Keenen Ivory Wayans, a visionary trailblazer in comedy and professional springboard for his siblings, helped change what America finds funny.
The director, writer and producer is responsible for creating the groundbreaking sketch comedy TV show In Living Color and the films I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and the first two installments of the Scary Movie franchise. The 55-year old eldest brother of Damon, Kim, Marlon and Sean is now back on the small screen as a guest actor on TV Land’s sitcom Happily Divorced, which stars Tichina Arnold (check your local listings).
BET.com chatted with Wayans about his plans to return to stand-up along with another comedy legend — Eddie Murphy — and why In Living Color 2.0 has been shelved indefinitely.
Tell us a bit about the character you play on Happily Divorced.
I play a guy who dated Tichina Arnold’s character. I left her jilted and have come back 20 years later to rekindle our relationship. After we’re hot and heavy again for about a week she doesn’t hear from me. So she thinks I did it again. Then, she goes to my place to cuss me out only to find out I … well, I don’t want to tell you what happens next.
We'll have to tune in. It’s been over ten years since you’ve acted on television. What brought you back?
People I know who are working on Happily Divorced — like Tichina and [consulting producer] Yvette Lee Bowser — I’ve known them forever and I love and adore them. They asked me if I would do it and I said yes. Tichina was saying how she’s worked with every single person in my family except me, so we had to make the circle complete. It was a good time. It was a great opportunity for me to get some of the rust off and see if I want to perform again.
Your nephews now have a new BET series, Second Generation Wayans, produced by Marlon. Will you be apart of it?
Well, I’m involved in it if they need me. When they went to do this show it initially was going to be all of us producing. But I said to Craig and Damien, “This is your thing and you’re doing this to establish yourselves, so you all don’t need me.” They don’t really need Marlon either [laughs]. But Marlon is there in case they need him. They’re doing their thing.
It’s been reported that the In Living Color reboot is no longer moving forward. What happened?
That’s on hold right now. My feeling was that the bar was set so high; if we couldn't reach it then it was best to just leave it. I don’t feel like we can reach that bar right now.
Were you having trouble finding the next Jim Carrey or David Alan Grier?
In Living Color was like catching lighting in a bottle, all the elements came together and the comedy gods blessed it. You have to wait for that blessing, you can’t make that. We went out and we looked at talent, and there were some great people. But like I said, I just didn’t feel like beyond doing a great pilot that we had five years of material and characters that we would need for the show.
You gave a very touching speech at the Eddie Murphy: One Night Only tribute special last year. As a director, what kind of worthy film project would you like to see him in?
All the fans want to see Eddie Murphy get back and they can’t really put [their] finger on what it is. Eddie is great when he is playing the joke on someone versus the joke being on him. He is better active than reactive. In all Eddie’s best movies he’s the guy who comes in and turns the world upside down versus his world getting turned upside down.
That's an interesting take on his work. What upcoming projects do you have planned?
Actually, Eddie and I talked after the special about doing stand-up again. So that’s something that I want to do. Continue that conversation with him and kind of egg him on. I’m definitely going to do it.
You and Eddie Murphy are going to do stand-up concerts?
Not together, but it will be like both of us getting on stage again to have fun. We want to get our smiles back and reignite that spark. Stand-up is a really fun medium to play in and keeps you sharp and funny. And if you’re not doing it because you’ve got to make money, it’s a really great creative form. For he and I both, I just think it would be something really fun to do at this stage in our careers and see what comes out of it.
That would be a major comedy event. Eddie hasn’t done stand-up in 26 years. Will you have to persuade him to do it?
No, Eddie’s ready. We said we’re going to give ourselves two months to write, get back in touch and see if we’re serious or not. My brothers and I have been talking about doing a Wayans Brothers tour that would be me, Damon, Sean and Marlon. If I were to do it, that would be my agenda. With Eddie, if he wanted to do his next concert movie I would love to be there as a friend and be a sounding board to help him put it together. Whatever creatively we decide to do, it will be a fun conversation.
Wow, so when can audiences expect the stand-up return of Eddie Murphy and Keenen Ivory Wayans?
Now, if either Eddie or me really got serious, nothing would happen for at least a year. [Laughs] Nobody would want to film anything that we come up with in two months.
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(Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)