Marlon Wayans is best known for his role in films including Scary Movie, White Chicks, A Haunted House, and decades more of comedies that have proved the Wayans family knows exactly what their audience wants to see. Known for his brutal yet hilarious no-filter jokes on social media, Wayans breaks it all down for EBONY. We discuss his views on political correctness as a comedian in a world where numerous topics are considered off-limits, the success of his current project, Marlon, on NBC; his Netflix special Woke-ish; and embracing his new passion, stand-up comedy.
Marlon just got picked up for season two on NBC. How does it feel to have that platform and being able to reprise that the role?
It’s always good to get a pickup! You work hard, bust your behind, take your truth, pain and make people laugh with it. I’m glad that the audience received it as much as they did, and as religiously as they watched the show, we literally gained viewers over the summer, which is unheard of. I’m just grateful to the fans and grateful to God for allowing me to have this platform to make people laugh. I’m thankful to NBC for sticking with it, and I hope we bring even more laughs to season two as we explore these characters. I think the beauty of the show is that it’s a different kind of television dad, family and situation. We are all used to a married couple, but to see a divorce couple trying to figure out ways to stay and keep the family together. Divorce is the backdrop, love is in the foreground, and that’s what the shows about. It’s one of those things that I’m proud to present not only to the audiences but to the people and especially our people. Sometimes we have broken families; what’s important is how to keep your family together even though it’s broken.
The chemistry between you and Essence Atkins is effortless, and you guys are so good on camera together. How does it feel to have Essence on Marlon as your co-star?
It’s awesome! Essence is somebody that I’ve known for 20-something years. So for us, we just really enjoy each other’s company and there’s a trust. I know that I love going off script, and it takes a certain kind of individual that can ride with you. Certain actors will be annoyed by what I do, but she finds different ways to react to it. A joke is only as funny as the people that react to it. I always tell her she’s the heart of the show. She comes from such a real place because some of this mirrors things going on in her life. When she starts crying, it makes me want to rescue her. And it really speaks to the beauty of the relationship that the couple has on the show. It’s that they are just there for each other. The world doesn’t have to get it. But we do. I think she’s a magical performer, and I’ve been really blessed to have her as my co-star. We were doing Haunted House, and she was so good. I said if I ever do a show like the Cosbys, she would be my Phylicia Rashad.
How important is it to showcase Black love to the viewers?
I think it’s extremely important for us to showcase all that we do. Black people, we haven’t been known to get the most opportunity. But what’s beautiful about that is that we’ve been known to create these opportunities, and one day those opportunities are going to come our way. And so it’s good for us to show all the different complexions that we are. You know, they say that we can’t be Black superheroes. We never had the budget to do a really good Black superhero movie. But films like Black Panther give us a $20 million budget, and we give it a soul. I think to myself Black is still human, we have all the complexities that any other race does and it’s good that we can now showcase this. It’s good that there’s not just one Black show on TV, there’s my show, black-ish, Power and so many more that are going to pop up because we have stories to tell. The beauty of what I do in comedy is that there’s not just one kind of comedy. There’s so many different comedians. The same way we did superhero movies, we can have physical comedy. A lot of times we look at our comedy and they’ve taught us that our physical comedy and our broad comedy is something that we should shy away from. Charlie Chaplin is brilliant, but we look at our forefathers who’ve done it like Stepin Fetchit and we’ve been taught to look down on those people. They did what they had to do to give us an opportunity. We were able to have a Cosby and Marlon on air. I look back on our history and don’t frown upon it, I appreciate whoever contributed their talents during that time to get me in a position where I can do things a different kind of way, be more responsible and more aware. So, I’m just blessed to be in this position, especially today, and I’ve been in it for 25 years, knocking doors down, literally with C4 and dynamite. Nobody’s ever given me and my brothers anything. I have never been a part in the machine. I’ve always just been a machine. One day I’ll be a part of the machine and then great things will happen, but until then I’m preparing every day working my behind off, doing what I love, opening doors and creating opportunities for other people.
Speaking about just the importance of having Black creators and content and the need for diversity. You just had your Netflix movie Naked, and there’s Dear White People, One Day at a Time, Chewing Gum, Master of None, Narcos. There’s so much diversity and inclusion content that Netflix is bringing to life. What does it feel like collaborating with Netflix, because clearly you’ve developed such a good rapport with these numerous projects.
