Today is Marlon Wayans’ birthday.
He’s taking a break from filming his latest movie, a “comedy remix” of 50 Shades of Grey called 50 Shades of Black (which he wrote and will star in), to play a few nights at Tommy T’s (July 24-26) in Pleasanton, the club where he played his first gig with his brother, Shawn. Wayans has grossed close to three-quarters of a billion dollars at the box office in his career, starring in such films as Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Requiem for a Dream, Scary Movie, and The Ladykillers. But he’s not celebrating by going out and getting drunk.
“I’m on a cleanse,” the newly 43-year-old Wayans said. “I’m going to hold off till I’m finished shooting 50 Shades of Black, in two or three weeks. I’m in the gym, working out, ‘cause I like to be extremely focused and dedicated while I’m doing a movie. Afterwards, late August, I’m going to get filthy. You’re going to read about me somewhere. Hopefully I’ll be alive.”
[jump] Aging isn’t bothering him one bit, either.
“I’m trying to age backwards, I’m Benjamin Button. I’m young until I start getting gray hairs on my penis and then I’m officially old. Hasn’t happened yet.”
Obviously, he’s still got his finger on the pulse of pop culture if he’s busy spoofing targets like 50 Shades of Grey. But he doesn’t consider what he does to be parody, preferring the term “comedy remix” instead. By that, Wayans means that even if you haven’t seen the original, you can still enjoy his film.
“It’s like what Kanye did to old-school soul music,” he said.
Twenty-five years after his debut on In Living Color — which he was only one for a single season, the show’s fourth — Wayans detoured through drama to stay close to comedy, a profession that butters nearly his entire family’s bread. When I asked if he’s still interested in pursuing projects like 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, he says he’s open.
“I would do drama if great drama came along,” Wayans said. “Great dramas, I chase them, but I just so happened to be born into comedy and I feel like comedy is a harder job to tackle. I think the world needs smiles, and for me breaking them out is my business.”
Echoing what many comics have said before, Wayans called his vocation the “hardest job in the world,” noting that like late-career Joan Rivers, who was famously non-selective about which venues she chose to play, he “might as well be performing in a biker bar…Wherever there’s a stage, I’ll do it.”
By some measures, comedy is harder than ever. Jerry Seinfeld is evolving into the poster child for the reaction against PC culture, and even an arch-feminist like Amy Schumer hasn’t avoided controversy entirely. When I ask if he’s feeling pressure from the politically correct wing to avoid certain topics, Wayans is quick to opine.
“I can respond by going, ‘I simply don’t give a fuck,’” Wayans said. “My job is to go find the light in dark places and sometimes, 90 percent of the audience is going to laugh, and sometimes 20 percent of the audience is going to laugh — till I figure out how to sell that joke the right way to get 98 percent of the audience to laugh. I can’t be afraid to explore dark caverns… If you’re sensitive, I don’t think you should come see my show, ‘cause I’m not going to be sitting on CNN apologizing for a joke.”
He’s a strong believer that comedy sets should never be recorded, because the risks of a spontaneous, off-color riff going viral are high. (The Michael Richards incident from 2006 undoubtedly keeps some people up at night.)
“It’s like Vegas. What happens on the stage stays on the stage. When a comedian’s ready to take his show and do a special and present it to the world, [then] I think you can judge it.”
Which is not to say that he hasn’t nudged against a few taboos here and there. I ask which of his films is his favorite and he answers immediately: “White Chicks, all the way around.”
“What we did was a hot-button topic about race but really it’s a gender movie,” he said. “It’s sprinkled with racial humor, but it’s really a gender swap. You know who loves White Chicks the most? White chicks. That’s a compliment on what kind of movie that was.”
Far beyond that was In Living Color — which, in hindsight, looks like a racial utopia consider how much public pressure was required for SNL to hire a single woman of color in 2014. Wayans called it “comedy college,” and sees its edgier sketches are performing a genuine social good.
“I don’t think In Living Color could exist nowadays because people are so P.C. As bold as it was, was sometimes we broke color lines through laughter. It’s a bonding thing. Like “Men on Film,” those sketches paved the way for gays to be accepted as equals in society, through laughing. The greatest compliment you can get as a person who does a sketch [is] when the people who you mock love the sketch the most. Gays love Men on Film, you know? What’s great about it is that those laughs ease the tensions of society and help pave the way for equality all the way around.”
Marlon Wayans, Friday – Sunday, July 24-26, at Tommy T’s Comedy Steakhouse, 5104 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, 925-227-1800.