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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Another branch of the Wayans brothers family tree is here for standup

Comic and actor Shawn Wayans headlines Spokane Comedy Club on Friday and Saturday nights.  (Brigitte Jouxtel Photography)

There’s no business like show business, especially when it’s the family business. That’s the Wayans brothers story. It would have been a very different tale for the comedic brood if Keenen Ivory Wayans followed the safe route 40 years ago and pursued a career in engineering.

“If Keenen didn’t drop out of college his last year when he was studying engineering, there wouldn’t have been an ‘In Living Color’ or any of the other projects our family created,” comic-actor Shawn Wayans said while calling from Los Angeles. “But Keenen chose comedy, which is something you have to go all-in on in order to succeed.”

Keenen, Shawn, Damon Wayans and Marlon Wayans have been a comedy factory for more than a generation. There was the aforementioned “In Living Color,” which aired during the early to mid-1990s and launched the career of the incomparable Jim Carrey. Folks forget about Keenen’s brilliant 1987 film “The Hollywood Shuffle,” which he co-wrote.

Shawn and Marlon, who are very close, starred in the underrated 2004 film “White Chicks.” “We discovered where we needed to be,” Shawn Wayans said. “I have my parents and my brothers to thank for showing Marlon and me the way.”

While growing up in the Chelsea section of Manhattan during the 1970s, the Wayans’ father, Howell, set the alarm at 5 a.m. daily for his sons. “He made us get out of bed then and get him coffee,” Wayans said. “We did that before we went to school and even on weekends. On Sunday, we would get him the paper. That made us who we are since we started our days early and worked hard all of our life.”

Wayans’ demanding father set the tone. “Men are made,” Wayans, 51, said. “Women are naturally on it, but boys have to be molded, and our father molded each of us.”

Not a bad job by Papa Wayans, especially considering the hardscrabble existence in which the 10 Wayans children grew up on the mean streets of New York.

“Some people might find it hard to believe, but our neighborhood, which is now prestigious, was like growing up in Beirut,” Wayans said. “We were poor. It was hard. We made it by relying on each other.”

Shawn and Marlon Wayans are so close that they named their sons after each other. “We promised each other when we were little kids that if we had sons, we would name them after each other,” Wayans said.

All of the Wayans brothers work together. “We’re all about to get into the writer’s lab and see what we can do,” Wayans said.

Wayans isn’t certain what he’ll deliver when he performs Friday and Saturday at Spokane Comedy Club. “I’ve yet to figure that out, but I always enjoy the stage, and I’m looking forward to getting back to Spokane,” Wayans said.

Wayans, who is the ninth of 10 children, will probably riff about his siblings and his own family. Wayans stopped reproducing after having three kids. “That’s a sensible number,” Wayans said. “That’s all that I can handle.”

Two of his three children, who are 23, 20 and 17, are not surprisingly entering the family business. His eldest is studying film at NYU and his son is a standup comic.

“All of my kids want to be in the arts, and I support them,” Wayans said. “My family believed in me when I was starting out in this business and supported me, so why shouldn’t I do the same? We’re all incredibly fortunate to do what we love. It’s a great life, but we’ve worked so hard for everything we have.”