There are many ways to describe Hollywood renaissance man Keenen Ivory Wayans. He is a comedian, actor, writer, filmmaker, and much more. Growing up in arguably the greatest family in comedy history, he broke out in the early ’80s after appearing on the Johnny Carson Show. From there he went on to co-write the groundbreaking film “Hollywood Shuffle” alongside Robert Townsend. This led to him creating “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”, a film he is still known for today. The success of this film opened the door for him to create the crown jewel of his career “In Living Color.” This revolutionary sketch comedy show is still highly regarded to this day. With this show, Keenen showcased some of the greatest entertainers of our time. Introducing us to Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Lopez. He also brought along legendary members of his family such as Damon, Marlon, Kim, and Shawn Wayans. As the years went on, he continued to be a pioneer in film, television, and comedy as a whole. Today he is returning to his roots back on stage doing stand up. He is currently on tour with former cast members Tommy Davidson and David Alan Grier. He was gracious enough to give us a few minutes of his time. Below you’ll find an excerpt from my conversation with Keenen Ivory Wayans.
You’re known for having a big family that’s very successful as well. I have over 10 siblings myself, so I understand having a big family. How did you guys not kill each other?
That’s funny, because we were our protectors and friends. We grew up in a diverse, segregated community. We started out in Harlem and then moved to Chelsea; which is Irish, and Puerto Rican. Blacks were the minority so we were forced to be more than a family to survive.
Some people don’t want to live with their families, let alone work with them. Why was it so imperative to bring them along?
My dad was a Jehovah’s Witness, so he would tell us these Bible stories. He told us this story about one of the brothers who carried the lineage of Jesus. He had such purpose and that stayed with me. It impacted me because it was a story of the second brother, which I am as well. So at a young age, I felt I was supposed to do something for my family. So when the opportunity came to bring them along I did. It wasn’t something conscious, but when you asked that question I know where the feeling of purpose came from.
I remember watching an interview with your brother Marlon, where he said that you would make them watch certain movies and have them point out what’s funny.
Yeah, when they first told me they wanted to do what I was doing, I started with them then. They were little kids and I would fly them out to LA to stay with me over the summer. I was maybe 20 years old and I’d have Shawn, Marlon, and Damon. What I’d do is make them watch comedies and make them tell me why it was funny. It was my way of teaching them to recognize comedy.
To read the full interview be sure to get the next issue of COSIGN Magazine being released in February. Go to our Magazine tab to purchase our past issues.