1. Arts & Entertainment

Shawn and Marlon Wayans weigh in on who's the family's best standup comic

Together or apart, Marlon and Shawn Wayans find strength in their family connection.
Together or apart, Marlon and Shawn Wayans find strength in their family connection.
Published Jun. 20, 2012

By Jay Cridlin

Times Staff Writer

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 also has displayed impressive range as a dramatic actor, with roles in Requiem for a Dream and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. In fact, he'd never performed standup comedy until a couple of years ago, when he picked up the mike while researching for a starring role in a yet-to-be-filmed Richard Pryor biopic. Since then he's once again teamed with Shawn, a standup since the late '80s, as a mentor and touring partner.

This weekend, Shawn and Marlon will bring their respective acts to the Improv in Ybor City. We recently talked to Shawn by phone from San Francisco about the family's history in standup. Midway through the call, Marlon, who's currently editing his next movie, a found-footage horror-comedy called Smart Ass, hopped on the line, too. Here are excerpts.

For being a comedic dynasty, nobody in the family is really known first and foremost as a standup. Is that fair to say?

Shawn: Out of everyone, Damon would be known as the standup 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?

Shawn: No, I wouldn't say I'm the best in the family. Like I said, I feel good about my standup (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 standup in the family?"

Your family exists as a collective: "The Wayans Brothers." In Hollywood, does that help more than hurt, or does it hurt more than help?

Shawn: 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 have a natural chemistry that, when we get together, we spark a certain magic.

(Marlon hops on the phone.)

Marlon: What's happening?

Shawn: Hey, whaddup, Marlon?

Marlon: I'm good. What's up, Shawn? How you doing?

Marlon, you've been doing standup a couple of years. How are you liking it?

Marlon: You know, I'm learning more on the road as a standup 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 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.

Shawn: Damn. Write that s---.

I asked Shawn this, and he was too humble to give a straight answer, but who's the best standup in the family now?

Marlon: 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 a-- out everywhere. But this guy's voice now is real sharp, real clever. He's probably one of my favorite standups. ...

The key to standup is, there is no real "the best." It's all subjective. Comedy is not something where you can go, "He's the best."

Marlon, I can't let you go without asking about your G.I. Joe co-star Channing Tatum, because he's from Tampa.

Marlon: What a nice a-- that guy's got!

Are you excited about his movie, Magic Mike?

Marlon: Magic Mike, oh, god! I can't wait to go see him in Magic Mike! ... Chan's a good kid, I'm happy for him. I think the movie's going to be good. He was a stripper! I'm going to go and throw some dollars at him. Actually, I'm going to wait for video. I just can't go see my friend (naked), dancing. It's just not my cup of tea.