Although technically the older brother, Keenen Ivory Wayans is for all intents and purposes the patriarch of the Wayans comedy empire. Over the past 25 years they’ve enjoyed a reach that has spanned sitcom, sketch comedy and spoof films that have had an undeniable influence on popular culture – especially urban audiences.
In addition to Keenen, Shawn, Marlon, Damon, Kim – and a burgeoning next generation that includes Damon Jr. – the Wayans brand has served as a launching pad for megastars Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx among others in front of and behind the scenes.
But what plenty may not have known until he came to town this past weekend was that the house of comedy that Keenen built lays on the foundation of his own standup career.
Although he was a staple on the New York club scene in the early 80’s, he’s been all but absent from standup since the Wayans family franchise exploded a few years later with the first breakout hit for the newly formed Fox Network.
While Damon Wayans has made regular rounds as a standup act over the past twenty plus years, Keenen has been absent – probably due to the demands of serving as a writer, director, actor and producer on the big and small screen.
Saturday night St. Louis audiences had the rare opportunity to see him return to his roots at Lumiere Theater.
The over-the-top antics that one may have come to know from Keenen during his “In Living Color” days couldn’t be anything like standup Keenen.
Laidback and mellow, he had a conversational approach to most of the jokes he shared on stage.
He even proved himself to be a gentleman by passing on the opportunity to pounce on show opener Kenny Kinds – whose less than stellar set was met with an ice cold reception from the crowd and would have been easy prey for plenty of other headliners.
Keenen came out casually dressed with a notepad under his arm that obviously contained talking points for his performance.
He wasn’t met by a sold-out crowd, but the Lumiere Theater wasn’t embarrassingly empty (at least not for the first show).
It almost had the feel of a dress rehearsal, but fans didn’t seem any less amused.
Being father to five teenagers, the comical differences between the races, the woes of married life and other relationship chatter made up the majority of his hour-long set.
Wayans comedy is notorious for regularly dancing on (and sometimes stepping over) the dangerously close to the thin line between comedic genius and cornball, but Keenen mostly measured closer to the funny side of the comedy gauge.
“Black people don’t taste. We sniff and look,” he said when he spoke of his short-lived interracial relationship and how his family shunned his former girlfriend’s raisin and breadcrumb infused macaroni and cheese contribution to a Wayans family dinner.
Other observational moments regarding the contrast of MO’s between women and men on dating, club hopping and cheating also fared well on Keenen’s comedy agenda.
Like most of his colleagues, Keenen couldn’t help but partake milking the black president bit to the bone. But the mental picture he painted of Michelle Obama vandalizing the building and burning clothes in the driveway of the White House as what he assumed would be her reaction to an infidelity scandal versus Hillary Clinton’s “stand by your man” approach was still pretty funny.
It wasn’t a slam dunk, but a steady, consistent performance with some slow spots. It was Keenen getting back into the swing of things – proficient and amusing, but not necessarily classic.
Many were probably wondering, “What’s Keenen doing standup for anyway after all of these years?” when they got wind that he was coming to town. The audience would learn why at the end of the night. He didn’t say the show was a practice run, but he and his brothers (Marlon, Shawn and Damon) are gearing up for a big nationwide comedy tour that will hit the road in the near future.
It’s safe to assume that Keenen took into account the “if you can make them laugh there, you can make them laugh anywhere” reputation of St. Louis when he booked his limited run of shows as he quietly prepares for the big tour.
He didn’t get obnoxious howls and screams – but the constant flow of warm chuckles should let him know that while there’s work to be done he’s headed in the right direction.
By Kenya Vaughn Of The St. Louis American
Photo by Lawrence Bryant