By Charles Hallman
If there’s a Black family of comedic aristocracy, it’s the Wayans of New York.
With older brothers Keenen Ivory and Damon, and big sister Kim preceding him, whether it was natural or a mistake for Marlon to follow them, the former clearly is the answer. As a teenager, the then 16-year-old Marlon made his film debut in older brother Keenen Ivory’s I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. After graduating from high school in 1990 and two years as a student at Howard University, Marlon dropped out and took a role on In Living Color.
He later teamed up with his brother Shawn on Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, and later on television on The Wayans Bros. for four seasons. His latest film, A Haunted House 2, will be released nationally April 18, and during a brief visit to the Twin Cities to promote the movie, the still-youthful looking actor-comedian sat down for an interview with a small group of reporters, including the MSR.
The MSR asked Marlon about doing sketch comedy and parodies, two genres Blacks aren’t well known for.
“We get a little bit hyper-sensitive about our forefathers in comedy,” he explained. “There have been a lot of role models — I don’t think we as a people have embraced some of them. We look down on guys like Stepin Fetchit, Moms Mabley… and those guys are our pioneers…as well as Richard Pryor, who was a brilliant comedian and wonderful actor, Flip Wilson and Eddie Murphy. We have to learn to embrace ours and celebrate them the same way White people call Jim Carrey and Charlie Chaplin brilliant [and] Buster Keaton one of the world’s greatest.
“I know my brothers stand by it,” continued Wayans. “I thank those guys for being pioneers because without them, there would be no me. You don’t judge a man for what he did in his time to further the baton and then pass it off. Hopefully we took it to a certain place and the next generation can take it even further. I hope they don’t look back and say, ‘Look at those coons and buffoons.’
“My influences were Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Ralph Kramden, Ed Norton — [characters portrayed by] Jackie Gleason and Art Carney — me and my brother would watch [local television] and dream to be that,” admitted Wayans. “The East Side [Kids] — I used to love ‘Sach’ [played by Huntz Hall] and the little dude with the hat [Leo Gorcey as “Slip” Mahoney].
“Physical comedy is something I love to do… Comedy has no color.”
“I’ve literally been around the country because I want to know what makes people laugh,” continued Wayans. “I like to travel to know what everyone laughs at.”
Marlon also talks about his WhatTheFunny.com, “an urban comedy network” that features sketch comedy shorts by Black comedians. “It’s basically a place where you can go to and [I] hope make you smile,” said Wayans. “There are a bunch of funny comedians, YouTube artists, up-and-coming and some established artists — like my little nephew Damon — [who] have a sketch series. Rob Stapleton has a sketch series. I’m doing a sketch series on there. We have Omar Epps in a sketch called “Black Doctor,” where he takes the ‘humble Black doctor’ [character] and flips it. He goes gangster.”
Comedian Todrick Hall “can do parody and make fun of anything,” noted Marlon on Hall’s vintage Broadway musical parodies. “The dude is really, really talented.
“We try to dig into pop culture and find fun characters. It’s a great digital space to go to if you want to laugh,” said Wayans.
“I’m very hands-on. I approve pretty much everything. There’s a certain flavor that I want on it, a certain tone that I want on it.
“Sometimes comedians and artists don’t understand the business or understand taste. I’ve been doing this for 25 years — I won’t say I don’t offend people, but it’s here and there. There are things in our movies I will cut because I don’t want to offend — I want to make you laugh.
“You have to understand that people are going to be very sensitive, and you have to be very sensitive to those people that you are making fun of,” surmised Marlon. “That goes for everybody. The biggest compliment you can get is when you send somebody up and they acknowledge it was funny and they enjoyed it too. You want everybody to laugh, including the people you are making fun of. You don’t want to bash — you want to approach them with kid gloves and make them laugh.”
As the public knows him and his famous siblings for their humor, when asked, Wayans quickly pointed to his mother as being the funniest member of the family. “My mother is funnier than anybody you’ve ever seen,” said Marlon proudly. “Just get her mad.”
His three sisters are next, he added. “They aren’t stars like me, Shawn, Keenen, Damon and Kim, but they definitely are reality stars. I actually will do a show with them because they are that funny!”
Finally, Wayans likens his Malcolm lead character in his latest film, A Haunted House 2, which he also co-wrote, as “a crazy version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.