For Marlon Wayans, Funniest Always Wins

Complex talks to Marlon Wayans about his new TBS reality series "Funniest Wins."

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The first thing I note after taking a seat in one of the plush, velveteen chairs of Soho House's screening room is the matching ottoman—it looks too expensive to actually put my feet on, but "when in Meatpacking" as they say. Then comes the wine, which the exclusive social club's staff pours liberally and efficiently. Given the treatment and decor, it feels as if we're about to see a French New Wave retrospective or the latest Wes Anderson film. But no, I'm here for Marlon Wayans.

Marlon may be the youngest of the Wayans siblings, but, at 41, he is also the most mercurial. Aside from breaking out in '90s sketch comedy showIn Living Color and starring in the Scary Movie and A Haunted House series, Marlon has taken roles in films ranging from The Ladykillers and Requiem for a Dream to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. More recently, he's embraced the Internet comedy boom, teaming up with Funny or Die CEO Randy Adams to create the website What The Funny. Wayans' latest effort is the TBS reality show Funniest Winswhich is the reason I'm here tonight. The premise: Vine stars and YouTube celebs battle traditional stand-ups for 100Gs and a show on Wayans' own website. 

After viewing the premiere in which the comics are tasked with performing on a moving L.A. tour bus and compete to make digital shorts, we head to the dining room. As the audience of media and reality stars noshes on scallop crudo and burrata, Wayans fields questions about the show—his enthusiasm for the material cutting through the buzzed and buzzing crowd. "There's so much more to making it in the industry than just stand-up," says Wayans. "You have to be a writer, a creator. There's sketch, there's Vines, there's roasting. I wanted to do a show where I test these guys in every last single discipline." Asked his favorite social network, he quips: "I'm banging Twitter, but I'm dating Instagram." 

After the half-hour Q&A, which includes a heartfelt (if slightly intoxicated) interjection from Love & Hip-Hop New York's Ariane Davis ("You guys are beyond fucking amazing. This shit is so serious right now, but you're fucking funny!") and shout-out by Marlon to the housing projects where he grew up a few blocks away ("Within those walls I was blessed to be raised by that whole village."), it's time to head downstairs for a quick one on one. Read on as Marlon talks learning stand-up, the comedy scene today, and his upcoming tour with his brothers. 

This show is all about comedians working outside of their comfort zones. What's a situation where you'd be outside of yours?
Now, nothing. If you would’ve asked me this four years ago, I would’ve said stand-up. But now that I do stand-up, it’s not out of my comfort zone, it’s just kind of what I do and it’s made me better in so many different areas. Now, I don’t think about being funny, you just get this trust, where you know “I’m gonna say this and it’s gonna be funny.” Its like God whispers something to you, you say it to the crowd and everybody responds. It’s weird. But nothing, I mean probably I would say Vine, but I love it all—honestly love it all, so there’s nothing that I fear doing.

There's so much more to making it in the industry than just stand-up. You have to be a writer, a creator.

When you started stand-up, what was the most difficult thing about adjusting to the new medium?
Well I started stand-up because I was supposed to play Richard Pryor in a movie. I figured if I was going to play the greatest comedian ever, I had to get my black ass o nstage. So I started doing stand-up, but now I just love it. I don’t know what happened with the movie, but when I started out, I wanted to play great and I want to be great.

I’m not satisfied with where I’m at and I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied, because for me, this journey that I’m on—there’s no destination in mind because it’s the road that I’m traveling and I want to do as much as I can. I want to learn as much as I can, I want to challenge myself in as many places as I can, challenge myself not just with comedy but doing drama more and allowing myself to flex those muscles. I’m an artist man. I try to learn piano, I try to learn guitar, I try to learn something new every year because it keeps me young. It keeps me learning and I think as long as you’re learning, you’re growing.

What genre haven't you tackled yet that's still on your list? 
I want to do a buddy action comedy. I think that would be a lot of fun. But I want to do it all. I want to do every genre, I don’t know. I’ll know when I see it.

The show’s filled with up-and-coming comedians, obviously, but is there anyone else in the comedy world that you think is about to blow up? 
There’s a lot of guys out there, man. There’s a lot of undiscovered talent and I wish I had more slots on my show because I mean, we saw so many people that we’d be like, “Aww, they’d be perfect for this.” There’s this guy named Rob Stapleton that’s just absolutely hilarious. Wil Sylvince makes me laugh, he tours with us sometimes. My niece Chantelle Williams, she’s really funny. Damon Wayans Jr. he’s really funny. I’m not just saying that because they’re my family, but they’re actually really really funny. Tony Baker, guys like D.C Urban, there’s a lot of up-and-coming comedians out there that you guys haven’t seen that hopefully with this show—next year I wanna do a big casting round so that people get at least the opportunity to see people’s faces.

For this season, how did you choose the cast? 
They sent in tapes and then we did a live audition round. 

There were some very awkward moments in the first episode where the audience clearly wasn't buying a bit. When you were coming up, do you remember bombing like that?
I don’t worry about bombing. If I don’t have a good show, I don’t have a good show. But that’s rare that I don’t have a good show, and even my bad shows have been good shows, they’re just bad to me because I know I was tired or I let myself, allowed myself to believe I was tired when I really was tired, but I knew I could’ve gave more. A bomb to me is when I go on stage and I don’t get off that stage with what I wanted to get. If I go on and I said beforehand, “I wanna be truthful,” and I strayed away from the truth and I didn’t sit up there and for 30 minutes, or however long I was onstage. I don’t care about being funny, I care that I’m truthful. I’ll find the funny. So you give yourself a different agenda every night and to me, a bomb is when you don’t accomplish your goal. 

What do you think is the key to success for these young comics?
I learned that there’s a grind that you have to have. Success is just hard work, man. The people that did the best were the people that worked the hardest. And it’s all about hard work and dedication and allowing yourself never to hit the wall and allowing yourself never to get tired. Because these guys, the things that they were doing and the amount of time they had, they didn’t have much time, and I’ve seen some get mentally or spiritually exhausted and I would pull them aside and go, “Yo, you can’t.” There is no "I’m tired." You gotta get up, because in this industry, there’s no forgiving. You can’t tell your audience, “Hey guys, I was tired.” No, they don’t care, they paid their money and they wanna see you. You give them the best that you got every night. 

You're going on tour with your brothers this summer. What can the audience expect?
It’s a hell of a show, man, because we’re all four so different, yet so funny. We did this show in Atlantic City and people’s faces were hurting. I think that’s why I call this show “Laugh Till My Face Hurts” because people were just laughing. There’s something for everybody. I start off the show, then comes Shawn, and Damon and then Keenen, or then Keenen and then Damon. We’re gonna rotate the order, but it’s just—I laugh watching it. I mean not myself, watching Shawn, Damon, and Keenen. I was like, this is hilarious. Just two hours of just laughing.

That’s great. What the last thing that one of your borthers said that had you really cracking up?
If I gave you one of their jokes, I’d get beat down. They all punch hard.

Funniest Wins premieres tonight, June 20 at 10/9c on TBS. 

Nathan Reese is the News Editor at Complex City Guide. He's still in therapy after seeing Don't Be A Menace in elementary school. He tweets here

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