marlon wayans interview

Marlon Wayans was heckled by Chris Rock and quit standup for 20 years

An interview with the actor and comedian (and show business dynasty member) ahead of his first ever Just for Laughs appearances.

As part of the Wayans show business dynasty, Marlon Wayans was practically born into comedy — but not standup, so much. Appearing on the legendary sketch comedy TV show In Living Color at the age of 20, he went on to co-star in The Wayans Bros. sitcom with his brother Shawn, produce, write and co-star in the two Scary Movie films and star in his own NBC sitcom, Marlon, in 2017 and 2018, along with a number of other film roles in everything from the depraved 2000 drama Requiem for a Dream to the recent Netflix horror film The Curse of Bridge Hollow.

We spoke with Wayans ahead of his appearances at Just for Laughs, which include a solo show on July 27.

Taylor Noakes: How did you get started in standup comedy?

Marlon Wayans: My brother’s been doing comedy since I was like three, and, regardless, comedy’s always been something I wanted to do. I think my start was in college, I did five minutes at this place in Washington, DC and, it went well, and that felt good. I think I did it another 15, 16 times and then I got heckled by Chris Rock and I quit for 20 years. And then I came back into it because I was supposed to play Richard Pryor in a movie and I was like, “If I’m going to play the greatest comedian ever, I better get my Black ass back on stage.” So I started doing standup again and I never stopped and I’ll never stop. I love it.

TN: I’m glad you got back on stage… being heckled by Chris Rock seems pretty rough.

Marlon Wayans: It had to be for me to quit for 20 years. You know, in comedy he was doing what big brothers do. I love Rock — Rock has always been a friend of the family, you know I love him. It made me better that night because it tested me to see if I really wanted to do it. And in my last special, God Loves Me, I heckled him for a whole hour. So, look at karma.

TN: Good point. Who are your comedic influences, who did you look up to?

Marlon Wayans: Oh, I would definitely say Richard Pryor, my brother David, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, big fan of Chappelle.

TN: When you’re preparing a new show or preparing a set, where do you draw inspiration from?

Marlon Wayans: Where I’m at in my life, what I’m experiencing right now in my life and how to make sense of how to rescue myself from my pain. Finding the funny in whatever I’m going through.

TN: You’ve been doing this for a while, you have a lot of experience. Are there new trends in comedy that you like, or those you don’t?

Marlon Wayans: Well actually what I’ll be doing at the Surrounded show — crowd work — which is something I normally don’t do. Because I never draw from the crowd for inspiration. I prefer to heckle myself, that’s where I get my jokes from. So talking to the audience is going to be weird because I’m used to strutting around like they don’t exist.

TN: So you’re throwing yourself into something completely new then?

Marlon Wayans: Absolutely, I always do. Like hosting The Daily Show — I never hosted a late night talk show before. I feel like I just had to throw myself into it. My whole career has been leaps of faith. When I wrote, starred in and produced my first movie, Don’t Be a Menace, I had never done that before. I just jumped into the fire. It’s all about prepping as best you can and going to have fun and trusting your instincts. And I’m hoping that engaging with the audience will allow me to trust my instincts to find and drive humour for 15 minutes. And if not, it’ll just be a nice conversation.

TN: That’s a good way to look at it. Have you performed at Just for Laughs before?

Marlon Wayans: No, this is my first time.

TN: I’ve often wondered this about comedians who come from from funny families, who have siblings who are also in the business: Are you able to workshop material with your family, with your brothers? Are they helpful or are they more of a hindrance?

Marlon Wayans: We don’t really ask each other about material, we just know we’re funny. We talk nonsense to each other or laugh about things. We’re not in a competition. I don’t need them to write and they don’t need me. We like to develop our own style.

TN: Do you remember the worst time you ever bombed?

Marlon Wayans: Probably when I first started. It wasn’t that I bombed, it’s just that I didn’t have any jokes written. So I was just like, “What else is funny?” And I sat there for 3 to 5 minutes just trying to think. But probably the worst time I bombed was when Chris Rock heckled me. But I’m grateful, because I think that was a defining moment, I’m grateful for Chris, for one of the GOATs to take the time to check the chin of a young man, a young comedian. Because that night made me funnier.

You know, my brother once told me, “You don’t fail until you quit trying.” ■

Marlon Wayans is at Just for Laughs on July 26 (Surrounded) and July 27

Just for Laughs presents Marlon Wayans at le Studio TD (305 Ste-Catherine W.) on Thursday, July 27, 9:30 p.m., SOLD OUT

For more Montreal comedy coverage, please visit the Comedy section.