It’s supposed to be the other way around: the comedy stage is merely the bridge to enter the lucrative film and television world. But for the creators and stars of the blockbuster films Scary Movie and White Chicks, the comedy duo Shawn and Marlon Wayans’ (known as the Wayans Brothers) recent move to the stand-up circuit is both a return to basics and a discovery of new laughs.
“I have always been a stand-up and doing movies in between. In a way, they both work hand-in-hand,” Shawn says.
“Writing material for stand-up makes you sharper, which helps me when writing for television and a movie. Most of all, I just like being with the crowd. The energy is amazing.”
The Dubai audience is next in line to sample the duo’s first-ever stand-up comedy tour.
However, while the brothers are mostly seen together on screen getting up to high jinks, the Friday and Saturday shows at the Dubai World Trade Centre see them performing separate sets.
In a way, the format confirms the key to their on-screen chemistry: Shawn’s appeal lies in playing it straight while Marlon is zanier and shoots from the hip.
“I would consider myself as being more old school in that classic comic style. While Marlon is everywhere and is off the cuff. I am more about the structure,” Shawn says.
“We both have different lives so our sets shouldn’t butt heads. But at the same time, it should be complementary. I mean, we did grow up together.”
Shawn and Marlon are part of the sprawling Wayans family, considered by many in Hollywood as the first family of comedy.
Growing up in New York, the family spans 10 siblings and has made its mark in Hollywood for nearly three decades.
While they all have their own projects – Damon Wayans starred in the hit sitcom My Wife and Kids – the family’s biggest successes are when most members work together. The groundbreaking television sketch show Living Colour (1990 to 1994) starred four members of the Wayans family (including Shawn and Marlon), as well as introduced audiences to a young burgeoning comic called Jim Carrey.
The first two Scary Movies alone, directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and starring Shawn and Marlon, wracked up nearly half a billion dollars in box-office profits, with the first part remaining the most financially successful film directed by an African American.
Shawn, who at 42 is a year older than Marlon, says the laughs began in childhood.
“If you got in trouble in the house it was funny to everyone,” he recalls. “We would make you laugh even if your behind was being whipped. We would be acting out all the things that led you to get your behind whipped.”
Shawn says his relationship with Marlon is the strongest. Their artistic connection was forged from shared personal experiences.
“We even wore the same underwear,” Shawn laughs. “We grew up together in the same era, we have the same references and we watched the same cartoons. We are close in a different way than everybody else. We do have a special connection. That’s my boy.”
After initially appearing as part of film ensembles, the Wayans Brothers began leading their own projects, beginning with the 1995 sitcom Wayans Bros before hitting paydirt with 2004’s hit racial comedy White Chicks and Little Man two years later.
Ironically, it was a solo film project by Marlon that has brought the brothers back together, this time on stage.
As part of the preparation for his anticipated role as the comic legend Richard Pryor in a biopic, Marlon – who had never done stand-up before – wanted to immerse himself in the scene.
A seasoned performer, Shawn offered to tag along. “It has been something that I always wanted to do since we were younger but Marlon wasn’t really a stand-up. He would watch me do stand-up because I was always on the road,” he says.
“Now he loves doing stand-up, so no matter what happens with the movie, he can say that he is a comedian now.”
While some family members sporadically branched off towards action and dramatic roles, Shawn says the Wayans family brand will always rely on parodying popular trends.
He explains the classic comedy genre is their preferred method of melding stories with hard truths.
“Parody is a great way to make you laugh at stories you’ve seen over and over. It is all about having something to say that determines if it’s fresh or not,” he says.
“I look at what we do as reporting the news in a comedic way. Kind of what rap music does but our format is humour.”
• Catch the Wayans Brothers at the Dubai World Trade Centre on Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets, priced from Dh290, are available at www.timeouttickets.com
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