Marlon and Shawn Wayans weigh in on comedy career

The brothers will be at the Tampa Improv from June 21-24 for a four-day special engagement, with the two performing their own standup sets.

Marlon and Shawn have acted in numerous films together, as well as individual projects such as Marlon's roles in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and the Coen Brothers’ The Ladykillers. Part of the reason Marlon has started performing standup was being cast as Richard Pryor in a biopic with Bill Condon attached as director and an uncertain future.

The two brothers talk to CL in an interview that touches on standup, In Living Color, Pryor and Tom Hanks.

What should fans expect who come to your standup set at the Tampa Improv?

Marlon: Hopefully, they expect to laugh. It’s sad if they come to the show and don’t get one. I think they should expect to have a good time. We give a really good show, with two different points of view. We got a really funny opener. You know, consistent laughs for about an hour and a half.

Shawn, you’ve been touring doing standup longer than Marlon. What are the dynamics of you two performing together, and how does that change your show?

Shawn: It’s just a different energy. People are used to seeing me and Marlon work together, so it’s usually more exciting when we’re both there in the building. We got both of our fans there, my fans and his fans coming together and then the fans that love us both at the same time. It’s just more energy and kind of like a rock concert.

One of the first places you guys worked together was on In Living Color. How did each one of you start on that show, and what were your experiences like working on a groundbreaking show like that?

Marlon: For us, it was comedy college — we learned a lot. I think it was a blessing, like God put us there. Keenan taught us since like we were 11 years old how to do this and put us front of the TV watching Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane

Shawn: Airplane, Monty Python.

Marlon: Monty Python and the Holy Grail and A Fish Called Wanda. [Brother] Keenen, he kind of nurtured us in the world of comedy since we were kids. So it was just kind of a natural progression and to be on In Living Color, we were still kids but it was like having an internship on one of the best comedy shows ever. We learned so much and that’s the thing that I think to this day, propelled us to get this far. Then whenever we need to go back to the lab, we can remember those days and all those lessons we learned and we’re able to apply them.

You’ve done numerous films together and with others. Do you feel there were any films or television projects you worked on that you felt were underrated or underappreciated?

Shawn: I think Dance Flick was a lot funnier than people [said]. It came out on a bad weekend, but I think it had some really classic moments in it, some really funny stuff in it. But I think that’s the only one I would say was underrated.

Marlon, part of the reason you’re doing standup is to prepare for a Richard Pryor biopic. What’s the status on that?

Marlon: You know, I don’t know. All I know is that I hope it happens. But in the meantime, I’m gathering such a great skill set that I’m going to be able to do so much better than I even did on the screen test when it comes time to do it. I’m going to be really ready for the role. So I started out wanting to play a great, and now I actually want to be a great. I love it.

Can you talk about what Richard Pryor’s comedy meant to you guys growing up?

Shawn: Well, my brother was a big fan, so we’d sneak and listen to him sneak in listening to Richard Pryor albums and that kind helped measure our funny. He was raw and edgy and truthful, and he resonated to us because he were poor and came from the same kind of situation we did in terms of dealing with poverty and that kind of class and trying to find your voice. He was just a brilliant stand-up, and what’s great about Richard is he wasn’t just a great stand-up, but he was a bonafide master of standup — he’d tell you a joke, animate the joke, do a character, talk about things that were relevant, and he was truthful.

You guys have worked with a number of talents — for example, Marlon, you’ve worked with Darren Aronofsky and the Coen Brothers. Is there any that you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?

Marlon: Me, I love working with different talents because I think it helps you. Working with [The Ladykillers co-star] Tom Hanks taught me something. I learned a lot watching Hanks work and was able to learn about how to act for camera. He did a whole other science, like he knew exactly when to make it work, to what side of the camera and how to act to a camera because your eyelines are different. So he was a technical beast and I just learned so much from him. And he was a kind guy, you can kind of see that in his performances, the likability of Tom that he has.

I just like working with different people because I learn different things. I don’t say, ‘I won’t work with that guy.’ I’ll literally work with anybody, from Clint Eastwood to Tom Shadyac. To me, great directors and great writers and great other stars are fun to work with. But there’s nothing like working with my brothers.

Shawn: Don’t make me choose.

What projects are you working in the future — Marlon, aren’t you in the process of editing a new movie [2013’s Smart Ass]?

Marlon: Yeah, I’m finishing up editing a movie that’s basically Paranormal Activity if it happened to a black couple.

Shawn: We’re producing a show for my nephews on BET, Second Generation, and then we’re developing a couple of projects to star in between me and him.

Marlon and Shawn Wayans may be best known as their characters in films like Scary Movie and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, yet they will soon come to Tampa performing as themselves.

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