While Marlon is part of the first generation of arguably the most successful comedy family in America — along with brothers Keenen Ivory, Damon and Shawn — it’s rare that they all get together, much less for one another’s movie and TV projects.
But Wednesday and Thursday at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino Expo Center, the four brothers will be on stage together for only the fourth and fifth time, Damon, 53, said. It’s one of the first dates of a new comedy tour that will culminate with a concert film, plus something special they’ll be buying their mom with their earnings, Marlon said.
“Damon and Keenen did a show in Atlantic City about a year ago that me and Marlon just showed up on and did a guest spot,” Shawn, 43, said. “The energy was crazy, and we thought, ‘We really should get together.'”
Milwaukee is one of the first places it’s happening, because Potawatomi entertainment manager Bob Rech made an offer before routing even began in order to land an exclusive for one of the first shows at the casino’s Expo Center,which debuted as a 1,500-seat venue in May.
“I credit Joe Sanfelippo, who buys comedy at (the Potawatomi club) Bonkerz,” Rech said. “I said, ‘I need something fresh, something new,’ and he mentioned the Wayanses. I said, ‘Tell them right now we’ll have dates on hold.’ This is very cool, having them come in on our stage. That gives the room credibility.”
When it comes to comedic recognition, the name Wayans is as credible as it gets. That’s mostly because of “In Living Color,” the groundbreaking, edgy, hip-hop-flavored sketch comedy show on Fox from 1990 to 1994. Co-created, written and starring Keenen Ivory and Damon, “In Living Color” was the major public introduction for several Wayanses — including Shawn, Marlon and sister Kim — as well as Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson and David Alan Grier. It also introduced America to Jennifer Lopez and “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who were members of the show’s Fly Girls dance crew.
From the show, more movies followed for the brothers, most successfully Keenen Ivory’s “Scary Movie,” starring Shawn and Marlon, the highest-grossing movie ever directed by an African-American.
But the show they’re presenting in Milwaukee — each brother will give a 25- to 30-minute stand-up set, plus a joint appearance — couldn’t have happened until recently, because Marlon didn’t start doing stand-up until 31/2 years ago. The most accomplished thespian in the bunch (he played a drug addict in the gripping “Requiem for a Dream” and had a role in the Coen brothers’ “The Ladykillers”), Marlon started stand-up while being considered to play Richard Pryor in a Lee Daniels-directed biopic. According to Hollywood gossip, he’s still a front-runner, although Marlon wasn’t sure of his status.
Nevertheless, he wouldn’t even be considered, and the Wayans wouldn’t be the accomplished family that it is, if Keenen Ivory, 56, hadn’t been the trailblazer.
“I thank God Keenen went into comedy; otherwise, we would probably have a family of drug dealers,” Marlon said.
A close family
The Wayans kids — 10 of them in total — grew up impoverished in New York, Damon said. Dad was a supermarket manager, mom a social worker.
“Our parents, to their credit, never said ‘Stop having fun,'” Damon said. “They kept us close, and we had to be upstairs at 6 o’clock. They didn’t want us to run in the streets. We would come upstairs and be each other’s entertainment. If one of us got in trouble and got a spanking, the others would mock the way they were crying.”
Keenen Ivory went to Tuskegee University and was six months away from an engineering degree when he decided to quit school and become an entertainer.
“At first we thought, ‘Why would you leave these nice projects and go to California?'” Damon joked. “My dad said, ‘Son, finish school so you have something to fall back on,’ and he said, ‘That’s the problem, I don’t want anything to fall back on.'”
It was bold, stupid perhaps, but Keenen Ivory had talent and luck on his side. He met Eddie Murphy in the mid-’80s and played a creative role in Murphy’s breakthrough stand-up film, “Raw.” That led to Keenen Ivory writing, directing and starring in the blaxploitation spoof “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” in 1988, which led to “Color” and the establishment of the Wayans comic empire.
“Keenen, I call him the Godfather. He was all our hopes and dreams,” Damon said. “I was a terrible student. My teachers all told me I’m an (expletive) and I would be dead or in jail. That was the hope laid before me. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do in life, but I had the ability to make people laugh…and when Keenen cut a new path and showed me I could do it, too, I never looked back.”
All the brothers continue to influence each other.
“Keenen Ivory and Damon are not only our heroes, but they really groomed (Marlon and me) and shaped us to be the actors, comedians and men that we are,” Shawn said. “They taught us that these things don’t come easy and let us know to have multiple skill sets to survive, and they set an incredibly high standard.”
“I get structure from Keenen,” Damon said. “I get wit from Shawn. Shawn is one of the fastest triggers in the West. Marlon, I learned how to be a better performer. Marlon can sell (expletive). His commitment is unlike anybody else.”
It’s because of that deep appreciation, and their father’s moral teachings (he was a Jehovah’s Witness), that Damon said the brothers can’t even fathom being jealous of each other — although there’s occasional jovial bickering over who gets to claim a joke.
“The worst compliment I get is when people say, ‘You’re the funniest brother,'” Marlon said. “I don’t want to be funnier than my brothers. I want to be as funny as my brothers.”
Also pushing competition aside is the fact that the brothers, while sharing a similar sense of humor, have their own styles and passion projects, Marlon said. He’s hosting the TBS reality competition “Funniest Wins,” is behind the comedy website “What the Funny” and has been turning around tidy profits with his “A Haunted House” movie franchise.
Keenen Ivory is a judge on this season’s “Last Comic Standing” on NBC. Shawn continues to pursue animation projects and writing. Damon is considering a return to television and produced the mobile apps Flick Dat (which creates digital business cards with videos) and Diddeo (which allows users to create music videos).
Among their greatest projects are their kids — with several, most notably Damon Wayans Jr., star of the comedy “Let’s Be Cops” (out Aug. 13) and the Fox show “New Girl” — making their own name in the entertainment industry.
“You see the next generation and go, ‘Damn, they’re unstoppable,'” Damon said. “They’re not poor, they’re educated, they’re gifted and they’re around funny 24/7.
“I’m confident in my heart they’re all going to do great things. When I see that, I’ll sit back like my dad did and say, ‘This is nice.'”
Source: Journal Sentinel