The Wayans Brothers first visit to New Zealand brought the house down at the Bruce Mason Centre last night.
A sold out crowd showed their appreciation and enthusiasm in tremendous proportions. There were whoops, cheers and fist pumps a plenty for these comedians best know for their films Don’t Be A Menace, White Chicks and the hugely successful Scary Movie 1 & 2.
Warm up guy and overall master of ceremonies Wil Sylvince got the crowd going with a routine of smart observations and audience interactions. His stories of travel and showing off in first class were top notch. Sylvince’s energetic performance and clever set was a great intro into the raucous American stand up style of the evening. A recurring theme throughout the night was the cleanliness of New Zealand with comments of ‘is this place new?’ and ‘your air has oxygen’ which went down a storm.
The Wayans Bro up first was Marlon. He burst on to the stage and proceeded to go around the audience high fiving as he went. Commenting that comedians have no budget compared to musicians he certainly got the same adulation as a Hip Hop star. His set featured some great self deprecation around his appearance. Saying ‘i’m ugly but f%&kable’. As well as the more crass humour around sex and race this obviously intelligent comic also hilariously commented on gay rights and politics inventing a gay Martin Luther King – Martin Luther Queen.
The second half kicked off with a much bluer routine from Sylvince with some graphic sexual technique revelations!
Then is was Shawn Wayans’ time to shine. Another Jay Z worthy entrance, his routine began with some physical comedy around work out songs where pop tunes just don’t cut it. Shawn’s fatherhood mishap with his son was hilarious as well as the generation gap around old school and new school Hip Hop. The majority of his set referred to his relationships with women. His love of socialising has provided him with some great anecdotes which this charismatic comic transports his audience into. He warns us all not to take strangers home or if you do take the scenic route so they can’t find you again, resulting in a fantastically lively physical routine. This set it not for the faint hearted as you better be ready to hear some home truths about pleasing your partner in the bedroom.
This comedic styles isn’t to everyone’s taste but I can’t see anyone spending $60 a ticket if they weren’t already fans, and the fans were overjoyed by their heroes. There aren’t many opportunities in New Zealand to see this kind of performance and those that did left grinning with a slightly increased knowledge of cunnilingus.
This dynamic trio put on one hell of a show with two hours of out there in your face comedy.
It’s the early 2000s in the small, western Victorian town I grew up in. There is a family-owned video library at the centre of town in possession of what was a veritable holy grail for us adolescents in the pre-broadband era – a VHS copy of the Wayans brothers’ 1996 spoof Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. None of us had ever seen any of the films namechecked in the ridiculous title. It didn’t matter. Something resonated strongly enough for the video to be rented out months in advance while new releases sat idly on the shelf. It was a portal away from our exclusively white, awfully drab small town existence. Now, the VHS is long gone, some bastard stole it in its prime (my hometown’s greatest unsolved mystery), and the video store folded long ago. With their films, including Scary Movie and White Chicks, proving to be a big hit in the furthest reaches of our country, Shawn and Marlon Wayans will bring their stand-up performance to our stages.
“I think that’s beautiful. That’s the great thing about comedy, when it works well, people on the total opposite side of the world is laughing at something that you did,” Shawn says, gauging his cultural reach. “I never thought it would reach that far. The social commentary that we were making was so specific, but the physical and the broadness of Don’t Be A Menace is what reached all across the ocean to the other side of the world and it’s what you guys enjoyed about it. Once people find out what we were doing, if they did their research and knew that we were parodying these specific movies, they’d probably get a bigger kick out of the movie.”
As for the stand-up show, Shawn and Marlon embody a reverence for the all-time greats. “Everybody from Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball to Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope. A lot of the old school, great classic comics who paved the way for the Wayans family and everybody else who came after them. You definitely want to move forward, but was those people did was special. Even though that you want the future to be new, but you want it to be special as well. Taking a lot of the old school with the new never really hurt nobody. Now, comedy has reached a point where it’s more awkward than it actually is funny,” Shawn assesses. “I think we need to get back on track to funny, not awkward. Awkward ain’t really funny, it’s just awkward. This ain’t fashion – if you get a laugh you get a laugh. You’re not going to be outdated if it’s funny.”
The Wayans brothers, including Damon and Keenan Ivory, broke through in the late ‘80s with the landmark sketch TV series In Living Color – a program that proved fertile ground for some of the biggest names in entertainment. “I have to put it up there with the top shows because of its impact and what it did at that time, and how it still holds up even today. If you think about how many stars it launched from that one show – you got Keenan and Damon, Jim Carrey to Jamie [Foxx], J-Lo, me and Marlon, Tommy Davison, David Alan Grier, Sister Kim. So many different great careers that are still relevant today.”
