Prowling the Washington stage like a tiger, Marlon Wayans’ high-energy debut special Woke-ish is frequently hilarious. Six hours of touring material has been boiled down to 66 minutes, both impressively verbal and physical. Highlights of the special, now streaming on Netflix, include Wayans’ riffs on free speech, the police, the Kardashians and the mores of hip-hop cultures.
In Woke-ish, your material about the N-word, and your Get Out remake sequence with the Kardashians and Kanye West, are brilliant.
Thank you, Alexander. Woke-ish represents a lot of hard work, and I’m really happy that audiences are liking it, bro. When you tour all over the place, you have a good idea of what’s funny and not. But when you cut it together, it makes a whole new set.
Woke-ish is more political than your past work. Do we need comedy like yours and Dave Chappelle’s and Chris Rock’s to get us through these crazy times?
Yeah, believe me—that’s why we’re doing this like we’re doing it. Trump’s giving us a lot of stuff to talk about. Each of our specials have got Trump stuff in it. This is the way the world’s moving. I called my special Woke-ish 'cause I thought it was more important to talk about these issues than to talk about myself. I found a way to do it all.
Your riff on having the police talk with your kids—and realizing you were sounding like “an old, scared slave”—is inspired, too.
A lot of it stems from truth. I pride myself on having that talk with my kids, and that is how I felt. I was scared for them.
When Obama was first elected [in 2008], I went to Virginia to help him get voters in Virginia. My mother was like, “Don’t do it. You’re putting yourself at risk. You’re putting yourself out there. Jesse [Jackson] didn’t win. There’s no way the world is ready for a black president. The world ain’t ready for a black president!” I listened to her, and I was like, “Ma, you sound like an old, scared slave!” Later, I realized I was having that same talk with my kids about the police, and I sound like that. So I thought it was a fun thing to put in. A lot of things I try to put in the special are fuckin’ truth.
Rudy Giuliani, etc., on Fox News lecturing black people that they must make their children more responsible than professional, trained state agents with lethal powers—where do they get the chutzpah?
It’s crazy. And the fact that there’s a network that ratchets up this craziness is really sickening to me. I can’t believe it—it disgusts me. My kids can’t even turn on Fox News. As soon as they turn it on, they get disgusted. Their friends don’t view them that way. Their friends don’t view society that way. We live in a different culture. For Fox to put forward these kind of negative images and negative themes, and backs this with an agenda of prejudice and bigotry, I don’t see how this kind of network survives.
I couldn’t believe Laura Ingraham’s racist comments about LeBron James.
That was racism at its finest. “Shut up and dribble.” To me, she might as well just have said, “Don’t say another word, n—”. That’s how I felt when she said it. The way she said it, with the attitude she said it, it really offended me as a black man, made me feel anger. So I tweeted about it. The fact that they keep people like that around [at Fox News] in this day and age is beyond something to even talk about. I don’t want to promote that negative energy to anyone in my audience. If Fox want to be disgusting, if they won’t do anything about being disgusting, I won’t tune into that network.
That’s not the Stacey Dash I knew. An alien came down and swooped her up and kept this body of a pretty black girl with green eyes. The Stacey I know, she no longer lives there.
Playboy was it: First time I seen naked girls was Playboy. Beautiful women, and great articles, too. Playboy has grown—some of the best articles today are in Playboy. It’s always been classy. Beautiful pictures of beautiful women. Playboy is artistic, classy, sexy naked shoots. Never anything smutty or graphic—there’s other places you can go for that if you want to.
Playboy featured Stacey Dash, costar with Damon Wayans and you in Mo' Money, now a conservative Republican who considered a run for Congress. What did you think of Dash’s political aspirations?
[Awkward pause.] Oh, man—that’s not the Stacey Dash I knew. An alien came down and swooped her up and kept this body of a pretty black girl with green eyes. The Stacey I know, she no longer lives there. She wasn’t like that went Damon and I knew her. She was very fun, down-to-earth and sweet. She didn’t have these ideas. I’ma be real. Everybody’s entitled to feel how they feel in America. She’s entitled to her opinions. We don’t have to agree. What I won’t do is fight with someone who’s a friend of mine, about our political points of view. We just won’t discuss politics. I always give her a hug and say hi, and then I look her in the eye and say, “Where’s the alien?”
You believe you can tell any joke, it’s just how you tell it?
