Shawn and Marlon Wayans talk stand-up comedy, the art of the parody and Channing Tatum's 'Magic Mike'
When Channing Tatum starts thanking all the people who helped him bring his male-stripper saga Magic Mike to life, he might want to send a note Marlon Wayans’ way.
“When the story broke about him being a stripper,” said Tatum’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra co-star, “I was like, 'Look, bro, go talk about it. Own it. If you own it, there’s nothing nobody can say. If you make a joke out of it, it’s one of the best things you can do.’”
Why wouldn’t Tatum take advice from a Wayans? After all, the Wayans Brothers are as defined a family brand as there is in Hollywood, from Keenan Ivory and Damon to Shawn and Marlon. The two youngest brothers not only appeared together on In Living Color and the sitcom The Wayans Bros.; they also co-created the Scary Movie franchise and the films White Chicks and Little Man.
Marlon has also displayed impressive range as a dramatic actor, with roles in Requiem for a Dream and G.I. Joe. In fact, he’d never performed stand-up comedy until a couple of years ago, when he started doing method research for a starring role in a yet-to-be-filmed Richard Pryor biopic. Since then he’s once again teamed with Shawn, a stand-up since the late ’80s, as a mentor and touring partner.
This weekend, Shawn and Marlon will bring their respective stand-up acts to the Improv in Ybor City. We recently talked to Shawn by phone from San Francisco about the family’s history in stand-up. Midway through the call, Marlon, who’s in the middle of editing his next movie, a found-footage horror-comedy called Smart Ass, hopped on the line, too. Here are excerpts.
For being this comedic dynasty, nobody in the family is really known first and foremost as a stand-up. Is that fair to say?
Shawn: I would say Damon was. Out of everyone, Damon would be known as the stand-up in the family. But that’s because he’s put out a couple of specials. I’m about to put one out sometime in the next year or so. He doesn’t do it as often as he used to.
So at this point, are you the best stand-up in the family?
S: No, I wouldn’t say I’m the best in the family. Like I said, I feel good about my stand-up. (laughs) You’re trying to trick me! I’ll have Damon calling my house, (adopts a solid Damon Wayans voice) “Oh, so you think you’re the best stand-up in the family?”
Your family exists like a collective: “The Wayans Brothers.” In Hollywood, does that help more than hurt, or does it hurt more than help?
S: There’s always strength in numbers. For us, I feel like it helps more than it hurts. I think us working together is more powerful. We just have a natural chemistry that, when we get together, we spark a certain magic.
Yeah, especially you and Marlon. How did it come to be that you and he developed such a chemistry together?
S: I just think it’s because we’re the closest in age. We grew up in the house as babies together, watching the same TV shows and spending lots of time with each other. We just have that natural chemistry, that bond.
Was it ever a consideration to do a Sklar Brothers kind of thing, where you’re on stage together? In interviews, you guys have a great back-and-forth chemistry.
S: Yeah, but that’s fun in five-minute snippets. To do an hour of us going back and forth, that ain’t funny or fun. (laughs) Plus, stand-up is such a personal art form. You want to hear about that individual’s comedic point of view and their stories, not two guys bantering on stage together. It doesn’t really come off too well.
Marlon originally got into stand-up to prepare for the Richard Pryor role. Do you think he had something to say when he got out on stage?
S: Originally he was just trying to get out on stage as much as he could so that he could understand the art of stand-up so that his behavior in the movie would be real. And then as he continued to work on it, he actually fell in love with the art form of stand-up. So now he’s doing it because he loves to do it. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Richard Pryor (film) at this point, but it doesn’t matter, because it brought him to the stage.
So has the whole family seen him do stand-up? What have their reviews been like?
S: Everybody knows how gifted Marlon is comedically, so nobody’s surprised that he’s really good at it. Marlon’s like a baby that, at six months, ended up talking. If you see a six-month-old baby saying full sentences, you’re like, “Wow, this kid is a genius.” That’s kind of how Marlon is with stand-up. For where he’s at, and as long as he’s been doing it, he’s beyond his years.
I’ve heard interviews with comics who are also TV and movie stars who say that once you go on stage, your celebrity might buy you five or 10 minutes of goodwill from the audience, and after that, you better start being funny. Have you guys found that to be the case at all?
