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Wayans, Damon 1961–

Damon Wayans 1961

Comedian, actor, writer, film director

At a Glance

Selected works

Sources

In 1990 comedian Damon Wayans burst onto the television scene with In Living Color, an outrageously funny and often controversial comedy show broadcast on the Fox Network. Each week, the half-hour variety show parodied life in America, with one big distinctionits street-smart, urban perspective. He then moved on to appear in numerous films. In 2001 Wayans debuted in another, though far less controversial, hit television comedy series, My Wife and Kids.

Born in 1961 and raised in the Chelsea district of New York City as one of 11 children, Wayans learned the value of a family. Though they were poor, he doesnt hold any bad memories of his childhood. In fact, Wayans credited his upbringing for much of his comic ability, where as children he and his siblings would stretch their imaginations with a game of make me laugh or die.

Wayans started his standup-comedy career in 1982 at the Good Times Club in New York City. With topics ranging from relationships and sex to rap music, he began his first professional routine with a joke on family life. My opening killer joke, he recounted to Allan Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Im from a poor family. We were so poor that my father drove a 1974 Big Wheel.

For the next several years Wayans refined his routine at comedy clubs around the country. In 1984 he got his first part in a moviethe blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. The following year, he got a big break in television when he won a role as a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live. Wayans left the show a year later to pursue other projects including a return to the standup-comedy circuit. Standup is my roots, he told the Chicago Tribune, and its hard for a comic to give it up. And the thing is, this is the only thing that I really have control of, in terms of writer, producer and star.

One of Wayans next projects was a role in Robert Townsends 1987 spoof on the caricaturization of blacks in the movie industry, Hollywood Shuffle. The success of the film and his relationship with the director led to appearances on two of Townsends television specials: 1988s Take No Prisoners: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime and The Mutiny Has Just Begun: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, broadcast in 1989.

It wasnt long before Wayans was working consistently with some of Hollywoods biggest comic actors in some of the periods biggest movies. He appeared with Steve Martin in 1987s Roxanne, in Im Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988, and in both Colors and Punchline alongside co-stars Robert Duvall and Tom Hanksalso in 1988. Though none were starring roles, Wayans talents were in the spotlight long enough for casting directors to sit up and take notice. In 1989 he got a featured role in the movie Earth Girls are Easy and in 1990 his voice was used as one of the children in the sequel Look Whos Talking Too.

Also in 1990, In Living Color debuted. David Hilt-brand of People labeled In Living Color a riotously energetic, recklessly funny comedy-revue show that proves that prime time has been sorely lacking in satire

At a Glance

Born in 1961 in New York, NY; son of Howell and Elvira Wayans; married Lisa (divorced 2000); children: Damon Jr., Michael, Cara Mia, Kyla.

Career: Stand-up comedian, 198291; actor 1984-; film and television producer, 1992-; screenwriter, 1990-.

Awards: Emmy Awards for outstanding writing in a variety program, for In Living Color, 1991 and 1992; Soul Train Comedy Award for best actor in a TV sketch comedy role, 1993; Peoples Choice Awards, Favorite Male Performer In a New Television Series, 2002.

Addresses: Office Wife & Kids Productions, 10202 West Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232.

with a black sensibility. When asked by George Wayne of Interview if he thought it was breakthrough television, Wayans responded: On certain levels, yes. Its breakthrough on the level of black people determining whats funny about black people.

Though the program became popular with the black community, it surprised network executives with its popularity among critics and the rest of the TV-viewing public. In fact, in its first season, In Living Color won an Emmy Award for outstanding variety, music, or comedy program; and Wayans won an Emmy in 1990 and 1991 for outstanding writing in a variety, music, or comedy program.

The popularity of In Living Color hinged on its parodies of famous African Americans like Arsenio Hall, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Milli Vanilli. Wayans comedic talent made him especially adept at mimicking people like Louis Farrakhan. But his self-created characters Homey the Clown, Anton the Bum, and Handi-Man (a handicapped superhero) distinguished him from the rest of the ensemble and made Damon Wayans one of the most popular cast members.

Some critics, however, labeled his brand of humor as too in your face. Wayans character Blaine Edwards, a gay film critic, was often targeted by television watchdog groups who find the humor offensive. But Wayans dismissed any criticism of his work. You cant care what the critics say, he told Veronica Chambers of Essence. First of all, its not the gay community complaining; its some special-interest group that sees itself as the defender of them all.

