When you’re someone like Marlon Wayans—or no, rewind that—if you are Marlon Wayans, youngest member of the premier family of comedy, there comes a point when you want to give the industry you’ve grown up in new life.
“I’ve been doing comedy since I was 4-years-old,” Wayans casually mentions at the swanky Soho House in New York City, among journalists invited to preview his newest endeavor. “There’s Last Comic Standing, but I thought, comedy needs a reinvention.” Last Comic Standing just so happens to be the long-running stand-up comedy competition on NBC in which Wayans’s big brother, the legendary Keenan Ivory Wayans, is a judge.
Enter the new TBS show helmed by Marlon Wayans, Funniest Wins. Here’s the rundown: aspiring comedians learn various comedic styles and face off in challenges in this reality-competition show. On Funniest Wins, the goal is simple: make people laugh or go home. The season will climax with one winner being selected to receive not only a cash prize but also the chance to star in an online series for Wayans’s online comedy destination, WhatTheFunny.com.
In last Friday’s series premiere, 10 players performed for tourists on a moving double-decker bus, then teamed up to create viral videos. Guest mentor is none other than Orlando Jones of Drumline, 7Up commercials, and MADtv fame. Other mentors for the series include comedy greats Andy Dick, Affion Crockett and Marlon’s nephew, Damon Wayans Jr.
Funniest Wins will test the players in every comedy discipline. “If you want to stay, you need to be well-rounded,” Wayans quips. After the digital short challenge, contestants will be tested during the eight-episode series run on their comedic skills by doing a Vine video challenge, a live sketch performance, and—no spoilers—one of the funniest one-liners comes during a Ray J roast. Yeah, it promises to be a great season.
At 41, Wayans feels he has a way to go in the industry, but the star and/or creator of Scary Movie, In Living Color and The Wayans Bros. is secure in his comedy chops. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, I’ve been writing since I was 17. I know you need to have wind beneath your wings to make it happen, so I’m at the point where it’s part of my business to teach,” he reveals. “I want people to win, so I give advice. I want then to go on and do great things.”
So who does he go to for advice? None other than big bro Keenan. “Keenan gave me my best advice: there a light at the end of the tunnel and you keep on digging.”
And Wayans continues to dig, admitting he hasn’t had a “chance to think in four years,” he’s focused on bringing new, funny talent to the forefront. “You can’t do a sketch show the way it used to be done,” Wayans says. “We just put different people with different strengths up against each other,” he says of Funniest Wins. “Standup, for example, makes you a writer, a producer, and a director all at once. That’s the core skill.”
“As a comedian, you’re just always developing because you work it every night. Bill Cosby didn’t make it until he was 65 with moles on his face,” Wayans jokes.
With a family of groundbreaking comedic legends all around him, how does Marlon deal with the pressure to be great, and then greater?
“I just do me,” he says confidently. “I know there’s things I do that my brothers say, you’re out of your dang mind! I wanna see how I fly and learn new tricks. Being the youngest [of the family], I get advice every day, but I’m like, look at my [Star Wars] lightsaber, I can touch it! That’s why I went to Howard when I could have been on In Living Color. Me and my brothers will always work together, I’m just going to be the best I can. There’s things I want up do with them, but we all move at a different pace. Do you think Tito approved of Michael Jackson’s glove or the monkey?”
Don’t get it twisted though. Once a Wayans, always a Wayans, and the family loves hard and strong. “I live, die and breathe to be there for my family, and to be Black, and to make people laugh. I’m just starting to grow, I’m not even there yet.”
The self-professed Selfie King loves Instagram more than any other social media outlet because he likes to follow attractive women, and jokes, “Sometimes I don’t want to hear some of their thoughts, but on Instagram you get a nice picture of their ass. But seriously, there’s always something new to see, some interesting art, a restaurant, a place to visit.”
Next up is a tour with his brothers. “Me, Shawn, Damon and Keenan are doing the first ever Wayans Brothers Tour this summer. We’re going to start small, do some gigs and then we’re gonna film a movie and then do the nationwide tour,” he said. He’s also got a movie coming called Naked, which he says will remind fans of the 1993 hit Groundhog Day.
As rumors to continue to swirl that Wayans will play Richard Pryor in a biopic (Lee Daniels is in talks to direct), he feels that if it happens, it’ll be worth the wait. “The movie keeps coming up and it goes. I started out wanting to play a great, and now I want to be a great. My life journey had prepared me for it, I’m not scared.”
Funniest Wins airs Fridays at 10/9C on TBS.