The hilarious television star sits down for a chat about race in comedy, Bill Maher, and why Twitter is too convenient for celebrities.
While the past decade or so has brought us many memorable stand-up comics, the vagaries of television have not been kind to them: a few mass successes among many half-season wonders who fail to make it out of the gate. An exceptional success story, however, can be found in the career of Emmy-award winning actor Wayne Brady, whose consecutive hits include both the British and American short-form improvisational series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Don’t Forget the Lyrics! and The Wayne Brady Show, which won four Daytime Emmys.
While currently kept busy hosting CBS’ revival of the historic game show Let’s Make a Deal and ABC’s new improv comedy, Trust Us with Your Life, Brady still makes time to get on the road to festivals, keep other comics accountable and, of course, have us on the verge of shitting our pants from laughter.
We caught up with the comedian prior to his sold-out performances at this year’s Just for Laughs festival to chat about his set I See White People, taking the high road with Bill Maher and why Twitter is way too convenient for celebrities.
Playboy.com: Your set is called I See White People; what do you have lined up?
Brady: That’s the title I came up with to be stupid, because one of the things that really pisses me off as a grown man in the year 2012 is, and maybe it’s just me, but I was raised with the ideal that race should have no bearing on what happens to you professionally or in your personal life; it’s however good or bad you are at whatever the thing is. It’s not that you’re a rodeo clown, it’s that you’re an awesome rodeo clown, or if you suck at being a rodeo clown, then you’re dead. But as soon as you put in front of it, “Oh yeah, that’s a black rodeo clown, and I’ve heard he’s fast.” What the hell does that mean? Now you’re just assuming that because the guy is black, he’s fast; that sucks. I would rather be judged on my own merit. That’s just the way I was raised.
So when in my career I run into things like this, even from folks stereotyping each other…when I did that stint on Chapelle’s Show, I did it because Paul Mooney made the crack about me making Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X — folks laugh, but people don’t understand how deep that is for the black culture. And if they don’t get that, that’s fine, but I do; I’m the black man that gets it because we live in a day and era when you have guys like Bill Maher, who supports our black president but says, “Oh but I wish he was more black and not black like Wayne Brady” — but he doesn’t know what black is. So when I do a show called I See White People, it’s making fun of that thing, and it’s pretty much the only time you’ll see an improv show that is racially pointed. So myself and my partner Jonathan, we took all of the stereotypes, all the negative shit you hear about any race, and throw it into a big hat. We take all of those things and do scenes and defuse it. Nothing is off-limits and nothing is too taboo. We make people see how stupid it is.
Playboy.com: Did you choose this title before the Bill Maher dispute or after? It’s pretty coincidentally timed.
Brady: It’s so coincidentally timed, but I chose the name beforehand; afterwards it just made me laugh. At the end of the day, I don’t hate Bill Maher; I think Bill Maher is funny. I’ve watched Bill Maher since I was a kid, because that’s how old he is. I obviously like him; I just think that his phrasing and small-mindedness and him not knowing that just because you have black friends doesn’t mean you know what goes on in my culture and in my house, and you can’t assume.
Playboy.com: Has he responded at all to you or the media on the topic?
Brady: His camp has stayed completely quiet. That’s fine, because I have friends who pick Twitter battles or pick a press war just to raise their own following or their profile; I’m happy with my profile, I don’t need to raise anything. I was speaking honestly; this whole thing came out in a podcast with Aisha Tyler, who is a friggin’ genius of a beautiful woman who happens to be black, and blew up on the internet.
Playboy.com: You mentioned on Aisha’s show that there are “Our Rules” and then Bill Maher’s “New Rules.” Can you elaborate a bit more on these?
Brady: One of the things from the interview, and this was harsher, was “Just because you bang black hookers doesn’t mean that you’re black.” That’s a rule. Just because you’ve inserted yourself in the black experience, it doesn’t mean the black experience is in you. You should never walk into Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood and demand his table, bitch; he should never do that.
Playboy.com: You’ve got a new show on ABC this summer, Trust Us with Your Life; how does it differ from Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Brady: It’s Whose Line is it Anyway? meets This Is Your Life. It’s an old-school energy show, with Fred Willard, who is a huge movie fan. He interviews the celebrities; so far we’ve had Ricky Gervais, Serena Williams, Mark Cuban, just to name a few. We get stories about their life, and we turn their stories into scenes.
Playboy.com: Who’s been your favorite guest to act out so far?
Brady: Ricky Gervais was amazing. He gave me one of the best lines of the season when he was saying that his father was saying he was a surprise, so I did a whole thing about being Daddy’s little chocolate mistake. I made Ricky Gervais laugh so hard that he was holding himself and trying not to spit up. That made me very happy. So I think he is probably the highlight, him and Serena Williams; I got to play Serena.
Playboy.com: Do you have a dream guest to bring on?
Brady: Yeah, I’d like to get President Clinton on. Stand-ups for so many years had Bill Clinton jokes after the thing happened with Lewinsky. He never truly went in-depth about it. I would love to be able to act out some of the stuff he talks about. Because instead of SNL where they are making up these sketches out of stuff out of someone else’s mind, we would be doing stuff that this guy’s actually seen. That’s amazing to me.
Playboy.com: Do you think social media makes it too easy to respond to your fans or your critics?
Brady: Absolutely. I am a fan of show biz, and there was a time in show biz that you could only watch your favorite performer and listen to them. That was good, because you never had any images shattered. So if you wanted to go to the theater and watch Stallone, if you’re a kid of the ’80s, you never had to interact with him; all you had was this big guy. Now on Twitter, you might actually get a reply back from someone that you like. But here’s the thing: you may say something so fucking stupid that the person that you like has no recourse but to turn around and verbally bitch-slap you. That doesn’t do anyone any good because then everyone involved — the person you like, you might not like them as much anymore, and that person, lowering themselves to name-calling. As you said before, I have no problem talking to fans and critics alike, but there are times I think I should just shut my mouth. I should just shut up because why should I let myself get affected by this dude in Oklahoma City, a small little suburb in Oklahoma City, with 15 followers. Why would I let him upset my entire day and make me say stupid shit online? So yes, Twitter is way too easy.
Playboy.com: What was your first Playboy?
Brady: I couldn’t tell you the first date or time, but the first Playboy I read, I was about 10 years old, and I snuck into my aunt and my uncle’s room and went under their bed because I was playing hide-and-seek with my sister, and I hit my head on this big old box. I pulled out the box because they weren’t home, and there were a ton of Playboys. I lost my mind. I think that was the day I learned how to masturbate.
Follow Wayne on Twitter @WayneBrady