They are one of the most iconic (and hilarious) families in entertainment. From In Living Color, to My Wife and Kids, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, to the Scary Movie franchise, the talented Wayans clan is well-known for taking comedy to a new level in film and on the silver screen. But don’t think that being related to Keenen Ivory, Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon is all laughs –especially if you’re trying to make your own way in the industry. Just ask Craig and Damien Dante Wayans, two nephews of the famous bunch, who consider being a member of the Wayans family brand as “kind of a gift and a curse.”
Despite Craig having writing credits on Scary Movie 2, Damien having directed the 2009 parody film Dance Flick, and both cousins having writing and directing credits for episodes of My Wife and Kids, Craig says the cousins still “have to pay dues every day,” as some industry insiders still dismiss their accomplishments as nepotism. But Damien insists, with a laugh, that “There is no nepotism in the fam! There are a lot of unfunny Wayans,” he says, considering that there are ten siblings in Keenan’s generation alone, each with their own children. “If you can’t do the work [even on a family production], you don’t get the job.” The cousins make fun of their one-foot-in-and-one-foot-out Hollywood struggle in a new, semi-autobiographical BET sitcom, Second Generation Wayans. In the pilot episode, premiering January 15 at 10:30/9:30C, we see a comical version of the true story of Damien being declared “the wrong Wayans” at an audition by an outraged casting director who had expected Damien’s Uncle Marlon to walk through the door instead of him.
The laugh-at-our-pain comedy stars Craig, Damien, their real-life production partner, George O. Gore, II (who played Damon Wayans’ son Michael on ABC’s My Wife and Kids) and their childhood friend Tatyana Ali (best known as Ashley Banks on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), and shows “the good, the bad, the ugly and the funny” of the Hollywood machine.
On top of providing real insight into the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of the entertainment business, the characters also juggle personal and family drama. But, George warns, the show isn’t all about “the usual high jinks you think of when you see the name ‘Wayans’. It’s a really heart-felt show with a little something for everybody.” George plays the financier and businessman of the company who’s also navigating his trust issues when it comes to women. Damien’s alter-ego is the hustler and the playboy of the group who is in an on-and-off relationship with “the perfect woman,” played by Regina Hall. Craig’s character is a single dad trying to work things out with his son’s resentful mother, played by LeToya Luckett. And Tatyana, the only one who isn’t playing a version of herself on the show, plays Maya, the company’s smart and complex executive assistant who keeps everyone in line while maintaining her own ambitions. Conscious of the negative stereotypes of Black women that persist on network television, Tatyana is thrilled with BET’s insistence on having a “strong and complicated” female character on the show who, “has an entire world [of her own] going on; she’s not just there to shed light on the male characters.”
While they are aiming to tell a different kind of story with a humor all their own, being affiliated with the Wayans brand isn’t all bad. George says that his years spent working with Damon on My Wife and Kids were like having a “front row seat to how a genius works, [and that’s] hard and smart.” Craig describes it as like “being in a family full of cops: you can’t help but learn the business, even before you’re in it.” Damien calls his uncles and aunt his “college,” teaching him everything he knows—especially, that the way to thrive in entertainment is to “be a multi-hyphenate.” And all four stars showcase their many talents on the Second Generation Wayans production set, with Tatyana even set to debut a new song called “Almost Love,” in an episode. She also plans to release the song as a single while the men of Second Generation Productions have more TV shows, films and a webseries in the works called That’s A Friend,Twhich launches on February 7.
Through the ups and downs and arounds of Hollywood, the partners and friends have learned, “This business aint for the weak.” Damien says of the experience, “You’re going to hear a thousand ‘no’s before you hear that one ‘yes’ that will change your life forever. I’ve never heard a ‘no’ that I didn’t like. It just means I’m one step closer. I hear [‘no] and I say, ‘Oh, so you mean like not right now? Ok, cool. I’ll be back next week.’” And by then, the “wrong” Wayanses might just be the right ones.
Catch the premiere of ‘Second Generation Wayans’ on Tuesday, January 15, at 10:30/9:30C on BET.
Brooke Obie writes the award-winning blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.