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Marlon Wayans Has The Energy of Seven Characters (And He Wants To Prove It)

Photo by Michael Carico

Somehow, someway, comedian Marlon Wayans just released his FIRST stand-up special last year. The 10th  child of the massive Wayans Hollywood family has been performing comedy since 1988, but stand-up actually came later. “Yeah, I don’t know why,” the 48-year-old questions. “I re-engineered my career all backwards, I’m crazy! Most people start stand-up as a means to an end. I started out writing movies and creating stuff and then went to stand-up eight years ago, so its still fresh for me.”

With his special Woke-ish streaming online, the comic will be bringing fresh bits to his weekend at the Houston Improv. But unlike many comics who will pour over their jokes with a fine-tooth comb, the star of the wildly successful first two Scary Movie films admits he likes to play with the form a bit more. “I can come up with an idea and just explore it onstage. I like to do that. Go: here’s the thought, and let me find a space to express this. I won’t do like a whole brand new hour, but there’s gonna be brand new material. What’s good is that I like the art of creating new material. So I can’t rest on the laurels of what I made last time. It’s like a record: people don’t want to hear your greatest hits, people want to hear what’s the new stuff. It challenges you as a writer to create a new set as interesting or better than what you started off with.”

While the stand-up has got Wayans touring, his career on the screen has been far from light. He spent the good part of the last two summers headlining his own NBC series, where he got to work in front of a live studio audience. “Marlon helped me re-identify with story. And have moments where you are grounded. When you leave parody alone and start focusing in on television shows, it allows me as an actor to bite down on the material and have some more gravity to my performance. Especially ‘cause in a sitcom, I can go crazy for 20 minutes and 30 seconds, but you need that minute and a half of heart for that story to really resonate. I’m happy I get to act again, I’m a performing arts high school alum and for me, acting is what I do.”

While Marlon won’t be returning to the broadcast network, all episodes of the series can currently be found on Netflix – and the streaming service can’t get enough of Wayans. In fact, his second movie with the media producer (after 2017’s aptly titled Naked) finds the performer pushing past his comfort zone into a realm only the brave comic stars dare to touch: multiple characters. “In Sextuplets, I get to play six different characters, one of the hardest things I ever done in my life. Unbelievable – and its actually seven different characters. I don’t know how I did it! I’m still not recovered yet.”

The list is short of comics who have taken on the task of multiple roles at once, but few get as high as seven. When it comes to whom the comic looked at for inspiration, the first name to spring to mind is obvious. “I’m thinking it hasn’t been done since Eddie Murphy done it in Nutty Professor, but I think this is different. You gotta step it up a notch, and I think what we did with this one was great because we did motion capture because a lot of the characters we did are in scenes together and the camera is moving all in one shot so its different! It’s not like you just cut away to a single. You’re actually in the scene with everybody. The technology helped me out but also made it more impossible to do.”

The lions shares of the glory will undoubtedly go to Wayans should Sextuplets be a hit. But Wayans is quick to credit his collaborators in make-up, directing and editing for bringing his seven faces to
life. “It’s impossible, you do seven hours of make-up and for me, I do 14 hours after that.  So there are days I would sleep two hours, that’s the hard part. Sleep deprivation! And let’s see if after the sleep you can be ultimately hilarious as seven different people. I drove everybody crazy because I love to improvise. So I had my producing partner and my director certain days losing their minds! Because if I’m playing five characters, I got five different people improvising in the scene. And THEN, I have to react to all those improvs! It of course makes the process harder, but at the end of the day, I think we’re all gonna be happy.”

Photo by by Michael Carico

Maybe that’s what Wayans does best – he gives it all to his work. “I can jump into anything,” he shares. “From me to a character to a voice to an object to an animation. For me, it's just like painting with you body on the stage. I come home once a week and I’m like, my elbow is broken and bruised today, my back hurts and I think I bent my pinky out of place, but you give yourself to your art.”

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 31, at 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. on Friday, February 1, and 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 2 at Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit $35-45.