There was once a time when Jim Carrey was known as James Carrey and "Saturday Night Live" was the only viable option if someone wanted to watch sketch comedy on television. The Wayans Brothers weren't yet household names and spoofing horror movies wasn't a multimillion-dollar industry.
Keenen Ivory Wayans helped change all that.
Wayans is a comedic actor, writer, director and stand-up comedian who knows comedy on every level. He is one of 10 creative siblings in the family, including Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon. Wayans created, wrote and starred in the TV series "In Living Color" and also directed and created "Scary Movie," which is the highest-grossing movie ever directed by an African-American.
Folio Weekly: What inspired you to get into comedic acting and writing?
Keenen Ivory Wayans: Richard Pryor. When I was about 8 years old, I was in my house hiding from a bully and the Dinah Shore show was on, and Richard Pryor was the guest. Of course, normally no 8-year-old would watch Dinah Shore, but because I was too afraid to go outside, I'm watching this show, and he comes out and starts talking about being chased by a bully. He does this whole routine about the kids in school and when a guy threatens you — doing all the gestures, you know what I mean. Not only was I laughing, but I was thinking I want to be like this guy. From that day, I sort of followed his career. My mom would wake me up whenever he was on TV late at night, and I grew up with this dream of being like him.
F.W.: "In Living Color" is a show for
which you, Damon, Jim Carrey and many more will always be remembered. How did it come about?
K.W.: I did a movie called "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka." That was my first feature I starred and directed in, and I had a screening for all the studios as a filmmaker. FOX sent all their TV guys instead of the movie guys, and so I was taking meetings, and I went to meet at FOX. There were a bunch of TV executives and I didn't realize what the meeting was going to be. I was there, though, so I went to meet with them and they said, "Look, we're starting up this network and we're looking for people who have different ideas and have an edgy side. We want to push the boundaries. Anything you want to do, we'll give you the creative freedom to do." That's sort of what motivated me to want to do a show then. I always wanted to be on "Saturday Night Live" like any comedian of my generation, and my brother Damon had actually been on there and been fired. So we decided, "Hey, let's do our own." That's where it began.
F.W.: The name "Wayans" is synonymous with comedy. What does it feel like to have such a successful family and how did all of you end up in the comedy business?
K.W.: It's amazing. For me, my journey has always been about my family, so going on the journey with my family has been the most rewarding part of all of it. Even now, me doing stand-up is in preparation for a tour we're all going to do next year. It's a family comedy tour we're putting together right now. It's always been about family. In terms of us all being funny, I think it's because we all grew up in the same house and learned to use comedy as a survival tool. It just became our point of view. There was no sacred ground. Anything was up for laughs, including you getting spankings. We just kind of grew up that way and rarely did we ever get in trouble in our house for doing something funny. My mom actually had a pretty good sense of humor. Comedy was allowed and encouraged.
F.W.: We know how funny the Wayans are on screen. What is it like when the family gets together at Christmas and other family functions?
K.W.: We all get together for the holidays and all the stuff we show on screen, that's where it all began — over those Thanksgiving dinners where we're all together laughing and making fun of everything.
F.W.: What can we expect at the stand-up show you will be performing at Jacksonville's Comedy Zone June 27 through the 29th?
K.W.: To get a more personal insight on my life: me talking about how I raised my kids, my divorce, my marriage, my dating situation now — you know, all the things related to my life. A more personal view of me, but of course, a comedic view of me.
F.W.: Have you performed in Jacksonville in the past?
K.W.: No, actually this will be my first time to the city, and I'm looking forward to it. I plan on coming a day early and leaving a day late to enjoy the city.
F.W.: You've had a long and successful career. Looking back, what makes you most proud?
K.W.: I think you touched on it earlier. I'm most proud of the fact that I wasn't the only one, that I was able to make an opportunity for all the ones in my family who wanted to participate to come along and find their voice. I think one of my proudest moments was having that legacy.
F.W.: What are your plans for the future? You mentioned a family comedy tour next year.
K.W.: That and continuing to make movies. We're working on Marlon and Shawn's next movie. We have a sequel we're putting together, but I don't want to expand on that yet. Within the next year, we'll be back on screen again. We're working on a TV series for myself, actually. Damon is also working on a TV series for himself. We're using this time well.