Although Netflix has billed Marlon Wayans: Woke-ish as the comedian’s first-ever stand-up special (which is true), it’s also technically not the first time he has ever performed stand-up on film. That honor belongs to his character Loc Dog’s “Death Comedy Jam” appearance in the film Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, the Wayans brothers’ 1996 parody of movies like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society. An obvious play on Def Comedy Jam, it did for the popular HBO series what the film did for its more cinematic targets.
Loc Dog isn’t a real person like Marlon Wayans, and the “comedy” he spouts is nothing like the material Woke-ish presents to its viewers. Yet just as Loc Dog’s “routine” concentrates stand-up into a few seconds of random curse words and phrases, Wayans’s special presents a more exaggerated form of stand-up than some may be used to. Not only is Wayans an incredibly energetic, expressive performer in the same vein as Robin Williams or Jim Carrey, he’s also — to use his own term — “offensive.” We spoke with the comedian about his use of this label, as well as the work that went into making Woke-ish a reality.
You’ve said elsewhere that Woke-ish stems from seven hours worth of material. How long have you been working on this?
I just do stand-up. I don’t do it because I’m going to do a special. I’m doing it in a vacuum, just to get better as an artist. So over time I just developed a lot of material. And I don’t like doing the same material over, and over, and over, and over again. I like to switch it up so I don’t get bored on stage, so I stay creative. I had a bunch of material to choose from, but I was like, “All right, if I do a special what would it be?” Then I got it down to two and a half hours and from there… By the time I filmed it, it was an hour and a half or an hour and forty-five minutes. Then I cut it down to the hour and six minutes you see now.
The material that you didn’t use, do you still perform it on the road? Or are you done with it?
I would say maybe 30 percent of it I still use. The rest I chucked out. It’s mostly things that I have probably moved past in terms of point of view, or stuff for which I just feel like now is not the right time. I want to try something different or I’m a different artist than I was when I first started. But I just try to, you know, evolve. You can’t really evolve when you’re holding onto things. That’s why I liked doing the special, because I just felt like I was being held back from becoming a better artist by not doing the special. I didn’t want to hoard material. I wanted to be naked again, and be free again, and create again at the optimal level. And be scared again, and be nervous again — about the material I was working with. I wanted to make it better and improve it. You can only get so many reactions to the material you’re trying to hone before you go, “All right, this is ready.” It’s good to feel naked again.
Yours is a very expressive, physical stage performance. I imagine a lot of that has to do with your acting background. Is that something you consciously wanted to incorporate in your stand-up, or was it more second nature?
I’m just a performer like that. It’s just who I am. I’m very connected to my body. I’m very expressive with my face. I’ve always been a rubber band. I’ve always been silly putty. Artists like Charlie Chaplin, Jim Carrey, Richard Pryor, and my brother Damon are my favorite types like that. You know, guys that can tell you a joke, then show you the joke, animate it, and give everybody a voice or do characters.
You know, I just want to be the best artist I can be. To tell a joke is great, but to show the joke and to give things voices is a whole other level. I’m a cartoon. I’m a Bugs Bunny, and sometimes we take those things for granted. Like, Bugs Bunny isn’t deep, but really he was one of the most brilliant political satirists. He would blow a bomb in your face. For me, I just want to hit you with comedy on as many levels as I possibly can. It’s for some people and it’s not for some people, but for me I have to be truthful to how I express comedy as a vessel, as an artist. I just choose to be physical when it’s necessary. I don’t go, “What kind of physicality can I do?” It just organically happens. This is me. I just happen.