There’s no topic off-limits. That’s what you find doing comedy. When I was developing my Trump material, I toured the South because I wanted to see what Trump material triggered what reaction, how much was good to put in the special.
Some topics are always gonna be hot-button topics. Religion. Politics. Some gender stuff. Racism. Sexuality. Rape, molestation. Certain things, some people go, “There’s nothing funny about that!” Because either they’ve been through something, or they’ll feeling very protective of someone. For me, finding the humor in those dark caverns is what makes comedy, as a profession, one of the greatest jobs in the world. Not everyone can say it. But if I can find a way to say it, and find a while to make you smile or laugh, about something that is deemed taboo or painful, then I helped you heal. I think we have to remain brave, and find what’s funny about it.
Chris Rock heckled me. … I quit stand-up for 19 years after that moment. “Is that Chris Rock heckling me? One of my idols.”
I don’t think Dave’s gonna quit. Dave’s addicted to comedy. I don’t think Dave would know what to do without comedy! He loves it too much. Dave’s one of my great friends, one of my peers, and also somebody I look up to in comedy.
I do agree that the audiences are too sensitive. That makes our job harder, gives us more obstacles to jump over, but makes it more interesting. It goes from being a hundred-meter sprint to being a hundred-meter sprint with hurdles. How do we get over these hurdles? I think it’s going to make us even funnier than we were before. It’s good that we become a little sensitive. It’s a check and balance to life. I accept it, I accept the challenges, I’m here to put smiles on people's faces and nothing’s ever gonna get in the way of that for me. Dave loves comedy the way I love comedy, so he ain’t quittin’!
Dave’s made a lot of money. [Imitates Chappelle.] “Aaargh, comedy.” A hundred million dollars! Maybe when I make Dave kind of money, I might quit. [Laughs.]
How did Chris Rock make you a better comedian?
He heckled me. I was doing a set at the Laugh Factory. I was like, "What’s funny?" Chris was like [adopts raucous Chris Rock voice], “You’re a comedian! You tell us.” Then I said, "What else is up?" “I dunno, how about some jokes?”
I quit stand-up for 19 years after that moment. “Is that Chris Rock heckling me? One of my idols.” It actually grew me to be a better comedian. Because now when I go up on stage, I’m a bit more prepared.
I highly rate your acting in Requiem for a Dream and The Ladykillers. How was it working with the Coen brothers?
If the Coens don’t like your performance, they’ll tell you. For the most part, they write a great script, they let you improvise, they let you bring you to the character, they’re amazing guys to work with and great filmmakers. As far as Darren [Aronofsky] with Requiem for a Dream, it was like an acting conservatory. Aronofsky brilliantly takes his actors through the process, gets great performances out of them. I only select movies with directors I really believe in. I’d rather write my own stuff than work in just any movie.
You've previously discussed your take on the allegations against Bill Cosby. How do you currently feel?
I wasn’t there. I was skeptical at first. When the 57th woman came out [alleging rape and sexual assault by Bill Cosby], I was like, “Maybe there’s something to it. I’ve never known 57 people to be lying.” But then again, it was the '70s, and people did a lot of sex and drugs back then. Innocent until proven guilty, but it looks a little shady. [Ed. note: Wayans made his comments before the recent guilty verdict.]
I will say, Cosby’s still one of my comedic idols. The Cosby Show helped erase some of the racism that existed in the 80s.
Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016. In Alabama, black women voted for Doug Jones, 98 to 2 percent, and turned a deep-red state blue. When is the rest of America going to catch up to black women?
Right now, it’s necessary for black people and black women to vote because the laws that [Republicans] are trying to pass and the people they are trying to put in, probably affect that demographic the most. Hopefully, we all wake up sooner or later, and understand we all have a job to do. And that’s to not let the world slip into a debased system because we all work too hard, and so many great people have died in the walk of equality, for us to let this type of behavior slip back in. We as individuals are about to stand up, and pull the black women out of us, and do what’s right for society, for every color, and that’s to promote equality, especially in our government.
What else do you hope people might take away from watching Woke-ish?
That it’s funny! I hope they watch it. This was more of a serious conversation. My whole thing is finding the funny. That’s what I do in my life, in whatever situation, and in Woke-ish. It works for me, so I hope it works for everybody else.
Woke-ish is now streaming on Netflix.