If you were watching TV in the ’90s, there were a gang of African-American sitcoms to choose from. Whether it was basic or premium cable options, the doors of opportunity swung open for a variety of Black shows to take their place in the sitcom game and bring the funny to a wider audience. Of all of the most beloved Black sitcoms that debuted in the ’90s, The Wayans Bros. always ranks near the top as a fan favorite.
Starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans, the youngest siblings of the Wayans comedic dynasty, The Wayans Bros. debuted on January 11, 1995 and ended its successful run on May 20, 1999.
Loosely based on their own lives, the sitcom follows the antics of Shawn and Marlon Williams, brothers who live together in an apartment on 117th street in Harlem. Shawn, the entrepreneur, runs his own newsstand where he employs his brother Marlon, a knucklehead and a struggling actor. Adjacent to Shawn’s newsstand was a restaurant, Pop’s Diner, owned by their father, John "Pops" Williams (the late John Witherspoon), and Dee (Anna Maria Horsford) worked in the building as a security guard.
Other cast members and recurring characters who appeared on the series were T.C. (Phill Lewis), Dupree (Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins), Lisa Saunders (Lela Rochon, Season 1), Monique (Paula Jai Walker, Season 2), and Grandma Ellington (Ja’net Dubois).
The slapstick brand of comedy made The Wayans Bros. one of the most popular Black sitcoms during its run. Recalling the impact of the show, Marlon Wayans remembered, “They never credited us with being the premiere show of The WB network. Never gave us credit for often beating NBC’s #1 hit Friends in many markets, including Atlanta. But what we did get was the respect and love from our audience.”
Through the lens of comedy, The Wayans Bros. displayed the power of Black family, friends, and the possibilities of following one’s dreams, with plenty of side-splitting laughs along the way.
On the 25th anniversary of the debut of the show, Bet.com compiled a list of 10 Things You Might Not Have Known About The Wayans Bros.
When it comes to Black sitcoms, the theme song is almost just as important as the premise of the show. The Wayans Bros. carried on this tradition of Black TV but added a twist: They were the first show to feature a known hip-hop track as its official theme song. Without question, Shawn, a former DJ, and Marlon grew up under the influence of hip-hop culture, and it reflected in their style of dress, their slang, and in the selection of their theme song.
The show's official opening title began with Shawn and Marlon rocking Afros and wearing clothes from the '70s, with a corny theme song playing in the background. Then Shawn and Marlon run up on the cameraman, and then segues into "the real opening" of The Wayans Bros. featuring the iconic A Tribe Called Quest classic instrumental version of “Electric Relaxation.”
Although the show would switch theme songs after its second season with an instrumental that was produced by Shawn, Marlon, and close friend Omar Epps, the use of a hip-hop classic as the theme song set the tone for the duration of the show.
Anytime a Black show gets the green light, the hope is that it will create more opportunities for other Black creatives in front of and behind the camera. The Wayans Bros. became a platform for writers and directors to showcase their ingenuity, namely Glynn Turman.
By the time The Wayans Bros. debuted, Glynn Turman was already an accomplished actor with acting credits in film and TV that included playing Leroy "Preach" Jackson in the classic coming-of-age film Cooley High and math professor and retired Army Colonel Bradford Taylor on A Different World from 1988-93. But he also directed several sitcoms, including Hanging With Mr. Cooper and A Different World. So the veteran came on board to the The Wayans Bros. beginning in Season 3, up until the end of Season 4. This began a working partnership with Marlon Wayans, who tapped Turman to appear in his Nexflix comedy Sextuplets.
On October 29, 2019, the comedy world and beyond mourned the passing of the legendary John “Pops” Witherspoon. In addition to all of the numerous film and TV credits that include iconic performances in The Richard Pryor Show, Hollywood Shuffle, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, House Party, Boomerang, Vampire in Brooklyn, The Meteor Man, the Friday series, The Boondocks and Black Jesus, Witherspoon will always be remembered for his role as Pops on The Wayans Bros., one of his signature roles. Amazingly, the executives did not believe that Witherspoon was right for the part, but Shawn and Marlon fought to have him play the role.
In a heartfelt tribute at Witherspoon’s funeral, Shawn revealed how he and Marlon refused to consider anyone else to play their father on their show. When NBC first wanted to bring The Wayans Bros. on board, they were not interested in Witherspoon as the patriarch. Shawn recalled, “We didn’t care; we was like, ‘That’s our pops. That’s it. Take it or leave it.’ So, uh, the show didn’t get picked up on NBC. But they dangled that carrot in front of us.
"They wanted us to hire a different dad. Actually, they wanted us to hire Danny Glover. But we couldn’t see him on there telling me and Marlon, ‘Get in here; I’m getting too old for this mess.” Warner Bros. scooped them up, along with Witherspoon, and the rest is history. No one else could have played Pops like the legendary John Witherspoon.