S: Well, I haven’t had that problem, because I don’t worry about being tested, because I know I can deliver. But I do understand that if you don’t bring it, your celebrity is only going to hurt you. For example: Charlie Sheen. He’s really funny on TV, and he’s really funny in his movies, but when he came out there to do stand-up, they gave him his five minutes, and then they started shouting crazy stuff.
At any point in time, do you have a list of things that you want to parody?
S: All the time. We see it, and because we’re occupied with other things, we don’t do anything, but we definitely see it, and lock and load it. Unless we’re going to put our 100 percent focus into it, we just let it slide.
(Marlon hops on the phone.)
Marlon: What’s happening?
S: Hey, whaddup, Marlon?
M: I’m good. What’s up, Shawn? How you doing?
Marlon, are you working on Smart Ass right now?
M: Yeah, editing Smart Ass.
S: Hey, you smart-ass! You’re a real smart-ass, Marlon!
M: Shawn, don’t be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood.
So you’re going to be pulling in a lot of elements of found-footage movies?
M: Not a lot. Here’s the logline: Paranormal Activity if it happened to a black couple. It’s a horror-comedy in the vein of Scary Movie. I’m more taking the approach of a send-up than a spoof. A spoof is a lot more desperate in its humor, and this one actually has a story and has characters that you care about. It just so happens to be absolutely hilarious.
I think the key to any successful parody or send-up is, it should be funny, and it should be genuine, and it should come from a great place, and it should have a great story, one that you care about outside of the parody genre. Lately, we’ve sat back and watched people do parodies completely wrong for the last 10 years. It’s good to come out with something fresh that’s based on a good experience.
Marlon, you’ve been doing stand-up a couple of years now. How are you liking it?
M: You know, I’m learning more on the road as a stand-up comic than I did probably in the last 15 years. I feel brand-new. It’s allowed me to reintroduce myself in a better, stronger way. You get a better point of view about the world, about yourself, about your abilities. It tests your work ethic. It makes you a better promoter. It makes you a more articulate speaker. It allows you to connect with the audience and know what’s relevant and take something that happens right in the moment and just be present. It’s one of the greatest things I ever did. I was picking up all these different instruments, and the greatest instrument I ever picked up was a microphone, to allow me to work my instrument as an artist, which is me. I am my guitar.
S: Damn. Write that s---.
I asked Shawn this, and he was too humble to give a straight answer, but who’s the best stand-up in the family now?
M: I think everybody takes their turn. In the ’80s, it was Keenan; in the ’90s and 2000s, it was Damon. I’d say right now, because Damon’s on hiatus, Shawn is absolutely amazing. It was hard for Shawn, him being good-looking and being in the line of fire as Damon and Keenan’s little brother, and then you’ve got crazy me pulling my ass out everywhere. But this guy’s voice now is real sharp, real clever. He’s probably one of my favorite stand-ups.
Shawn, he says you’re the best.
S: Hey, that’s a hell of a compliment. I appreciate it. But I’m not gonna say I’m the best, because I got way too much respect for the ones that taught me how to do this. I don’t really see myself like that. But I could go toe to toe with anybody you put out there.
M: How about this: You know you’re getting good when you fear following nobody. No matter who goes on first or last, it doesn’t matter — when you do your set, you know your stuff and you know the audience. The key to stand-up is, there is no real “the best.” It’s all subjective. Comedy is not something where you can go, “He’s the best.”
S: Exactly, exactly. I agree.
M: Now stop trying to make brothers fight. (both laugh) The white man, starting trouble all over again!
Marlon, I can’t let you go without asking about your G.I. Joe co-star Channing Tatum, because he’s from Tampa.
M: What a nice ass that guy’s got!
Are you excited about his movie, Magic Mike?
M: Magic Mike, oh, god! I can’t wait to go see him in Magic Mike! And I’m telling you right now: Huge ass, but the guy has a penis the size of a 3-year-old. But you know, it’s all good. We’re sill friends. I don’t judge him. Just know that prosthetics and CGI can fix anything. So if he does full frontal and you can actually see it, you may need 3D glasses to see that lil’ thing. (laughs) But Chan’s a good kid, I’m happy for him. I think the movie’s gonna be good. He was a stripper! I’m gonna go there and throw some dollars at him. Actually, I’m going to wait for video. I just can’t go see my friend asshole-naked, dancing. It’s just not my cup of tea.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*