In 1989, besides starting work on In Living Color, he had his first comedy special on Home Box Office (HBO). The following year he had another HBO comedy special, this time to celebrate the end of his standup-comedy career. Damon Wayans: The Last Stand?, taped at the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem, was his last performance in a career that had taken him nine years to develop. Though he confessed to the Chicago Tribune that theres nothing like the rush because standup has been like therapy for me, Wayans had become concerned that he was doing it for all the wrong reasons and that his material was not as good as it should be. Theyre funny jokes, but I think there should be a little more depth to my comedy.

Wayans also surprised his television fans by announcing that he had decided to leave In Living Color at the end of the 199192 season. Like standup comedy, he found that the show had reached its creative limits. Even though Wayans proclaimed he was ending his comedy career as everyone had known it, he insisted that he wasnt giving up on the business of comedyhe just wanted to try his hand at other things, including directing and producing.

In the winter of 1991 Wayans appeared in the action adventure movie, The Last Boy Scout, alongside actor Bruce Willis. Not only was this his first non-comedic role, it was also his first co-starring role. Unfortunately, the movie was panned by the critics, though Leah Rozen of People was quick to point out that Wayans is sharp and shows much promise. Though Wayans was disappointed with the reaction that the movie received, he was equally disappointed that a television show he had been developing for Fox, a clay-animated sitcom called The Wayneheads, had not taken off.

But in 1992 Wayans was finding success again, this time with the movie Mo Money. As writer, director, and star of the action comedy, he felt that he finally achieved the personal control and freedom that he had enjoyed as a standup comic. The movie centers around a credit-card con-man, played by Wayans, who falls in love with a corporate executive and tries to go straight. Though the critics panned the script and the camera work on the films action sequences, there was praise for Wayans. But more importantly, the movie-going public was enthusiastic; Mo Money was proclaimed a hit.

Wayans success in the entertainment industry has allowed him to shower his family with luxuries that his parents were not able to provide for him and his siblings. In 1993 he was able to move his family into a 10,000 square-foot Beverly Hills home with six bedrooms, a swimming pool, and tennis court. But Wayans was quick to point out that his kids wont be spoiled by the good life. My kids go to a private school, he told Essence, and at one point they werent doing well. I wasnt happy with their test scores. So I took them to a public school in South Central [Los Angeles]. They begged to go back to private schooland improved their work. I wanted them to understand that private school is a privilege.

This sense of caring was featured in Wayans next film, Blankman, released in 1994. In addition to taking on the starring role, Wayans also co-wrote and executive produced the film. The story revolves around a man who believes strongly in the human spiritthat one man can make a difference. The movie reflected Wayans belief that comedy can serve as a motivator and show people what should be important in life. Comedians are one of the few groups of people who can tell the truth, he told Essence. People underestimate the power of humor. I really believe that.

Wayans next starred in Major Payne in 1995. Michael Sauter noted in Entertainment Weekly that Wayans is a hoot as a cartoon-tough Marine who gets stuck training a bunch of junior ROTC misfits but that the film is too formulaic. Wayans followed with three 1996 films: Celtic Pride, The Great White Hype, and Bulletproof. Ken Tucker, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called Wayans the only good thing in Celtic Pride. In The Great White Hype Wayans plays a professional boxer and appears alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Berg, and Jeff Goldblum. Bulletproof paired Wayans with Adam Sandler, fellow Saturday Night Live alum fresh off the success of his first two films, Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Here Wayans played an undercover policeman who, along with Sandlers drug gang member, is on run from a gang lord played by James Caan.

Next Wayans developed the comedy TV series, Damon, which debuted mid-season in 1998. Wayans played an undercover Chicago police officer and David Allen Grieralso of In Living Color fametook on the role of Wayans inept younger brother. Wayans assumes numerous disguises throughout the course of his undercover work. People Weeklys Terry Kelleher noted that Wayans comes alive when he puts on a disguise and presents a comic caricature, but that when the cop is himself, the star is on autopilot. The series was not renewed for a second season.

In 2000 Wayans appeared in Spike Lees Bamboozled. Wayans plays a television writer who is coming under pressure from the network to create a hit series. The idea he finally pitches is so outrageous that he fully expects to be fireda variety show based on racial sterotypingbut, to his surprise, the show becomes a hit. Brian D. Johnson reviewed the film in McCleans magazine, commenting, the satire is to grotesque to be laugh-out-loud funny, but its lethally effective.