Despite a rich pedigree of comedic talent on set, the frivolity is managed to be kept in check, as Shawn explains. “On the set we’re really about business. We have our fun, but we know that we have to come prepared, hit our mark, and do our scenes right because we’re under the gun. A movie like White Chicks was really difficult to do. Apart from the seven hours of makeup, we were shooting a movie that was supposed to be taking place in the summertime at The Hamptons, but we were in the opposite extreme weather. We were in Canada in below-zero weather by the ocean with a short skirt on, acting like it was hot out. There wasn’t a lot of laughing on those days. But sometimes we get giddy and have our scenes. But I’m glad you guys embraced it and enjoyed it, it was all worth it.”
The Wayans take their comedy seriously. They got their start on the TV series "In Living Color," which starred older brothers Keenen and Damon, who also created and wrote the show. Growing up in such a funny family helped teach the brothers how comedy works.
"If you can make people laugh, then it's funny," Shawn says. "But if you can make (our family) laugh, then you know it's hilarious."
Keenen, the first Wayans to break big in show biz, is more than a decade older than Shawn and Marlon. The two talk about him with a touching reverence.
"He's like a brother, a father, a best friend, a mentor, a co-father and a cool uncle," Marlon says.
"And a teacher all wrapped up in one," Shawn adds, finishing the sentence.
They also credit Keenen with teaching them the rules of comedy. First: Know who came before you.
"You have to be a student of comedy," says Marlon, who names Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld among the comics who make him laugh. "If you don't know what came before, you won't know the new trends to try and stay ahead of the curve."
Best known internationally for their collaborations on movies such as White Chicks and the franchise Scary Movie rather than their stand-up comedy, Shawn and Marlon Wayans were here for the first time at the NZ International Comedy Festival 2013 for one night only to show us what they were made of onstage.
My biggest issue was, quite literally, the timing of the show. 20 minutes late was not a good start. They then had an opening act and MC before each brother went on separately. Then an intermission that lasted for 30 minutes. The format was so inefficient that a 2-hour show ended up being 3 hours. A third of which was sitting around waiting for the main act. There was simply no need for that intermission as each brother was going on fresh. I’ve sat through 2-hour shows straight without a problem. If the show is good, I won’t even notice the time. And that concludes the math section for this review.
The opening act and MC was Brooklyn-born comedian Wil Sylvince, handpicked by the Wayans Brothers to tour with them. I can see why, since their styles were very similar. Wil’s comedic perspective is, however, influenced by his West Indian Haitian roots. I find it’s common for many comedians to start their routines with a comment on their airplane experiences, so I wasn’t expecting anything great or particularly new. But, I have to say, his comments were some of the funniest I’ve heard so far. His audience interaction was not quite as funny, but he sounds like a Wayans Brother in the making.
Orgasms, scratching your balls, toilet humour, erections, jokes about white people, blow jobs, clitoris and an unapologetic re-appropriation of the word “nigger”. You know what you’re getting when you buy a ticket to see the Wayans Brothers. This is not a show for the uptight and prudish. At times, the crassness was such that I couldn’t tell if I was in a sex education class or a comedy show.
A highlight for me was Marlon Wayans’ impression of a gay civil rights leader in the way of Martin Luther King. I wasn’t doubled over laughing through the whole show, but I couldn’t stop laughing at that impression. No celebrity was safe in his routine, not even Jay-Z or Obama. Marlon’s political commentary was a welcome contrast to the toilet humour. His part was a bit more fragmented that his brother Shawn’s in that it contained a variety of topics, but in a display of professional comedic talent and experience, it was somehow held together very smoothly.
Shawn Wayans’ routine flowed more than Marlon’s and seemed to center on women and his experiences with them. I thoroughly enjoyed his comments on the state of hip hop music, how his son can misinterpret what he says and his theme of girls who don’t go to school or work but instead try to find “sponsors” for their lifestyles. A highlight from Shawn’s performance was his explanation of how he tries to disguise the route when he takes a girl home and the impressions of everything the girls will go through to find their future sponsor again.
Despite my personal taste being more Wayne Brady, the show was very enjoyable and entertaining. There’s just something so inherently cool about the Wayans Brothers. What I love most about their comedic style is the physicality of it, which I suppose comes from them also being actors. They really make creative use of their facial expressions, bodies and props onstage to put on what is without doubts a memorable show.