Actor Marlon Wayans is Very Serious About Funny Business
Kansas City, Mo. — Marlon Wayans isn’t trying to change the world. He just wants to change your mood.
“There’s no vanity in comedy,” he says. And in a rare moment, the 41-year-old funny guy isn’t joking as he sits in a suite at the Intercontinental Hotel, here to promote his latest movie, A Haunted House 2 .
He is known for kooky characters, but on a Friday afternoon he is no caricature. Decked out in designer jeans and a heather-blue Orley sweater, he looks more athlete than class clown. He’s a hugger. And when he talks about his work, he talks about humility.
In comedy, you can’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself, he says. And he isn’t. Have you seen the first Haunted House ? This 2013 spoof may focus on the ghost that follows a girl when she moves in with her boyfriend (Marlon), but he has an impromptu love scene with stuffed animals. He had so much fun that in the sequel, he has a full-blown relationship with a vintage doll. It wasn’t written in the script, either. It just happened on set.
This is the Wayans way — follow your inner funny.
Not everyone digs his style. On the Rotten Tomatoes website, his work has more green splats than ripe tomatoes. New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger doesn’t get the first Haunted House : “If the opening gag in your R-rated movie is an extended flatulence joke you should reconsider whether you’re qualified to make such a movie,” he said.
But the Wayans brothers don’t make movies for critics, they make them for the fans. So really, if you’re too high-brow to find flatulence funny, it’s not for you. Me? I laugh like a schoolgirl.
The Wayans Dynasty has made a business out of laughing matters, thanks to Keenen Ivory Wayans and his groundbreaking, Emmy-nominated In Living Color. The sketch comedy show launched the careers of Jaime Foxx and Jim Carrey and kicked open the doors for the Wayans family.
Marlon, the youngest of 10 children, is eternally the baby brother. His earliest memory of comedy involves Keenen and Damon in the back room of their New York home listening to Richard Pryor albums. Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Charlie Chaplin and his family were his first comedic influences.
Despite being born into one of Hollywood’s funniest families, Marlon didn’t get a lot of air time on his big brother’s show. He had to pitch sketches just like everyone else. But when Marlon did appear, it always seemed to involve twisting and turning his face to create funny and funnier looking characters, like Luther, the ugly guy who tries to woo Wanda, played by Foxx.
A break would come in the mid-’90s, when he and his brother Shawn would star in their own show, The Wayans Bros., and carve a lane of their own, equal parts cool and comedic. Even now, reruns air on MTV2 and Centric.
But the Wayans guys are known for the spoofs: Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Scary Movie, White Chicks and Dance Flick.
It’s normally a family affair, but A Haunted House and the sequel are Marlon, doing his own thing. He made the first paranormal parody for a modest $2.5 million, and it went on to gross some $60 million worldwide. He says even without his siblings, he doesn’t feel alone.
“I don’t feel like I’m stepping out on my own. I always feel supported by my brothers. Even when I’m not working with them, they are with me,” he says. “They taught me everything I know. I am executing knowledge I learned from them and adding my own flavor. They are happy for me and I am glad it’s successful. If not they would have laughed at me, they would have started a Twitter account or got a billboard to bomb me. They are crazy.”
He’s excited for audiences to see the sequel. For the last month, he’s been on a nonstop, nationwide press tour, viewing the film with his fans. It started in Kansas City. He tweets, posts on Instagram, he’s in constant contact with his fans. Every day, all day. He says social media is a whole new world.
“The fame of the ’90s was a wonderful thing,” he says. “I’m glad we blew up back then. We are just everyday people. We give love and call it a day. Now, everyone has a camera and everyone wants a picture. Sometimes, I just want to eat lunch with my kids and be a dad. But I try as much I can to be there for my fans because without fans, you are nothing.”
As much as he loves selfies (his daughter calls him the selfie king) and shouting out his fans, he says social media has a dark side, too.
“It is everybody’s TV, their therapy, their entertainment, their girlfriend. It’s a bully board, a hate machine. It is a little bit of everything,” he says. “I tweet myself; I say what I feel. And if someone comes at me crazy, I curse them out. I am from the New York projects, I fear God and that’s it. I expect the respect I give.”
He’s no stranger to trolling. Recently, he had an online brawl with rapper Lord Jamar, of ’90s hip-hop group Brand Nubian. The rapper, known for homophobic rants, took aim at Omar Epps for wearing a leather kilt. Lord Jamar questioned the actor’s masculinity. Marlon and Omar grew up together. Marlon was his best man and is godfather to his children. The homophobia topped with insulting his best friend caused him to speak out.
“I think you are going to have your knuckleheads like Lord Jamar, projecting ignorance and a fearful point of view, and it only makes him look bad. Homophobia, racism, gayism — any prejudice in this day and age — we are beyond that. We as a people have grown past that, and it bothers me and disturbs me to be that narrow-minded and project it onto the next generation.”
The Wayans brothers have always stood up for gay rights in their own comedic way. On an episode of the The Wayans Bros. Marlon’s character, an aspiring actor, got a role that required him to kiss a guy. His brother helped him realize it wasn’t a big deal. Marlon says it is important to stomp out the hate for the future.
“When I go to my kids’ school, they are playing with everyone. Asian, black, white, mixed, gay. The world is no longer just black and white, it’s gray. You have kids committing suicide because they are scared to come out as gay. Don’t put that pressure on them. God loves us all, he made us all. Only God can judge us. I do not judge anyone. I don’t even judge Lord Jamar, I just loudly disagree with him.”
Marlon is too busy to fight with haters for long. He’s a comedian working on his craft. And right now, he’s in the middle of five projects. He’s writing a script that is very Groundhog Day, about a guy who wakes up naked in an elevator on his wedding day. He has to keep reliving the day until he gives his bride the wedding she deserves.
“It’s a place for us, a place for urban comedy, for me to make fun of the world with kid gloves on,” he says, adding that we should check out his nephew, Damon Wayans Jr., on the site.
And then there’s A Haunted House 2, which finds him in a new relationship, in a new house with the same old ghost.
Finally, there’s stand-up. It’s something he did briefly as a teenager but never got into. But a few years ago when he auditioned for the role of Richard Pryor (the biopic has been in and out of development for years with several actors vying for the role) something woke up inside of him.
“I learned the monologue and rocked the audition,” he says, looking me straight in the eyes. Marlon’s not embellishing. Chris Rock has raved about Marlon, saying he captured Pryor’s vulnerability.
“If you ever saw him in Requiem for a Dream, you know how dramatic he can be,” Chris told MTV, referencing Marlon’s role in Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 drama about addicts. “The cool thing about Marlon is he has different dramatic chapters of vulnerability about him.”
That wasn’t enough for Marlon. He wanted to bring more to the part.
“Artistically, I looked at it and thought I don’t know what it’s like to be in front of thousands of people, to be famous and then go to a small comedy club or get standing ovations. I wanted that experience.”
So he and his brother Shawn have been doing stand-up. They will be at the Improv this summer. (The show was originally set for next weekend but was postponed because of a scheduling conflict).
“Doing stand-up has made me a better comedian. I’m funnier, I’m more articulate, my writing is better. The jokes just come. I can put the math together a lot quicker. So if I’m ever to play Pryor, I can bring my experience. I see where the laughs are now.
“I thank God for the journey of Pryor. I started out wanting to play a great. Now I want to be a great.”