Wayans had four children with his wife, Lisa: Damon Jr., Michael, Cara Mia, and Kyla. The couple divorced in 2000. His family served as the basis for his television series, My Wife and Kids, which first aired on ABC in 2001. Tisha Campbell-Martin appears as Wayans wife on the show. I love being his partner and working opposite him, she was quoted as saying in Jet. His comedy is very smart. Its very witty. Its very challenging.

Wayans served as producer and co-creator of the show. Im going about it the same way [Bill] Cosby did, Wayans told Essence. I have control over my show. The show is my voice. Jeannine Amber commented in Essence that like The Cosby Show, My Wife and Kids is redefining the way African-American families are represented on television. However, there are some very clear differences between the two groundbreaking shows. Cosby dealt with the lighter side of family, Wayans explained in Essence. Im dealing with the really, really real. The show has addressed such issues as virginity, shotgun weddings, and Premenstrual Syndrome.

In 2002 My Wife and Kids won a Peoples Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy series. Wayans also garnered the Favorite Male Performer in a New Television Series award. Wayans was next set to appear in a full-length film version of Homey the Clown.

Selected works

Film

Beverly Hills Cop, 1984.

Hollywood Shuffle, 1987.

Roxanne, 1987.

Colors, 1988.

Punchline, 1988.

Vm Gonna Git You Sucka, 1988.

Earth Girls Are Easy, 1989.

Look Whos Talking Too, 1990.

The Last Boy Scout, 1991.

Mo Money, 1992.

Blankman, 1994.

Major Payne, 1995.

Celtic Pride, 1996.

The Great White Hype, 1996.

Bulletproof, 1996.

Harlem Aria, 1999.

Goosed, 1999.

Bamboozled, 2000.

Marci X, 2003.

Television

Saturday Night Live, NBC, 198586.

In Living Color, FOX, 199092.

Damon, FOX, 1998.

My Wife and Kids, ABC 2001-.

Television specials

Take No Prisoners: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, HBO, 1988.

The Mutiny Has Just Begun: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, HBO, 1989.

One Night Stand, HBO, 1989.

Damon Wayans: The Last Stand?, HBO Comedy Hour, HBO, 1990.

Sources

Books

Newsmakers 1998, Issue 4, Gale, 1998.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, October 27, 1989, sec. 7, p. 8; May, 24, 1991, sec. 5, p. 3.

Entertainment Weekly, April 17, 1992, p. 62; February 5, 1993, p. 58; September 8, 1995, p. 91; May 10, 1996, p. 52; October 18, 1996, p. 92.

Essence, August 1992, p. 40; April 2003, p. 98.

Interview, August 1990.

Jet, September 6, 1993, p. 65; September 11, 2000, p. 14; December 11, 2000, p. 30; April 2, 2001, p. 60; January 28, 2002, p. 56.

Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1993, sec. K, p. 1.

McLeans, October 30, 2000, p. 55.

People, May, 7, 1990, p. 11; May 27, 1991, p. 10; December 29, 1991, p. 21; February 17, 1992, p. 33; August 10, 1992, p. 16.

People Weekly, May 6,1996, p. 20; March 30,1998, p. 15.

Rolling Stone, May 18, 1989, p. 43.

Time, September 16, 1996, p. 91.

Upscale, November 1993.

USA Weekend, August 24, 1991, p. 2.

Variety, June 7, 1993, p. 5; April 2, 2001, p. 27; March 17, 2003, p. 36.

On-line

Damon Wayans, Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC/ (August 14, 2003).

Damon Wayans, Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com/name/nm0001834/ (September 5, 2003).

Joe Kuskowski and Jennifer M. York

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Wayans, Damon 1961–

Damon Wayans 1961

Comedian, actor, writer, film director

Humor Too Pointed for Some

From Stage to Silver Screen

Left In Living Color Behind

Sources

In 1990 comedian Damon Wayans burst onto the television scene with In Living Color, an outrageously funny and often controversial comedy show broadcast on the Fox Network. Each week, the half-hour variety showstarring Wayans, brother, executive producer, and creator of the show Keenan Ivory Wayans, sister Kim Wayans, David Alan Grier, James Carrey, and the Fly Girls dancersparodied life in America, with one big distinctionits street-smart, urban perspective.

