When the Wayans Brothers – Marlon, Shawn, Damon and Keenen Ivory – take the stage Friday night at the Hard Rock Live near Hollywood, they’ll be doing something they’ve done all their lives: making everyone around them crack up.
But it’s more than just a talent for the four siblings – it’s been a coping mechanism since childhood. Growing up wasn’t easy in the Wayans household, with 10 children to care for and not enough cash to do so comfortably.
“We were very poor,” says Damon, now 53. “Not a lot of food, but a whole lot of laughs – we made up for it in laughs.”
For the family, joking around became somewhat of a survival skill, adding precious levity to the daily grind, and even dire situations.
“People messed up? We laughed. People got in trouble? We laughed,” says Marlon, who at 42 is the baby of the bunch. “No matter what happened, we always laughed.”
And that ability served them well, more than they could ever have predicted. The clan went on to conquer Hollywood, starting with the wild, politically incorrect show “In Living Color,” created by Keenen and Damon, and later starring Marlon, Shawn and sister Kim. The groundbreaking urban sketch comedy series, which ran from 1990-’94 on the burgeoning Fox network, launched the careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier and Jennifer Lopez (she was part of the Fly Girls dance troupe, which was choreographed by Rosie Perez).
But the actual inspiration for “In Living Color” wasn’t quite the grand vision that all its glory, influence and critical acclaim might suggest.
“I think Keenen just wanted to p— off a network,” says Damon with a chuckle. “Because they kept bugging him – Fox was just starting and they were a bit of a nuisance. Keenen had starred in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” and so they kept coming to him and coming to him, and he said, “I’m gonna pitch the most outrageous thing I can, just to make them leave me alone.” And they said yes.”
Damon particularly shined in the series, with several of his outrageous characters becoming legendary: Silky the Pimp, the flamboyantly gay Blaine Edwards of the “Men on Film” sketch, and the dangerous ex-con Homey D. Clown. He still loves portraying them, so they might make a cameo during the show (“If we have time, I’m gonna bring out a couple”).
On this tour, the Wayans Brothers perform separately, with each getting the chance to showcase his own personality.
“It’s gonna be crazy,” says Shawn, 43, who has starred with Marlon in the hit films “White Chicks,” “Little Man,” “Dance Flick” and the “Scary Movie” series. “Four different comedic perspectives on a number of different topics.”
Adds Damon: “Some people are better at certain things than the others. Like, Marlon is an incredible performer – he’s the best performer of us for sure. Keenen is probably the most well-rounded, and Shawn has the quickest wit. And I’m probably a better storyteller with the characters.”
The performance order sometimes changes, but it typically goes Marlon, Shawn, Damon, then Keenen. Each will take about 20 minutes, and sometimes at the end they come out together for a Q&A with the audience (although “if we all bomb, nobody goes back out,” Shawn cracks).
“We try to keep it tight, because we want to keep the show at about 90 minutes, to keep it fresh for whoever’s doing the last leg,” says Marlon. “The last leg is the hardest leg, because people are tired – they’re all laughed out. It’s hard to laugh for an hour and a half. I have an easier time having sex for an hour and a half.”
“People get strangled,” agrees Shawn. “The audience hits a fatigue at a certain point, so we have to time it perfectly – everybody has to get off the stage at the right time or that last person is gonna suffer.”
Behind all the laughter and clowning around, it’s clear that the Wayans Brothers have remained close throughout the years, still watch out for each other, and relish the chance to tour together.
“The best part about this road thing is I get to be with my brothers,” says Marlon. “You know, just hang out and laugh and just be friends.”
“This has been a dream come true, and I’m having a blast working with my heroes,” says Shawn. “Marlon’s my baby bro, but my older brothers Damon and Keenen are my heroes. They groomed me as a writer and performer, and just in all aspects as a man.”
“On the road, we’re stuck with each other – that’s the good and bad thing about it,” jokes Damon. “But any time we can be together, I think we’d rather be with each other than with other people.”