“I started out wanting to play a great, and now I want to be a great.” Those were the words of Marlon Wayans in an interview with online entertainment site Indiewire in 2014 – and he meant it. Indeed, he and the rest of the Wayans brothers have been entrenched in comedy, in one way or another, for more than three decades. Their successful works in that time include writing, directing and appearing in the groundbreaking ensemble TV show In Living Color, Scary Movie and White Chicks. However, the Wayans have been less than prominent in Hollywood for quite some time now. What is the reason? Well, allow us to shed some light on perhaps why their names are no longer up in lights…
Who could have predicted that Keenan Ivory Wayans’ decision to drop out of school just before graduation and pursue comedy would have worked out? Incredibly that is exactly what transpired for the now 59-year-old. And it would not be long after he did so that his brothers joined him in the entertainment world. Ultimately they would gang together to create some of the wackiest TV and film projects in recent comedy history.
The Wayans came from a poor background in New York City. In a filmed special from 2013, they told Oprah Winfrey that all 12 siblings and two parents had to get by on the father of the family’s annual income of $12,000. Dad worked as a supermarket manager while their mother was a homemaker. However, these tough conditions would not last forever…
Indeed, the world of comedy would prove to be the family’s savior. Marlon Wayans, 45, recalled what inspired him in the Indiewire feature from 2014, “My brother Keenan literally raised me in comedy, so I’m a disciple of the Keenan Ivory Wayans school of comedy. And also from watching my brother Damon, watching those guys take chances.”
And it was pioneering brother Keenan who initially got the ball rolling when he received the green light to produce his very own sketch show. Entitled In Living Color, the program ran from 1990 to ’94, even earning a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series.
It was the first real taste of the zany humor that was a speciality of the Wayans – a brand of comedy they would become synonymous with in the ensuing years. In Living Color also showcased the talents of Dwayne, 61, Damon, 57, Shawn, 47, Marlon and sister Kim, 56.
Clearly, this was a winning family combo from the start, and in 1995 they capitalized on their new-found success. Yes, that was the year that saw Shawn and Marlon spearhead their very own sitcom, The Wayans Bros. With Keenan out of the equation, the show gave the two siblings the chance to prove their worth as a comedy duo. Needless to say, they succeeded.
But it was the turn of the 21st century when the family troupe struck gold in Hollywood, thanks to the horror film parody Scary Movie. The release was a screamingly big hit with audiences, helping the brothers to helm other flicks such as White Chicks in 2004 and Little Man two years later.
However, since 2009, things have been relatively quiet on the Wayans front. That same year saw the release of the critically panned Dance Flick – a box-office flop which certainly didn’t catapult them up to a new level of success. And, thinking back on it, that cold reception could be part of the reason why the siblings have since mostly vanished from Hollywood…
Yes, after some less-than-stellar projects, the Wayans star name does not seem to wield the same clout that it did during the family’s golden era. The likes of Scary Movie 2 and Little Man were given very negative reviews by critics – something which arguably hurt their reputation in the film industry. But there could be other factors at play too…
Even when the Wayans were riding high, they endured critical fire trying to bring them low. It was just that the brothers were able to rely on the ticket-buying public, regardless of the reviews. Many of their projects – even the more questionable ones – performed well at the box office. And this fact could always counteract the critical consensus as far as the money men of Hollywood were concerned.
Sadly for them, however, with the release of Dance Flick, the Wayans were no longer able to figure on that factor. The film only grossed $32 million from a $25 million budget – spelling the end of their successful stint on the big screen. It seemed that the Wayans’ wackiness had finally become tiresome to audiences yearning for something a little less goofy.
But it turned out that maybe there were also elements outside of their professional work at play here too. In a 2015 interview with New York radio station Power 105.1, Damon Wayans appeared to be sympathizing with Bill Cosby after it was alleged that the latter comedian had sexually abused several females.
In some amazingly tone-deaf comments, Damon described what he would do if he found himself in Cosby’s shoes. Damon said he would “would divorce my wife, wink-wink, give her all my money, and then I would go do a deposition.” But he wasn’t finished there. Damon went on to add, “I would light one of them three-hour cigars. I’d have me some wine and maybe a Quaalude and I would just go off, because I don’t believe that he was raping.”
And there was also the failed attempt at bringing In Living Color back to life on the small screen. Keenan Ivory Wayans planned to spearhead two special editions of the show. It was originally supposed to be returning for the 25th birthday of the Fox network in 2012. The anniversary came and went but, alas, the resurrected In Living Color was a no show.
But, it was a tough act to follow. Keenan told the New York Post newspaper in 2013, “The bar for In Living Color is so high… If I didn’t feel like we could sustain that, then I did not want to move forward.” There is a demand for an encore from fans, but Keenan is evidently wary of tarnishing the show’s legacy.
However, the relative silence could also be down to something else. Don’t look now but there are younger Wayans setting out to shake the entertainment world. Indeed, Craig, Damien Dante and Damon Wayans Jr. represent a new generation of the dynasty. And the name Wayans has appeared in the TV credits of New Girl, Happy Endings and Second Generation Wayans.
So could it be that they are being overshadowed by the new crop of talent? Or is it maybe that the more mature Wayans are seeking the shade on purpose? The idea being to give the younger members a chance for their talents to reach fruition. Either way, the result is the same – a lack of screen time for the original Wayans siblings.
Nevertheless, do not count the seasoned Wayans out just yet. In 2017 Marlon co-wrote and landed the lead role in the Netflix original movie Naked. That same year, he had his very own sitcom, Marlon, commissioned by NBC. And his eponymous show scored a large enough viewership to earn a second season.
Meanwhile, brother Damon has been starring in TV’s Lethal Weapon since 2016. The series is a small-screen adaptation of the film franchise of the same name. Clearly, Marlon and Damon have demonstrated that there is still an audience for the Wayans’ work. But just where do they go from here? Only time will tell…