Most comedians were inspired to pursue comedy as a career because they enjoyed the feeling of being the funny person in their family or friend group. Comedian Shawn Wayans didn't have that luxury; he grew up in one of the biggest comedy families in American comedy history. "It’s actually easy because that’s what everybody does so it’s a natural process for you," Wayans says. "It’s the family business."
The TV, film and comedy star, who performs five shows this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Arlington Improv, has starred in a number of films and TV shows alongside his brothers and sisters, including Scary Movie; White Chicks; Little Man; the sitcom The Wayans Bros. with his older brother Marlon; and the groundbreaking sketch comedy show In Living Color. He says he's living the dream he had since he first decided to get into stand-up.
Shawn says he first got the itch to make a name for himself in the family business when he was in high school and staying with his older brother Keenan Ivory Wayans, the creator of In Living Color and director of blaxploitation spoof I'm Gonna Get You Sucka and slasher movie parody Scary Movie, when he was in the process of making Sucka.
"I came out with my brothers Keenan and Damon [Wayans] when they were shooting Sucka, and I stayed for the summer with Keenan while they were making that movie, and I always dreamt of being a stand-up comedian," Shawn says. "When I went to Los Angeles, I promised myself that when I went back to New York, I was going to do stand-up."
Shawn says his first set at the Laugh Factory in New York went just the way all first-time comics should expect their sets to go. "It was nerve-racking, it was lots of fun and it was also scary at the same time, but I was happy that I did it because I accomplished my goal," Shawn says.
Shawn moved out to LA right after he finished school and struggled as comedian until he was able to get on In Living Color as a cast member and the show's DJ, aka SW1. That led to developing and writing his own films and shows with his brother Marlon, starting with Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Driving Your Juice in the Hood, a parody of '90s inner city dramas in the same vein as Sucka. Don't Be a Menace has become a cult classic.
“It was pretty overwhelming but also exciting and fun,” Shawn says. “The offers never came pouring in. We just constantly kept pushing creatively and building our career and brand. Just because you’ve got a hit, it’s great that you got that moment, but it’s always 'What’s next?'”
The 2000 release of Scary Movie, a parody of the horror classic Scream by the late director Wes Craven, which is itself a parody of the horror genre, launched a long-running film franchise and cemented Marlon and Shawn's place on screen as a comedy duo.
"That was a big deal because we worked our ass off and it all came together nice," Shawn says. "It was a lot of fun. The first Scary Movie was a blast. We shot it in Canada with me, my brothers and people who we had a lot of good chemistry with. It was like a comedy college camp and we had a blast on the first one. The second one [Scary Movie 2] wasn't as much fun. The first one, we had time to do it and the second we didn't."
The success of his film and show projects took him away from stand-up for awhile, he says. "Sometimes in between movies and stuff, I had to stop [doing stand-up] so I would focus on what I was doing," Shawn says, "but I would always go back."
Even when he's not on the road, Shawn says he writes as much material as he can. But he never knows if it will end up in a movie, the TV pilot he's currently producing or on a comedy club stage. “You're constantly building your set and making it better, and in between that, you’re figuring out where they go," Shawn says. "Is it a stand-up set or a TV show or a movie? You have to figure out where your creativity goes.”
Shawn Wayans will perform at the Arlington Improv, 309 Curtis Mathes Way, at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 at ImprovArlington.com.