Comedian Marlon Wayans has long been heralded for his sharply satirical, outrageously funny parodies of trendy films (Scary Movie, Fifty Shades of Black) as well as for being part of a family dynasty that includes brothers Keenen Ivory and Damon. Yet, with a new NBC family comedy, a Groundhog Day-like flick for Netflix (Naked), and a rare stand-up tour that hits Punch Line Philly this weekend, Marlon is quickly changing up his game. He phoned from Los Angeles this month to give us the full story.
You're known for a crisp writing style when it comes to parodying film trends or genres. What do you and your writing-producing partners look for in such a project, a movie to twist around?
That just hits you. I don't look for it. They look for and find me. It hits me right over the head and speaks loudly. Then, if I find I can riff on it, immediately, and we find a way to make two funny hours out of that material, we do it.
Is it important for you to find hot properties and do them quickly? Fifty Shades of Grey had only been in the theaters for a minute before Fifty Shades of Black.
Definitely. One of the reasons we do that is because of the internet. Someone is always doing something quickly, maybe badly, to parody a film. With that, I think it's getting to be too much, and I'm looking to get out of those films. They're a great training ground, but the next projects that I'm doing are different – real movies and television shows that tell real stories.
Yes. The situations and the complications are all mine, and they led me to the comedy. I think these stories of mine can resonate with people in an emotional way and have some kind of gravitas. I will use all of my acting chops that I learned at the performing arts high school. I will have a likable first act, a funny second act, and a fun, but dramatic third act. That's what I want to do.
How did you come up with Marlon for NBC?
Marlon was a concept I always wanted to do because I have a weird life and am a different kind of dad, so that would make for a different sort of TV dad. The way I am with my children, I wanted to do that on screen.
The most successful sitcoms look at a comedian's life and unique point of view. I had a long relationship, went through a breakup, but am close enough with my ex that we raise our kids together, and I'm weird with advice. We have a different complexion to our love. That's unique.
The movie Naked has you going for wedded bliss with many oddball twists, as you're stuck in a tragic time loop.
I liked the Swedish film Naken and wanted to do an American flip: a guy who wants to marry a girl, but he's ill-prepared. He goes out, has a bunch of drinks, winds up naked on an elevator without knowing how he got there, and winds up late for his wedding without the right shoes, ring, or vows. So he has to repeat this act over and over again until he gets it right and gives the woman he loves the proper wedding she deserves.
With film and television work — to say nothing of your sketch-comic past — where does stand-up fit?
In this journey as an artist, I work through an instrument called Marlon and ask myself, "How can I grow and develop — become a better artist?" Stand-up allows me something direct with my audience – to make them feel something, make them laugh. I communicate my thoughts in a way that, even if you don't agree, you can laugh. You can enjoy the set and not be offended.
Do you recall the first set of stand-up jokes you told and how your initial audience took to them?
I think I was in D.C. at college, talking about being the youngest of 10 kids. The audience was a bunch of drunks in a bar, so they got a kick out of that.
Trump comedy has become de rigueur among comedians. What about you?
I'll travel through that. I watch our world falling apart at the seams and the fibers disconnecting. I would like to be a conduit of love and connection, so I have to talk about those things. At the end of my stage journey, hopefully, everybody's anxiety will be calmed.