Marlon Wayans is very confident about his new parody film, A Haunted House. Just how self-assured is he? Leading up to the film's release (it opens in theaters nationwide today), he has traveled across the country to attend upwards of 20 screenings, participating in post-movie Q&A sessions. He's even taken to Twitter heavily to engage directly with his fans. "I'm the type of guy where you don't have to lie to my face—you can tell me straight-up if you hated the movie or not," says Wayans. "I've told people that I want them to tweet me their opinion of the movie, and I'll retweet them all, good or bad. So far, only two people haven't liked it, so I'm ecstatic."
Why such a hands-on approach this time around? Simply put, there's a lot riding on A Haunted House for the youngest member of the comedic powerhouse Wayans family. After co-starring and co-writing several movies with brothers Keenen Ivory Wayans and Shawn Wayans (Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, White Chicks), Marlon, now 40, is ready for his career's next, all-important phase: becoming a boss in his own right.
A Haunted House—a spoof of found-footage horror movies (from The Blair Witch Project to the Paranormal Activity franchise) that recaptures the spirit of Scary Movie—is his first project without his siblings' input and guidance. He's the film's star, co-writer, and producer, and its release is well-timed alongside the January 15 debut of the new scripted BET comedy series Second Generation Wayans, starring nephews Craig Wayans and Damien Dante Wayans and produced by Uncle Marlon.
Is Marlon ready to become the next Keenen Ivory? At this point, he's actually more concerned with wiping away the bad taste left by recent, inept parody flicks like Vampires Suck, Meet the Spartans, and, yes, the last two non-Wayans Scary Movie entries (not to mention, the upcoming Scary Movie 5). In this candid, lively conversation with Complex, he discusses A Haunted House's earnest motivations, reclaiming the Wayans' positive reputation, conducting business as a "grown-ass man," and the Wayans family's hierarchy.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
With A Haunted House, you must feel extra proud knowing that it was all you this time. No Keenen Ivory or Shawn.
Yeah, it's extremely exciting. I would say that I'm nervous, but I'm actually not. I think if it sucked I'd be nervous, but knowing that it plays well, it's funny, and people are really enjoying the movie for the most part has taken those nerves away.
Were the nerves there before you started screening the movie?
Honestly, no. I've been doing stand-up for the past two and a half years, so my gauge on funny is a lot sharper now. My bull's-eye is much more accurate now. I understand the science of joke-telling even more than I have before, just from going out, doing stand-up, and listening to audiences and what they laugh at.
What initially made you want to go on the road to do stand-up? Was it just to sharpen your comedy, or was there also an element of wanting to see if you can hold your own comically without your brothers around?
It's kind of like alchemy, man. Everything happens for a reason. I started out in stand-up and I quickly abandoned it. After I did it like 60 times, I was like, "Eh, I don't want to do this. I want to write movies, and I want to act and be a star in that way." So, for 20 years, I did the starring, writing, and producing things, but I didn't do any stand-up. My brother Shawn was doing stand-up the whole time. And then I got the role of Richard Pryor. This was about two years ago. I started doing stand-up again because, I figured, if I'm going to play the greatest comedian ever, I need to get my shit together and learn how to do some stand-up.
So I got back into it that way, and I don't know what happened to the Richard Pryor movie, but I fell in love with stand-up. Literally every other weekend Shawn and I were on the road doing stand-up. I love it, I love making people laugh and playing clubs and bigger venues. Doing it actually affected my writing, too. It made me a better writer.
What was it about the whole found-footage movie style that made you want to parody it for your first script without Shawn or Keenen?
Well, initially, the inspiration was, "My black ass wants to work!" [Laughs.] They're not making many movies anymore, unless you're a superhero, and even then, there aren't any black superheroes. I think our bulges are too big. They don't want to see our penises all big inside those little drawers they put superheroes into. So, I figured, I better get to writing. I've written myself a career—me and my brothers, that's what we do. I put my head down, went into this full-steam, and started doing research.
I quickly decided that I wanted to do a found-footage comedy, because that's the way people are making movies nowadays, with found-footage. So I wanted to be the first person to do a found-footage comedy. And what happened was, I was watching Paranormal Activity as research, and Paranormal Activity 2, and I was sitting there, going, "Man, white people do stupid stuff in these movies. What would happen if Paranormal Activity happened to a black couple?" And, boom, from there, jokes just started hitting me. I called my producing partner, Rick Alvarez, and we quickly got to writing.
In A Haunted House, there are several clever, funny gags inspired by specific scenes from movies like [REC] and The Blair Witch Project, as well as individual moments from Paranormal Activity 3, like the oscillating fan, for example. Did you make sure that you watched every single found-footage movie that you could?
Yeah, what I like to do is sit in the pocket. Lately I've been watching these parody movies that have been coming out, and if you notice when me and my brothers do parodies, they make sense. We don't just bunch stuff together. We have a science to the math that we like to apply, so that it's not jarring to watch. I watch these parodies from the last 10 years and they don't make no sense at all. They jump from one movie to another movie and then another movie.
That's not what we do. We make fun of a movie, but we create a whole original movie around it. So, basically, A Haunted House is traditional to what we do. This isn't one of those pop-referential parody movies. It's a movie that can exist on its own. It's basically a fun romantic horror-comedy with parody moments. If you've never seen one of these Paranormal Activity movies before, you'll still get the movie, you'll still get the relationships, and you'll still like the characters. I didn't make it desperate, like, "Oh, we have to stuff in a lot of pop culture references!" That's not what I do.