Emmy award-winning comedian and actor Damon Wayans — whose extensive resume includes stints on “In Living Color” and “Saturday Night Live” — is skipping the politics on his three-night run in Tampa, starting this Friday, November 14.
You’re calling this the “It’s Personal” Tour, what is the angle there and what can audiences expect to see if they come to your show?
The angle on it is I’m not really talking about politics and political persuasions. It’s really all about me and the stories growing up. My dad being the hero, my mom being the rescuer, my brother Keenen being the perfect guy—It’s about me being a parent and understanding why some animals eat their young. If they’re not going to make it, might as well get a meal out of them!
I’m a massive fan of “In Living Color,” and there’s always one sketch that stands out to me. It was basically HSN or QVC but out of the back of a box-truck filled with stolen goods (Homeboy Shopping Network). It was so punchy and fun. What was the writers room like on “In Living Color” and how did that differ from your time at SNL”
The writers rooms on “In Living Color” had writers, but they were encouraged to sit down with performers. Not everybody was a writer. Jim [Carrey] could write, Kim [Wayans] could write, I did a lot of my writing, David [Alan Grier] didn’t write, but he would sit down with writers- Tommy [Davidson] and Crystal [Keymah] wrote… everybody wrote with everybody, but not everybody was a writer if that makes sense.
When I was on SNL, there would be writers, but the performers were there to serve the piece. So Lorne gave me a lot of the writers power but I think he was trying to create a buffer, so that when sketches got killed, he wouldn’t have to worry about the performers being upset. It’s a very personal thing to do the dress rehearsal, and right between the dress rehearsal and air — they cut your sketch, you know? It’s painful, but it’s even more painful if you wrote it. So it was just business; the writers understood. Lorne had a lot more time to kill on SNL than we did on In Living Color.
How you describe “In Living Color” sounds more performer-driven and… joyful?
It was like a college frat house: Everybody got in the office and we’d spend the night just writing and laughing. No door was closed, unless someone was actually writing something. Every door was open; anybody and everybody. SNL in my experience, wasn’t as collaborative.
Something I always admire about all you projects is the level of silliness you bring. How do you bridge the gap between that and the darker material you sometimes play with?
I think people want to see people they like, do things they wish they can do. Ultimately, they want to see you having fun. The smile begins in your eye. There are certain performers that just… if you watch them, you’re just smiling. I saw “Dolemite [Is My Name]” last night and Eddie [Murphy] just makes me smile. I’m aware of the smile while I’m watching him because I like him. He has so many “hit” moments in my mind, comedically. I’m talking about moments where he has, like, hurt me laughing: James Brown, Buckwheat, Nutty Professor… I don’t think a lot of comedians understand that gift. Robin Williams had it, Carrey has it. You’re just in awe of them. Hopefully, there are people who like me like that, and who know that whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to try to have as much fun as possible. I don’t really want to do it if I don’t find that smile.
You spoke a lot about people that you like, comedically, are there other people that you watch that do that for you?
Dave Chapelle has it. When he did his show, he wasn’t the best impressionist. He had to actually tell you, “I’m Samuel L. Jackson,” who he played in his sketch. But you saw him having so much fun being Samuel L. Jackson — you love him. You love Dave. He could basically get away with murder.
Did you always know you were going to be a comedian? How did you start?
A: I used to see Keenen at the Improv in New York. He was the doorman and sometimes he’d get on stage. I remember leaving there after watching him and being obsessed with what he did and how he could’ve done this or that. I would give him jokes, “Why don’t you try this Keenen?... Oh, that’s funny.” He would go on stage and do it, and it would get a laugh that was the beginning of my curiosity being piqued. But what really made me do it is my ex-wife, [wife] at the time. I used to brag about Keenen all the time and she’d say, “You know what you need to go do it, or I’m going to go be with Keenen because he sounds more interesting than you.”
So you leapt up there then?
I have to ask this because this is such a staple and every answer is different. What was your worst gig?
I don’t think it was the worst gig… it was all where I was not at my best, you know? It’s all opportunities, it’s just how you deal with them. I’ve had good opportunities, I’ve had bad opportunities. I always tend to take the blame for the bad ones. “I made the choice,” so you got to just suck it up and deal with it. It is what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t. That’s my motto.
Are there any new projects you have in the works that you’re excited to share?
I am super excited. I just had a little actor get-together to read my pilot, which I’m going to turn in to ABC. I’m pleased with how it sounded. It’s called “The Big Day Show.” Hopefully, I’ll hear something soon. Going back into the world of sitcoms.
Do you have any advice for comics starting out?
When you understand the process, there’s a shorter way to it, but it’s a tougher road. A comedian’s quest is to find his voice. What happens is as a young comic, you put together five minutes, and you go on stage, and you do that five minutes for about a year and then you change your act. Every time you write new material after that you’re growing. Meaning you’re finding your creative voice and starting to know what’s not your comedic voice. You’re taking baby steps toward that. If I were a new comedian starting out today, I would just go on stage with no material and talk and trust my gift to find funny. I’m going to rely totally on the fact that I have a unique point-of-view. I start out with my point-of-view, not jokes just conversation, and I’ll find my comedic voice faster. That’s what I’d recommend. Go on stage and talk- you’ve got nothing to lose, you’re not going to get discovered- not your first night- just have fun and embrace the dream completely.
Damon Wayons. Fri.—Sun. Nov.15-17. $40 & up. Tampa Improv. 1600 East 8th Ave., Ybor City. improvtampa.com.
Matt Walker is a St. Petersburg comedian. Follow him via @mattwindwalker.