everyone knows Marlon Wayans as the wackiest member of the Wayans clan of comedy titans. The multi-faceted brother of Keenan, Damon, Shawn and sister Kim has made his name as a comedian, dramatic actor and writer in some 30 film and TV projects.
But now, Marlon has struck out on his own with his first solo venture, A Haunted House, (currently in theaters) in which he stars in with Essence Atkins and Cedric The Entertainer. He also co-wrote and produced the film.
The genuinely hysterical satire on the whole Paranormal Activity/exorcism “found footage” horror films, which is long overdue, is a no holds barred, very irreverent and decidedly non-PC take on the whole genre.
Recently we had a chance to talk to Marlon about his new film, why he thinks God made it all possible, how he feels about doing a project on his own without his family, and why after 20 years in the game, he still considers himself a rookie.
N’DIGO: At the screening I attended everyone in the theater was rolling in the aisles. No let up from the beginning. Is that the greatest feeling in the world? To hear a theater full of people laughing at what you’ve created on the screen.
Marlon Wayans: Believe it or not, it’s better than an orgasm; it’s an eargasm! It’s crazy, it really is, because you put so much sweat, so much work into it. People don’t understand how much time it takes and how much work it takes to make somebody laugh and how hard it is to write a script – to put together the story, to put together the characters – to create a journey, to create obstacles, to create objectives vs. obstacles, and to do all kinds of math and science just to invoke the response of laughter. And when everyone laughs simultaneously, there’s no greater feeling.
When you were shooting A Haunted House, were you constantly thinking this can work, this isn’t going to work, this might be going too far, this is too silly the audience won’t buy it, or you just go with it? Whatever happens, happens?
You’ve got to trust your instincts. I’ve been playing in theaters and comedy clubs all over the country for the last two-and-a-half years and before that I’ve been making people laugh since I was four, so you just have to trust your instincts.
And you trust your instincts in terms of who you’re going to cast for the film and you trust their instincts. Then, collectively, you just don’t give a damn. You go out there and say: “Let’s just go for it and see what happens.” In fact, we often put the script to the side and said, “Alright, we know what we want in this scene, so let’s just go play.”
Which leads me to Essence Atkins, whom you’ve worked with before, and who plays your fiancé in ‘House’. You think of her as a sweet nice sit-com star, but she really cuts loose and “goes there” in the film.
But you know what’s funny? We actually didn’t have a first choice for the part when I wrote it. I didn’t have anyone in mind. She actually came in for a meeting about another project. We were looking at these other actresses. One was a little timid, like she wasn’t sure about doing the part; and the other one was kind of green.
So Essence came in, in the middle of all this and she read for the part on a lark and she was hilarious. But she had just had a baby like three weeks earlier. I didn’t want to take her away from her baby and I was like, “But you’re still recovering and there’s a lot of physical stuff. We have to put a harness on you for some scenes.” She said, “Don’t worry about it. Look, I just went through labor. Nothing is more painful!” So she was game and that was what we needed. Because the film is naughty, the movie is crazy, we go there, and I wanted to have somebody who I know can go to crazy places, stay in the zone and go with me.
A lot of times people will not go with you; they don’t know what to do. Essence was just with me and I’m with her. She knew that she could do whatever and I was there. So it was great chemistry and trust. It was a really good marriage in terms of working together.
Which reminds me what Bill Cosby once said about doing comedy – that you have to just be free. Don’t worry what other people may say, just do it.
Yes, you have to go with your instincts. That’s why God gave them to us. If you over think it, then it’s not going to be funny because you already have a perception of it yourself. You’re not living it.
But I’m serious, God cast our movie; I can tell you that for real. There were people we wanted, but their schedules didn’t work out. But then like Cedric came in just for a meeting and I said to him, “You don’t have to read for this. I know you. I got you. You’re in. Go home.”
