When hearing the name Marlon Wayans, many will be quick to associate him with the various roles he portrayed in such classic Wayans films as The Little Man, White Chicks and Scary Movie, as well as the game-changing sketch show In Living Color. However, to judge Marlon solely by his roles in the many Wayans productions would be to miss the bigger picture of an actor-screenwriter-comedian with a unique perspective, a brilliant comedic instinct and his best years still ahead.
With older siblings Damon, Kim and Keenen Ivory Wayans already making waves in Hollywood, Marlon and his brother Shawn were thrust into the spotlight as teenagers. Together, the family wrote and starred in nearly 20 film and TV projects over the course of two decades—including I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Dance Flick and The Wayans Bros. “The first 25 years of my career was about learning, and now the next 20 to 25 will be about executing all that I’ve learned,” Marlon says. “I spent the majority of my career building up Wayans, and now I’m trying to build up Marlon to mean just as much as Wayans.” In branching out, he’s worked on several solo projects including Marlon on NBC, the recently released comedy film Sextuplets and upcoming dramas Respect and On the Rocks.
Perhaps the most vital aspect this renaissance period has been Marlon’s newfound standup career, which he initially wasn’t sure he could break into. “I felt like standup was an art form where you had to talk about your life, but there are so many of us [Wayans]. There’s nothing to talk about, because my brothers talked about it all,” he remembers thinking before coming to the realization that his siblings’ perspectives of their upbringing were not his own. “We all see things a different way.”
Through many years of working with the Wayans family, Marlon developed his sense of comedy and honed his acting prowess, but in his short time as a comedian, he’s rapidly nurtured those gifts further and developed a stronger artistic perspective. “Standup comedy has helped me identify my voice, my comedic tone, my purpose and what makes me different…Without standup, you’re an actor—you mold into everybody else’s vision of what they think you should be,” he says. “It’s actually made me a much better artist, and I feel like my best work is ahead of me.”
As a longtime character actor, one aspect that helps Marlon stands out in the standup scene is his wild characters, with hilarious parodies of his mother, his children and others frequently making their way into his sets. “When I bring characters to the stage, people are in awe of the fact that I can just get rid of the presentational aspect of comedy and go representational as an actor,” he notes.
Marlon’s first comedy special, Woke-ish, took an irreverent look at social issues including racism, gay rights and woke culture. While some comedians would steer clear of such touchy topics today, Marlon believes audiences aren’t so easily triggered. “I don’t think people are as sensitive as social media and the media are portraying us to be,” he says. “My point of view does not have to be your point of view. But when we find the commonality in the laugh, we can agree to disagree and still laugh together.”
His new material takes a more personal approach, delving more into his private life and fatherhood. “This next special is much closer to me. It’s more truthful and more biting,” he says. “For a minute you can take a vacation from the news and laugh at somebody else’s expense, and that expense is mine.” No matter how controversial or personal the topic he’s joking about, Marlon’s top priority is simply to make his audience feel good. “The elixir, at the end of the day, is laughter and love,” he says. “My intentions are for you to have the best time of your life.”
See Marlon Wayans’ Suffolk Theater debut on Friday, November 8 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit suffolktheater.com.