Actor/writer/producer/comedian Marlon Wayans (“Dance Flick”) will make his stand-up comedy debut in San Antonio Feb. 19 at the Aztec Theater. He talked to me via phone recently about his new venture on stage and about his position on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
Are you excited about coming to San Antonio?
Yeah, I heard San Antonio audiences are unbelievable, so I can’t want to yuck it up with you all and crack you up at the Aztec Theater.
Have you ever been here?
No, I’ve never been to San Antonio. Wait, I’m lying. Yes, I have been to San Antonio. I was there for an [NBA] All-Star game (1996) when Michael Jordan was playing basketball.
Well, you’ll have to come back when the NBA Finals roll through here this year.
Oh, you guys are confident, huh?! You guys get beat by 30 (by the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 25) and you’re going to throw that kind of statement out there?! You get beat by 30 with the Warriors playing like this and you think you’re going to get there?!
I’ll admit [Warriors point guard] Stephen Curry is playing like a madman.
It’s like someone mixed Reggie Miller and Cheryl Miller together.
I know you went on a comedy tour with your brothers last year. How does going solo feel in comparison?
It’s different. I love working with my brothers. It was a lot of fun, but sometimes working with four different personalities makes you see why a group like New Edition broke up. There’s only one Bobby Brown in the group. In our family, we got four Bobby Browns. Honestly, I like [going solo] because I have room to grow – to be on stage by myself and learn how to do an entire show and really rock with my point of view.
What is the secret in telling a good joke?
It’s the setup and the windup and the payoff. There’s the physicality of the joke and telling the joke and then animating the joke. You have to make sure you’re giving it a voice and that you’re in character. When you do characters, you have to make sure [the audience] doesn’t see you. In a show, you have to take [the audience] to different levels. Sometimes it’s not even about the joke, it’s about the statement. If you get them to listen, you can make them laugh.
Some stand-ups I’ve talked to say it might take 25 years before they really know what kind of comedian they are on stage. Do you think you’ve found your voice already?
I think I’m getting there. I have a voice, but I don’t have a style. I’m just honest. I’m a performer. I’m getting my standing ovations, so I feel like I’m getting close to being special, but I’m not special yet. I’ll be special when I look at myself as my own therapist and break that down and make that funny and relatable to the audience. Right now, I’m only good at telling jokes about other people and about other situations. I’m starting to understand how to really talk about me and my life and my damages and all that stuff. It’s like peeling away the layers of an onion. The more you peel away, the closer you get to the tears. Then you gotta take those tears and transfer it out and make people laugh at your expense.
How much of going into stand-up was because you wanted to do more research for the role of Richard Pryor you were auditioning for?
That’s what sparked me to do stand-up. I tried it when I was like 17 or 19. I never stuck with it. I got tired of doing the same bits over and over. I didn’t want to be a comedian. I wanted to be an actor. My brothers were all comedians. I wanted to take a different road. I wanted to travel a different way. I didn’t want to be what my brothers were. I love my brothers to death, but I didn’t want to be them. I always wanted to be me. I am a Wayans, but I’m really working on trying to be Marlon. So, I went on my own path and tried acting class. So, while they were doing stand-up, I was in theater class. But when I got the [chance to play] Pryor, the method actor in me is the thing that made me go onstage. Something happened this time around and I fell in love with stand-up. It’s funny because I wound up not getting [the role of] Pryor, but that’s the best thing that happened. I started out wanting to play a great, and now I want to be one. God don’t make mistakes. I know that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it was in the cards.
You’re new film “Fifty Shades of Black” just came out. Why do you think a movie like “Fifty Shades of Grey” lends itself so well to getting spoofed? What makes sex so funny?
I think sex is funny because we all do it. We all have odd things that we do, honestly. We’re not always the best in bed. There are situations you go through that people can relate to. The more serious the topic, the more it lends itself to jokes.
Are there any example you can share of how one of your own sexual experiences turned out to be funny?
Too many. I remember when I was younger, I was trying to be Mr. Smooth, so I laid out a blanket and lit some candles to make love in the backyard. I was kissing the girl and she was like, “I’m hot.” I was like, “Yeah, I can do that sometimes.” Then it started getting really hot and I looked back and the blanket was on fire.
What is your take on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy? Where do you think the root of the problem is when it comes to the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations?
I think it’s a collective problem. You can’t point the finger and just say, “Hey, Academy, you’re not doing this or that.” There’s a bigger problem. The bigger problem is that they’re not producing enough films with decent enough budgets to film spectacles. We’re so busy entertaining as African American filmmakers. We’re trying to be entertaining. The stuff the Academy likes is entertaining, but it’s something different. It’s more on an epic scale. The messages are very subliminal. Our audience likes big, fun movies. We go [to the movies] to laugh and enjoy movies. Critics don’t matter. My audience loves my movies. That’s who I make my movies for. The day I start making movies for the critics and for the associations and for the Academy, that’s gotta be something I can do on my leisure. We can’t afford as black filmmakers not to make movies that make box office. We ain’t trying to make no art movies until the audience can come support us no matter what movies we do. It’s not a black and white issue. It’s a green issue.
Do you think African American producers, directors, and writers have a responsibility to create work for African American actors that has a better chance of getting award recognition?
I think we all have to make the effort. I can’t put it all on African-Americans. We have to make box office, too. But we also have to make sure we diversify and do more than what we have been doing. We need to start producing more movies. I take it on myself as a producer to start trying to advance the kind of movies I make. Maybe for every one or two or three goofy comedies, I’ll go make a serious one – something thought-provoking or something that possibly can be nominated for an Academy Award. It’s on us as well. It’s all of us collectively coming to the table, coming to an understanding, getting the budgets we need, and going out and executing. I think we’re too far past the days of the boycott. I think that recesses all the advancements that we all have achieved over the years.
It sounds like you’re open to the idea of making something different than what you’re used to.
I make comedies. If you look at the Academy Awards, comedies rarely get nominated. What the Academy thinks is funny is not what my audience thinks is funny. It’s two different experiences. Critics never like movies I’ve written, produced, and starred in – in the history of all my movies. My RottenTomatoes score is terrible. But the fans love my movies. I don’t make movies for critics. I make movies for the fans. It’s the same thing with the Academy and the associations. They look at what the critics say. I make films for the audience. If the audience laughs and forgets about the problems they have in their life and take a vacation for an hour and a half, that’s all I care about.
This interview first ran in the San Antonio Current on Feb. 17, 2016.