The big brood includes Keenan, Damon and Marlon, as well as several more who write, act and do comedy. At the moment, none of the Wayans is hotter than Marlon, who currently has a hit TV sitcom, a well-received movie on Netflix (Naked) and a big Netflix stand-up special that will tape at the MGM National Harbor on Saturday.
On Tap recently talked to Wayans about his upcoming comedy special at the MGM, his influences (including his reaction to the Louis C.K. scandal), growing up around the set of legendary sketch comedy show, In Living Color, a stalled Richard Pryor biopic, his time as a student at Howard University and plans for becoming a global superstar.
On Tap: Thanks for taking time to talk with On Tap. We’ve been watching you and enjoying your work since you got started with your older siblings and guys like Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx on In Living Color. What did that experience do to shape your career?
Marlon Wayans: For me it was school, man. Learning and growing underneath some of the greatest talent – legends. I got to sit there and watch. I was too young to execute but, you know, I had my moments. But just the fact that I was around and I could soak it up and learn to write sketches, and learn what the work entailed in terms of being a great comedian. Now, I’m executing and I take all that with me on the journey.
OT: Congratulations on the success of your family sitcom, Marlon, on NBC. What’s the inspiration for this comedy about a divorced couple and their children?
MW: Ninety percent of the show is my life and my experiences. My life is love and it’s happy. It has its ups and downs, but I go through life with a smile. I’m just weird like that, no matter what situation I’m in. I just hope people who watch the show tune in and see that. I also hope they can see that divorce ain’t all that. You can break up with somebody and keep a very close friendship with them and still love each other because you guys made kids and you are forever family. You should work on nurturing those relationships because your kids don’t need you to be together, but they do need to see their parents love each other.
OT: We’ve read that you love to write comedy, and that the writing process is incredibly important to you. Why is writing something you enjoy so much? Some comics and others in entertainment find it arduous or even hire others to do the writing for them.
MW: I don’t get how people let others write for them. Writing is about comedy and inspiration. Writing is when I’m closest to God. It’s like he’s whispering to me, “This is my gift to you.” I love writing. If you can give me the punch on the joke, great, but the joke itself has to come from inspiration and from myself, and it’s got to come from the truth.
OT: We’ve always been fascinated with comedy and the inspiration of those who can consistently come up with side-splitting humor. What is your process for writing jokes and creating humor?
MW: I just live and then jokes come. I don’t sit around and go “What’s funny?” unless I’m writing a movie. Then I’ll watch 200 or 300 movies, sometimes two times each, for inspiration and then go “Oh, you know what’s funny? If you do this.” It’s usually inspiration and creativity that just comes. Last night, I did a show and afterward I’m having a conversation with my friends and right then and there in that conversation, I came up with five new minutes of material.
OT: We assume we’ll get to hear some of that new material at your two shows Sunday night at the MGM. This is going to be your first Netflix comedy special, which is a very big deal in the world of stand-up. Are you excited, nervous, something else? How are you feeling about this big moment?
MW: It’s funny, man. I think you get nervous when you don’t know what you’re doing. You get excited when you’re prepared. My whole thing is just not letting my excitement get the best of me, and to make sure I go there and stay in the moment. I want to make these people laugh as hard as I can, keep my eyes up and make sure I’m performing to the cameras – not just to the audience in the room, but the audience at home.
OT: You recently said that your big goal in the near term is to work on your stand-up comedy and really hone that part of your artistic arsenal. Why is stand-up so important to you when you’ve already got movies, television and other elements of show business locked down?
MW: For me, looking at stand-up, that’s the one thing I hadn’t done. Mastering that is going to help me be better at all of the things I’m working on. It’s the missing ingredient I need to get to super-stardom. I’ve been a star a long time, super-stardom is the thing I’m looking for now. Super-stardom isn’t “Hey, I’m on private jets or I’ve got a house everywhere.” It’s when I can go to every country and make people want to come and see my show or my movies and make them smile. That’s all I want to do. God blessed me to be in the business of smiles and I want to put as many smiles on faces as I possibly can.
OT: Speaking of superstars – who inspired your comedy career most?
MW: There are so many greats of the past: Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, my peers, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. Really funny guys like Louis C.K. Sometimes they’re flawed in life, but onstage they’re brilliant.
OT: Speaking of Louis C.K., since you mentioned him, we’ve got to ask about his scandal. [Ed note: Multiple women have accused the comic of masturbating in front of them without their consent. On Tap talked to Wayans the morning Louis C.K. issued a statement admitting culpability.] Any comment on his situation?
MW: I applaud him for accepting what he did – admitting it. A lot of people run from it, these allegations. That’s the first part about manning up is realizing, “Yo, you can be better.” Comedians, the reality of us is we’re mostly humble people. We look at the world and we poke fun at what’s wrong with it, but then you get into these places in life where the world is poking fun at you and that’s allowing you to go introspective and look at yourself and say, “How can I be better?” I guarantee you he’s going to come [back] with a really funny half-hour or hour special about what he’s learned or where he’s grown, because the first step is admitting it, the second step is getting help and the third step is going from there. Sometimes in life you’re not perfect. Sometimes a comedian goes over the line or thinks that as a star you can do certain things. One of the gifts I have is having five sisters and a mom and being close to them and in my head going – “Don’t do that, don’t do that!” He made them feel uncomfortable to a different degree than Harvey Weinstein, which was rape, but at the end of the day, you have to be respectful of women and to people in general. It’s just being a good human being and not letting our egos get the best of us. And when you mess up, at least have the ability to say, “My bad,” and then go out there and fix it. And I applaud him for doing that. I’m sure he’ll take his time and reflect, and he’ll come back strong.
OT: For years, you’ve been mentioned as the lead role in a Richard Pryor biopic. Any update on what’s happening with that project?
MW: Right now, it’s not happening. It was [actor] Mike Epps last time I checked, and right now [director] Lee Daniels is no longer on the project; it’s sitting idle. But I don’t question God, whatever is supposed to happen with that will happen. If God wants me to play that role, I’ll play that role. The longer they take to do that movie, the better for me as an actor. If it never happens and I never play Richard Pryor, then I’m thankful I went on the journey of playing Pryor because I started out wanting to play a great, and now I’ll be a great.
OT: You attended Howard University in the 1990s. How does your Howard experience – and DC generally – figure into your life and your career?
MW: DC was the first place I did stand-up – the Comedy Café. Now, I’m doing my first special and I thought it was appropriate to come back to DC where I was when I was 17 and first did stand-up. Now, I’m going to rock it as a 45-year-old man and I’m going to give it all I’ve got. DC is like a second home. I always sell out there. People love me there and I love the audiences because they are real; they laugh and they’re smart. I’ve got a politically fueled set and I love the fact that I’m in the president’s backyard. I’m hollering about things that’s real. This is a one-man march. I’m going to say things and be a voice for all the people who can’t be – try to be an amp for all these causes and issues, but in a funny way. I’m glad to come to the nation’s capital and speak some real, real woke stuff.
Marlon Wayans will take the MGM National Harbor stage on November 18, with two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. For more information visit MGM website here.
MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; 303-971-5000; www.mgmnationalharbor.com