David Hiltbrand of People labeled In Living Color a riotously energetic, recklessly funny comedy-revue show that proves that prime time has been sorely lacking in satire with a black sensibility. When asked by George Wayne of Interview if he thought it was breakthrough television, Wayans responded: On certain levels, yes. Its breakthrough on the level of black people determining whats funny about black people.

Though the program became popular with the black community, it surprised network executives with its popularity among critics and the rest of the TV-viewing public. In fact, in its first season, In Living Color won an Emmy Award for outstanding variety, music, or comedy program; and Wayans won an Emmy in 1990 and 1991 for outstanding writing in a variety, music, or comedy program.

The popularity of In Living Color hinged on its parodies of famous African Americans like Arsenio Hall, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Milli Vanilli. Wayans comedie talent made him especially adept at mimicking people like Louis Farrakhan. But his self-created characters Homey the Clown, Anton the Bum, and Handi-Man (a handicapped superhero) distinguished him from the rest of the ensemble and made Damon Wayans one of the most popular cast members.

Humor Too Pointed for Some

Some critics, however, labeled his brand of humor as too in your face. Wayans character Blaine Edwards, a gay film critic, has often been targeted by television watchdog groups who find the humor offensive. But Wayans dismisses any criticism of his work. You cant care what the critics say, he told Veronica Chambers of Essence. First of all, its not the gay community complaining; its some special-interest group that sees itself as the defender of them all.

In spite of the reaction of some critics, Wayans has been successful in the entertainment industry. But for him,

At a Glance

Born in 1961 in New York, NY; son of Howell and Elvira Wayans; married; wifes name, Lisa; children: Damon, Michael, Cara Mia, Kyla.

Stand-up comedian, Good Times nightclub, New York City, 1982; performed in numerous nightclubs 1982; host of M/7/er Lite Comedy Search Finals, 1989. Television appearances include series Saturday Night Live, 1985-86, and In Living Color, 1990-92; and special programs Take No Prisoners: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, 1988, The Mutiny Has lust Begun: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, 1989, HBO Comedy Hour, 1990, (also executive producer) Damon Wayons: The Last Standi, 1991. Film appearances include Beverly Hills Cop, 1984; Hollywood Shuffle, 1987; Roxanne, 1987; Colors, 1988; /m Conna Cet You Sucka, 1988; Punchline, 1988; Earth Girls Are Easy, 1989; Look Whos Talking Too (voiceover), 1990; The Last Boy Scout, 1991; (also co-executive producer and author of screenplay) Mo Money, 1992; Blankman, 1994.

Awards: Emmy Awards for outstanding writing in a variety program, 1991 and 1992, for In Living Color, Soul Train Comedy Award for best actor in a TV sketch comedy role, 1993.

Addresses: Office Wife & Kid Productions, 102202 West Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232.

personal success has been measured in his abilities as a husband and father. Ive learned that your family really cares about you, he told Wayne. People in the world dont really care about you. They care about what you do and what you have. His success has enabled him and his familywife Lisa and children Damon, Michael, Cara Mia, and Kylato live a life far from the housing project where he grew up.

Raised in the Chelsea district of New York City as one of 11 children, Wayans learned the value of a family. Though they were poor, he doesnt hold any bad memories of his childhood. In fact, Wayans credits his upbringing for much of his comic ability, where as children he and his siblings would stretch their imaginations with a game of make me laugh or die.

Wayans started his standup-comedy career in 1982 at the Good Times club in New York City. With topics ranging from relationships and sex to rap music, he began his first professional routine with a joke on family life. My opening killer joke, he recounted to Allan Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Im from a poor family. We were so poor that my father drove a 1974 Big Wheel.

From Stage to Silver Screen

For the next several years Wayans refined his routine at comedy clubs around the country. In 1984 he got his first part in a moviethe blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. The following year, he got a big break in television when he won a role as a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live. Wayans left the show a year later to pursue other projects, including a return to the standup-comedy circuit. Standup is my roots, he told Johnson, and its hard for a comic to give it up. And the thing is, this is the only thing that I really have control of, in terms of [being] writer, producer, and star.

One of Wayans next projects was a role in Robert Townsends 1987 spoof on the caricaturization of blacks in the movie industry, Hollywood Shuffle. The success of the film and his relationship with the director led to appearances on two of Townsends television specials: 1988s Take No Prisoners: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime and The Mutiny Has Just Begun: Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, broadcast in 1989.

