Wayans brothers unite for first time onstage, as stand-ups
If comedy had a first family, it would be the Wayans brothers. Shawn, Marlon, Damon and Keenen have been making us laugh for more than 25 years on TV ("In Living Color," "My Wife & Kids," "The Wayans Bros.") and the big screen ("Scary Movie," "White Chicks," "Little Man"). Now they have united for the first time onstage in a stand-up comedy show, which is coming to NYCB Theatre at Westbury next Saturday.
"Damon and Keenen did a gig together in Atlantic City about six months ago, and Marlon and I crashed their show, surprising the audience," says Shawn Wayans, 43. "The night had a crazy energy to it. Then, and it was, like, 'Maybe, we should do this.'"
4 GUYS, 4 STYLES
Keenen and Damon recently returned to the stage after a long absence. Shawn has been performing steadily for the past 26 years, while Marlon joined the game 31/2 years ago. Each brother has his own style and approach.
"Marlon is all over the stage. He's high energy with amazing animation, while Shawn has a super-quick wit," says Damon Wayans, 53. "Keenen, because he's the older brother, he's got a swag about him, plus he has interesting insight. Me, I try to personalize everything. I talk about my life and where I'm at right now."
The show features 20-minute sets from each of the brothers that are "pretty edgy," according to Shawn. However, there is a communal sense of family that ties them all together.
"We enjoy making each other laugh," says Keenen Ivory Wayans, 56, who recently served as a judge on NBC's "Last Comic Standing." "We watch each other every night, then sit down afterwards and exchange notes. That's all part of the stand-up process."
But the question is, are these four brothers competitive with one another for laughs?
"We say we are not competitive, but we are very competitive. We all want to be great," admits Damon. "You don't want to be the unfunny Wayans because when you come offstage the other three will be laughing at you. There's no mercy."
Keenen says, "We raise each other's game. If someone goes up and has a good set, you want to do the same."
The Wayans brothers have their own brand of humor: in-your-face brutal honesty mixed with silliness and street-wise aggression.
"We say the things that people think but are too scared to say," says Marlon Wayans, 41. "We can talk about the darkest subjects but we will always find the light in it. I think that's a gift we all have."
Growing up in a lower-income family with 10 kids in Manhattan, the Wayans brothers developed their own perspective on life.
"There was constant humor every day," says Shawn. "We didn't have much because we grew up with things being pretty tight financially, but it was our creativity and sense of humor that got us through."
The brothers claim a lot of their humor stems from their parents: their mother, Elvira, a homemaker and social worker, and father, Howell, a supermarket manager.
"My mother is really funny and my dad is obnoxious," Damon says. "When you put that together -- my mom's timing with my dad's ability to get on your nerves -- that's what it takes to be a stand-up. You have to have a relentless spirit."
Much of the Wayans' spirit can be found on "In Living Color," which aired on Fox from 1990 to 1994. The variety sketch show pushed the boundaries of TV and served as a turning point in American comedy.
"'In Living Color' was like this cultural bridge. The timing was just perfect because America was changing," says Keenen, who created the show. "The younger generation was finding each other through comedy, hip-hop music or urban fashion. They were bridging the gaps."
"'In Living Color' was like comedy boot camp," adds Shawn. "It taught me everything I know about comedy -- how to write, act, produce and improvise."
MARLON ON THE RISE
Of the four brothers, the youngest, Marlon, has established himself as the most versatile actor. In addition to his comedic chops ("A Haunted House"), he successfully pulled off a dramatic turn in "Requiem for a Dream" and an action hero stint in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra."
"I love drama, comedy and acting as a whole. That's why it took me so long to get to stand-up," he says. "But now I realized that I can fuse my acting into stand-up."
In fact, Marlon began to craft his stand-up act when he was preparing to play Richard Pryor in a biopic about the late comedian, which has yet to be filmed.
"I started out wanting to play a great comedian, and now I want to be a great comedian. I'm so thankful to Richard Pryor for getting me onstage," says Marlon. "I love the feeling of a live audience and touring different places. It's perfect for me."
Touring this summer has its benefits, as the brothers will get to spend more time together, which inevitably leads to future joint projects.
"We are going to do these live dates, then shoot a concert film," says Shawn. "Together we are unstoppable."
MORE ON THE WAY
While Marlon, Shawn, Damon and Keenen are still going strong, there are younger Wayans men, their sons with the same names, coming up the ranks. Leading the pack is Damon Wayans Jr., who will be co-starring in "Let's Be Cops" later this summer.
"I think for sure all our sons want to follow in their dads' footsteps. We let them sit in on some of things that we do," says Keenen. "We want to encourage them to work together. That's where great things come out and family bonding happens."
Marlon adds, "Humor is infused in our DNA."
WHO The Wayans Brothers
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. next Saturday, NYCB Theatre at Westbury
INFO $49.50-$69.50, 800-745-3000, livenation.com
The Wayans brothers are known for their outrageous, over-the-top characters -- here they pick their favorites:
He enjoyed playing Luther the Ugly Man on "In Living Color," in which he squared off with Jamie Foxx's Wanda the Ugly Woman.
"It was fun to take a guy with an ugly face and give him depth and make people feel something about him," Marlon says.
When it comes to characters, he has many, but his favorite is Ashtray from the hip-hop gang parody "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood."
"Ashtray is such an innocent dumb idiot," Shawn says. "It was my first movie and so it was exciting."
Perhaps the most famous character in the history of "In Living Color" was Damon's Homey D. Clown, a belligerent clown from the streets who would utter the catchphrase, "Homey don't play dat!"
"Homey's the character that resonates most with people," says Damon. "He's a clown who wants to do it all on his own terms."
He prefers his cartoonish imitation of the former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.
"After I did the impression, I saw Mike at a nightclub and he was not happy," says Keenen. "But then a few months later he was like, 'Forget what I said. I was in a bad place. Just do what you do.'"