What I love about Netflix is they don’t think Black and White. They think worldwide. They think cross cultures. They’re in 200 million homes, 193 countries. They don’t want something that just resonates one place for an audience. They want something that will translate worldwide. My movie, Naked was No. 1 in 193 countries. What’s great about it is it’s a cute movie with heart, has a romance and you follow this crazy journey. Yeah, it’s so physical, like a Jim Carrey film, but it has such heart, and for me, I could showcase all that I do. I am physically gifted in terms of physical comedy, but I’m also gifted dramatically because I went to performing arts high school for four years, I went to Howard University for two years and studied dramatic arts; acting is what I do. Comedy is what I work toward, and putting it all together is the dream. So projects like Naked is things I’m looking to do. I’m living in the right now, a couple of movies in development, but I got this stand-up special, Woke-ish. Once again, I get to showcase at the ripe age of 45 to do something new. Nobody’s ever seen me do a stand-up special, to start brand new after you’ve been famous for 20 years ago. I’m going to start doing stand-up. I ask myself, ‘Well why?’ I want to tell a story a different way. I want to get better. I look at myself as a Rubik’s Cube. You got four sides, I wanted to make the fifth so I start from scratch. I want to learn the art of stand-up comedy because my next big thing is I want to do a huge comedy tour. I’ve opened up this door and now I’m looking at. In terms of the next 20 years, I will work my behind off and become the best I can be. The best comedic scientists, dramatic artist and best comedic artist. You know I just want to be the best that Marlon can be. Then when it’s all said and done, you know, we’re talking about what I’ve done. I can hopefully leave a legacy of smiles behind me.
Define woke-ish for us?
“Woke” is someone is somebody that is aware of all that’s going on with the world and all the things that we as a people fight for. “Ish” is kind of like, I see it, I understand it. Here’s what’s funny about it and whether you agree or don’t agree, I’m talking about real issues from a comedic perspective because the whole point of all this is to create laughter. Laughter is the thing that bonds us. When I do a joke that makes everybody laugh, for a minute all the world’s problems go away. They’ll laugh in unison. That emotion is healing, and when they leave my show, they feel better. I hope when they watch this special, they feel better because I am dealing with all these things that I’m talking about. I’m affected by it, but here’s the way I see it: We can laugh, cry and complain about it or we can do something about it. I chose to do something with my voice, talk about issues that are real, make people laugh and aware of these issues, healing at the same time.
What are your thoughts on the culture of political correctness intertwining with the field of comedy, and what’s the current rhetoric around political correctness among comedians? Has there ever been a time you wrote a joke and felt the need to alter it for fear of backlash?
I’ve watched people walk out of shows. That’s OK. Before I find the right way to tell that joke that makes everybody laugh, it’s going to be offensive. People nowadays don’t even want you to talk about a topic when they don’t agree with you. I have to go into these dark caves where everybody’s afraid to go to get these jokes. That is my purpose. I’m not going to let anybody stop me from my purpose because God put me here to do this, so excuse me. I got something to do. I go find the humor in the darkest places that you can possibly think, hear people gasp and come out hopefully with a joke. Sometimes there’s no joke but I have the right to do what I have to do without judgment. If people don’t like my method, I will tell you in a second you can leave. I think comedians’ mentality should always be, I don’t give a f***. You have something to do, and you can’t do it the right way if you’re worried about what people think. When you do a special, you’ve thought about the material you’re using for a while, I’ve taken Trump jokes to the South and sat there with people wearing the “Make America Great Again” hats. I’m doing Trump jokes and finding a way to make all of them laugh the loudest. I’ve been to San Francisco, doing my gay rights humor in front of a majority gay crowd. I watched people laugh and go, “Oh, I like that!” After the show, I would talk to people afterward that’ll say “the only thing about this joke was” and I would make the necessary tweak. I play my tour material for my daughter. We do the research as comedians before we put it out. The majority of people find humor in this. As for the ones that are superdivisive and offensive, you will be smart to take some of that out. I’m not the guy that goes out and wants to make everybody mad because that’s a good joke. A good joke to me is that majority of people laugh at the joke. My mentality going into a joke is I know it’s a sensitive subject, but I have to talk about it. So if you’re offended by it, you can leave now, but come back in about two months. I guarantee you this will be a favorite joke.
Marlon returns to NBC on June 14 at 9:30 p.m. Catch Woke-ish on Netflix.