It wasnt long before Wayans was working consistently with some of Hollywoods biggest comic actors in some of the periods biggest movies. He appeared in Vm Gonna Get You Sucka in 1984, with Steve Martin in 1987s Roxanne, and in both Colors and Punchline alongside co-stars Sally Fields and Tom Hanksin 1988. Though none were starring roles, Wayans talents were in the spotlight long enough for casting directors to sit up and take notice. In 1989 he got a featured role in the movie Earth Girls Are Easy, and in 1990 his voice was used as one of the children in the sequel Look Whos Talking Too.

The television industry was also taking notice of Wayans skills as a comic. In 1990, besides starting work on In Living Color, he had his first comedy special on Home Box Office (HBO). The following year he had another HBO comedy special, this time to celebrate the end of his standup-comedy career. Damon Wayans: The Last Stand?, taped at the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem, was his last performance in a career that had taken him nine years to develop. Though he confessed to Johnson that theres nothing like the rush because standup has been like therapy for me, Wayans had become concerned that he was doing it for all the wrong reasons and that his material was not as good as it should be. Theyre funny jokes, but I think there should be a little more depth to my comedy.

Left In Living Color Behind

Wayans also surprised his television fans by announcing that he had decided to leave In Living Color at the end of the 1991-92 season. Like standup comedy, he found that the show had reached its creative limits. Even though Wayans proclaimed he was ending his comedy career as everyone had known it, he insisted that he wasnt giving up on the business of comedyhe just wanted to try his hand at other things, including directing and producing.

In the winter of 1991 Wayans appeared in the action adventure movie, The Last Boy Scout, alongside actor Bruce Willis. Not only was this his first non-comedic role, it was also his first co-starring role. Unfortunately, the movie was panned by the critics, though Leah Rozen of People was quick to point out that Wayans is sharp and shows much promise. Though Wayans was disappointed with the reaction that the movie received, he was equally disappointed that a television show he had been developing for Fox, a clay-animated sitcom called The Wayneheads, had not taken off.

But in 1992 Wayans was finding success again, this time with the movie Mo Money. As writer, director, and star of the action comedy, he felt that he finally achieved the personal control and freedom that he had enjoyed as a standup comic. The movie centers around a credit-card con man, played by Wayans, who falls in love with a corporate executive and tries to go straight. Though the critics panned the script and the camera work on the films action sequences, praise was offered for Wayans. But more importantly, the movie-going public was enthusiastic; Mo Money was proclaimed a hit.

Wayans success in the entertainment industry has allowed him to shower his family with luxuries that his parents were not able to provide him. In 1993 he was able to move his family into a 10,000 square-foot Beverly Hills home with six bedrooms, a swimming pool, and tennis court. But Wayans was quick to point out that his kids wont be spoiled by the good life. My kids go to a private school, he told Chambers, and at one point they werent doing well. I wasnt happy with their test scores. So I took them to a public school in South Central [Los Angeles]. They begged to go back to private schooland improved their work. I wanted them to understand that private school is a privilege.

This sense of caring was featured in Wayans next film, Blankman, released in 1994. The story revolves around a man who believes strongly in the human spiritthat one man can make a difference. The movie reflects Wayans belief that comedy can serve as a motivator and show people what should be important in life. Comedians are one of the few group of people who can tell the truth, he told Chambers. People underestimate the power of humor. I really believe that.

Sources

Chicago Tribune, October 27, 1989, sec. 7, p. 8; May, 24, 1991, sec. 5, p. 3.

Entertainment Weekly, April 17, 1992, p. 62; February 5, 1993, p. 58.

Essence, August 1992, p. 40.

Interview, August 1990.

Jet, September 6, 1993, p. 65.

Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1993, sec. K, p. 1.

People, May, 7, 1990, p. 11; May 27, 1991, p. 10; December 29, 1991, p. 21; February 17, 1992, p. 33; August 10, 1992, p. 16.

Rolling Stone, May 18, 1989, p. 43.

Upscale, November 1993.

USA Weekend, August 2-4, 1991, p. 2.

Variety, June 7, 1993, p. 5.

Joe Kuskowski

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Wayans, Damon 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wayans, Damon 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wayans-damon-1961

"Wayans, Damon 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wayans-damon-1961