And he kills it in the film. He’s played a preacher before, but he’s never played something like this, an R-rated gangster preacher. But just like everybody who I initially wanted didn’t work out, the last person you would have thought for every role came in at the last moment and just rocked it. I mean literally at the last minute, in the 24th hour, we cast people. Essence came on the day of filming. That’s what I mean when I say God cast this film.
So she came in on the first day [of shooting] and immediately had to get into the role. I mean in the first scene we shot together, we have like a 25-minute take of us just improvising. It was so crazy and so funny, but she just stayed with me.
The film gets pretty outrageous; was there any time when you said to yourself, “Okay this is getting to be too much. We need to scale this back?”
Never! We just did it. We didn’t give a s–t about anything. Here’s the thing. We wanted to hit the nerve. We wanted to dig in the tooth and hit the nerve. We didn’t go to the “UGH!” We went to the “OH NO!” Just before you say “Ugh!” we got out. There’s some stuff we shot but we don’t show in the film. We left that out to leave it to your imagination because we didn’t want to “UGH!’; we wanted the laughter.
It’s surprising that no one before has done a parody of those Paranormal Activity or phony “real footage” exorcism movies since they lend themselves so easily to spoofs.
I did two things that no one ever thought of before – doing a spoof on those films and doing a Paranormal Activity movie if it happened to a Black couple. Black people would react quite differently in a horror movie and that’s the beauty of this movie!
Like when they hear that ghost and from the Black experience my character is like: “I’m out! That’s a wrap!” You’re like: “That’s exactly what I would do!” (laughs)
I’m so proud of my movie because this is the first one that I’ve done by myself. I [couldn’t] wait for the premiere, to watch it with my brothers and to see people laughing at what’s going on. Because they created me, so to see them laugh at something I created. I’m so proud.
Right, because you did this without a net. On your own without anybody else from the Wayans clan. You had to, in a sense, prove yourself.
I’ve been saying this is no-training wheels. I’ve had Keenan on the right and Shawn on the left. I’ve had training wheels for 40 years and now they took the training wheels off and I just have to go for it. And the great thing is that I’m fine, I’m good. They taught me well. We all learned and grew together.
I’m not saying that we’re not going to work together anymore, but House is like my Janet Jackson Control album. If it bombs it’s going to be Dream Street!
They taught me so much that I’m proud I’m carrying on the tradition. But I’m not branching out because I’m always going to be a member of that tree. I’m just trying to sprout some new leaves, that’s all.
Well that’s the point, that comedy is hard work. It’s a craft that you have to work at all the time.
My brothers taught me well, but I’ve been studying comedy all my life – from silent films to cartoons to Jerry Lewis to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to Art Carney and Jackie Gleason to Lucille Ball and Ethel Mertz. I have been a fan and a student of comedy since I can remember.
The more hours you put in the better you’re going to get. You’ve got to log in 10,000 hours before you get good at anything. I’ve put in a lot of hours and I’m going to put in more. I don’t think of myself as a comedian, but as an artist, a scientist, and chemist who just happens to be funny.
There’s an art and a science that goes into comedy, and it is studying. It is constant studying. It is trial and error. It is practicing jump shots. And I started doing stand-up to add another level to my game. I feel that I’m a young rookie with a veteran’s skill.
You still consider yourself a rookie after all these years?
I’ve been doing this for a long time and I understand it, but yeah, I think I’m just beginning. I’m a rookie veteran. This is not my omega, this is my alpha. Think about it. I’ve been in the game 20 years and this is the first time I’ve done my own movie. I’m growing up.
It’s like Michael Jackson being part of the Jackson 5 when he’s a child, then he does Off the Wall and now he’s a man. It’s a different journey and it’s new and it’s fresh. Doing stand-up, even though I’ve been getting standing ovations, it doesn’t mean I’m good yet. I haven’t logged in enough hours on that stage to be good.
So this is whole new journey for me. There’s something very special waiting for me 10 years from now when I log my hours. It’s exciting.