What often gets lost in the annals of history when considering the contributions of The Wayans Bros. is that the show was the flagship program of the now-defunct WB Network. It happened to be the first of the four sitcoms that premiered as part of the original Wednesday night two-hour lineup that helped launch the network along with Unhappily Ever After, The Parent 'Hood and Muscle. In the early development of the series, the working title of the show was initially Brother to Brother before it was finally changed to The Wayans Bros., making it the first original sitcom to air on The WB network.
As it is usually the fate for Black shows, The Wayans Bros. aired over 100 episodes in five years but never received a grand finale episode as a send-off. Instead of a fitting farewell, The Wayans Bros. was canceled during the summer of 1999, ending unceremoniously.
Although The Wayans Bros. missed out on a final send-off, Shawn and Marlon were just getting started as they would leave their mark in Hollywood. In Scary Movie (2000), Shawn Wayans hilariously addressed the lack of closure saying, “And The Wayans Bros. was a good show, man. It was a good-ass show, and we didn't even get a final episode.”
Like all great situational comedies, The Wayans Bros. was full of running gags throughout the series. From Shawn’s womanizing, Marlon’s intellectual ineptness and struggles to land a serious acting role, to Pop’s eccentric clothing choices and cutting corners in the diner, and Dee’s attempts to get a man, the show offered a plethora of familiar foils to preserve continuity and to keep the laughs coming. But the real gag was that Shawn and Marlon’s mother, Pop’s wife, never makes an appearance in an episode.
While some plots in the show revolved around Pop’s marriage (even an episode where Shawn and Marlon believed Pop’s was cheating on their mother), the boys' momma never made an appearance on camera. Her invisibility somehow made the jokes even funnier.
Marlon Wayans had been slated to play Robin in the Batman film series after auditioning for Tim Burton. But with the addition of Penguin and Catwoman and Joel Schumacher taking over the helm from Burton, his role as Robin was dropped.
When Marlon couldn’t star in the Batman films, he brought Batman to his own show. Adam West, who played Batman in the television series in the 1960s ABC series of the same name and its 1966 theatrical feature film, made a cameo on The Wayans Bros. West played a TV show host in Season 3 in an episode titled “The Black Widower.”
When you think of The Wayans Bros., you don’t automatically associate them with Scott Baio. Interestingly enough, Scott Baio, who played Chachi Arcola on Happy Days (1977–1984) and its spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi (1982–1983) and also starred in the sitcom Charles in Charge (1984–1990), directed four episodes of The Wayans Bros. in 1996.
Because of his direction on The Wayans Bros., Baio directed other Black sitcoms such as The Jamie Foxx Show, Malcolm & Eddie and The Parkers.
By the time Ja’net Dubois became a part of the cast in the third season of The Wayans Bros., she had already accrued an impressive resume as an actress. The Emmy-award winner played Willona Woods, the family friend of the Evans family in Good Times (1974-1979). Also, she co-wrote and sang "Movin' on Up" for The Jeffersons (1975-1985), the greatest theme song in television history.
Playing Grandma Ellington, the grandmother of Shawn and Marlon Williams, and Pops' mother-in-law, she appeared in Seasons 3 and 4 of The Wayans Bros. Although she played Pops' mother-in-law (they couldn’t stand each other, by the way), in real life, Dubois is three years younger than John Witherspoon! Using mad makeup to make her seem older than she was, Ja’net Dubois not only brought her comedic timing to the show, but was a prime example that Black don’t crack.
Shawn and Marlon Wayans used their time on the WB as a training ground for production, so after the cancellation of The Wayans Bros., they went on to become major players in Hollywood as writers and producers.
While the show was still airing, the brothers starred in and co-wrote Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (or simply Don't Be a Menace), which grossed $20 million at the box office. The next year after their show ended, they co-starred, co-produced and co-wrote Scary Movie, which went on to gross $278 million worldwide on a $19 million budget. The sequel, Scary Movie 2, grossed another $140 million. In 2004, they co-wrote and co-produced White Chicks, grossing over $113 million worldwide, and became one of the highest-grossing comedy films of 2004. In 2006, they co-wrote and co-produced Little Man, which grossed over $100 million.
Thinking back on all of their success, Marlon notes, "We were 21 & 23-year-old kids from the projects of Manhattan that created, exec produced, and starred in our very own sitcom. We were fearless, young, crazy, funny, physical, edgy and free. We got to develop as young artists on a weekly basis in front of the world. We learned the skill set to make us movie stars.”
Undoubtedly, Shawn and Marlon found their stride and mastered the art of parody films like no other.
Photo Credit/( KMazur/WireImage)