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The Wayans name has been associated with movie comedy for over 30 years, from Hollywood Shuffle, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Mo’ Money in the 1980s and ‘90s to White Chicks and the Scary Movie franchise in the current century. On TV, the Wayanses have starred in various combinations in the hit shows In Living Color, The Wayans Brothers, and My Wife and Kids. Now Marlon Wayans, the youngest of the 10 Wayans siblings who has appeared in most of the above, is following in the footsteps of big brothers Keenen and Damon in creating and starring in a TV series of his own. Marlon, premiering Aug. 16 on NBC, showcases Marlon’s lovably over-the-top personality and gift for physical comedy.

In the semi-autobiographical premise, Wayans plays a famous Internet blogger/marketer/influencer and divorced dad who is still very much involved the lives of his ex-wife Ashley (Essence Atkins), a successful interior designer, and their kids Zack (Amir O’Neil) and Marley (Notlim Taylor).

Marlon (Marlon Wayans) and Ashley (Essence Atkins)

Enthusiastic and well meaning but given to saying and doing inappropriate things, Marlon is always getting himself into sticky situations. In the first of two premiere episodes, Marlon is jealous of Ashley’s handsome date and follows the couple to a restaurant. Subsequent episodes have him dealing with teenage Marley starting to date boys and whether or not he and Ashley should have sex. Everything is taken from Wayans’ real-life experiences.

“This is me. It's like someone put an IV into my vein and took everything and put it on the screen,” says the actor. “It's literally based on my life, my relationship with my kids, my relationship with their mom. It’s about a divorced family staying together, and it's all about love. I don't call my ex-wife ‘my ex.’  We still call each other ‘Baby.’”

Wayans collaborates with writer and co-producer Chris Moynihan on the scripts, but there’s a lot of improvisation on the set. “No one knows what [Marlon’s] going to say next, including him,” says Moynihan. “He is very, very broad, but there's a lot of heart to the stories he tells. He has a unique voice, and he’s completely unapologetic in everything he says, completely uninhibited. I was, like, ‘OK, if we can just corral a little of this, capture it.’ And I think we really did.”

Having loved classic comedies like the Honeymooners and I Love Lucy as a kid growing up in New York City, Wayans has “always dreamt of doing my own show on television.” He thought, “I want to do a show that, a hundred years from now, people will be laughing at some of the things that I did.” 

Marlon

In high school, classmates appreciated his comedy. “I always had this gift to say the craziest things,” says Wayans--and the charm to get away with it.  Unlike pal Omar Epps, who’d get slapped for saying the same cheeky things as he did, “I would say something, and girls would be, like, ‘Marlon, you're so silly.’  It's just a gift, and I always wanted to bring that to television.”

Wayans first realized he was funny when he made his mother and brothers Keenen and, especially, Damon laugh. “Damon hates everything, he’s the toughest, so when I made him laugh I knew I was onto something,” he says.

He characterizes his style as “broad. I've always been broad. It's sometimes looked at as a curse, when in actuality it's a gift. There's nothing wrong with being broad,” he believes, as long as you ground it “with a great story and some heart, with characters that you care about. I believe in fun,” he says. “My household is fun, and my kids are going to look back on their childhood and go, ‘We had a lot of fun, and, man, Dad was silly.’ And that's all I want.” Those kids are teenagers now: his son, 15, is a star basketball player and his daughter, 16, is applying to colleges.

Marlon and Stevie (Diallo Riddle)Wayans created a best friend character for his TV alter ego named Stevie (Diallo Riddle), who’s jobless and has been crashing on Marlon’s couch for two years. He’s based Wayans’ college friend Steve, who moved out to California and invited himself to stay with Wayans for a few weeks. “Four years later the man was still on my couch. What was great about Steve is he's book smart, but life dumb,” says Wayans. He also created a BFF for Ashley named Yvette, played by Bresha Webb.

“I'm the messy best friend who is in business with Ashley. I just give her the worst advice. I'm the friend that just messes up everything,” Webb says. Now that Ashley’s single, “I give her a new license to have fun.” Yvette is on the hunt for a rich man, but “There might be sparks in the future for Stevie and Yvette,” Diallo Riddle says hopefully. “I think that there's some tension there.”

As of now, there are no plans for any of Wayans’ brothers or nephews to appear on the show. “Hopefully, one day I’ll get them on,” says Wayans.  But you know, I called the show Marlon because there's too many damn Wayanses. They always want a check,” he jokes.

In reality, the brotherly rivalry is “a friendly competition. It's supportive and sometimes giving each other space to do what their creative vision is, execute their own vision.” He’s glad to be flying solo this time out. “I've done Wayans for 44 years. It's really good to step out on my own and be mature enough for this moment to do a show with my point of view. I'm excited about doing this.”

Atkins drinking wine with a friend

Reflecting on a resumé that includes movies, standup comedy, sketch comedy and sitcoms, Wayans has trouble picking a favorite format. “I love them all. I can't tell you which one I love best. I'm trying to figure it all out right now,” he says. “I think this show allows me the opportunity to do everything that I know how to do. I'm theatrically trained. I went to a performing arts high school. I did Shakespeare, so I know how to act. I can do characters, physical comedy. I’m really just trying to master and learn as much about the art as I possibly can. And hopefully it all comes together and I create something special.”

Essence Atkins, who has known Wayans for 22 years and worked with him four times before Marlon, shares an enlightening story about him “Five years ago, we were sitting in the hair and makeup room, getting ready to go to work, and he told me that he had just purchased a piano and started taking piano lessons. He said, ‘I wanted my kids to see me suck at something, work at it, and get better.’ This is the man that is Marlon Wayans. As funny and crazy and ridiculous as he can be, this is a very thoughtful person, a very smart person, a person who is constantly growing. And I think you'll see that in the show as well,” she believes. “I think you will fall in love with this guy, but you will also understand why Ashley had to leave.”

MarlonWayans notes that he’s still taking piano lessons. “I can read music now and I’m picking up the guitar. I never know if I’ll need it for a role.” His next part doesn’t call for musical talent, but is squarely within his comedic wheelhouse.  In Naked, premiering on Netflix Aug. 11, he plays an irresponsible groom-to-be who gets dinged for not taking his nuptial commitments seriously. He wakes up after his bachelor party buck-naked in an elevator, and has to return to the elevator over and over until he gets everything right. “It’s like Groundhog Day with a wedding,” Wayans compares.

The movie, like Marlon, is a showcase for the kind of storytelling that Wayans does best. “My mother has given me so much good advice, and she has always said, ‘Baby, be you. You’re a wonderful person and a great human being. All you gotta do is be you.’ And I do,” Wayans says. “I trust myself because my mother instilled me with the utmost confidence. I never question my instincts. I just do it. Sometimes it’s right and sometimes it’s wrong, but at the end of the day it’s right because failure is part of success.”


Marlon premieres Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 194 - October 3564
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