Before he was a white chick and a menace to South Central, and way before he lived in a haunted house, Marlon Wayans had a dream of being a stand-up comedian.
Although he isn’t exactly new to the stand-up game, having begun to realize his dream at the age of 19 before trading the microphone for a camera, Wayans, who visits Medford’s Chevalier Theatre on Saturday night (May 19), maintains the hunger and energy of an up-and-comer, all the while harnessing the sage wisdom of an industry veteran who has curated one of the most impressive filmographies in the comedy scene.
After almost two full decades away from the mic, Wayans made his way back to the stand-up spotlight around 2011, but worked and grinded for seven years following his return to curate a set he felt was worthy of recording. The result of that trademark Wayans Brothers hustle came in the form of the Netflix original special, Woke-ish, which premiered this past February.
“As a kid, I always dreamed of doing a special,” Wayans tells Vanyaland. “I mean, I was at the taping of Eddie Murphy’s Raw, and looking back on that, I wanted to do my own special so that maybe one day, some kid will look back as well, and think about how Marlon Wayans did that one special. So, I’m going to keep doing specials, and I’m going to do as many as I possibly can.”
Even with a new season of his critically-acclaimed sitcom Marlon, premiering June 14, Wayans is staying busy with his re-energized love for stand-up following the success of the Netflix special, bringing his vast arsenal of material to clubs and theaters all over the country, and he’s had a lot of fun doing it — even though he doesn’t really have a set cemented in place.
“I’ve been going out on stage just to try and find out what my next set is going to be,” says the former I Can Do That! host. “I like to have at least five hours of material ready before I tell myself I’m ready for a special. But even though I’m still figuring out the new set, I know that this material I’m doing now is a lot more personal than the material on Woke-ish,” he notes. “It’s kind of picking up where Woke-ish left off, where in that set I talked about the world and society, but with this new stuff, I’m talking more about me and getting more personal.”
In his not-so-freshman stand-up special, Wayans touched on a variety of social and political hot-button topics. And while the current political climate has brought out both emotionally-fueled and fine-tuned degradations of certain political and cultural figures, Wayans wanted to make a statement with his material, while still keeping it funny and well-directed. So, he went above the call of duty and made sure everyone had a chance to get a taste of the action.
“I knew the political material would work in New York and LA, but I wanted to know that the midwest and the south would be able to enjoy it too,” says Wayans. “I did a lot of political stuff, with Trump jokes, and Obama jokes, and I talked about gay rights in places where I knew that there were people who probably don’t embrace some of the issues I’m talking about, so I wanted to go and try that material there, because I knew I would have a good joke if I could go into hostile territory and make people laugh. I didn’t just go with my New York instinct on it. It was me actually travelling and making sure that everyone could enjoy the material.”
While he’s dabbled in just about everything in the comedy biz, Wayans hasn’t had a hard time finding success with his projects in either film or TV, as made evident by his growing fanbase that traces back to his days on In Living Color. But for the New York City native, his creative drive has been invaluably reinforced by his decision to jump back into the stand-up scene.
“Stand-up has made me so much better in terms of the art of comedy,” admits Wayans. “I feel that it’s making me a better performer and a better writer, and it helps me be a better storyteller in my movies. In my TV show, I know where the jokes are, and I don’t have a hard time finding them or making them work. Doing stand-up and being in the trenches of it has allowed me to embrace comedy in a way that the actor, writer and producer in me never could, and it’s just made me so much better with what I do.”