Marlon Wayans sits in front of a New York media audience who’ve just previewed the first episode of his new TBS series, Funniest Wins. The 41-year-old is more restrained in person than his over-the-top personality on celluloid would suggest. He glances around the private dining room inside the exclusive Soho House and reflects, “I grew up in a project building two blocks away from here. I was always taught you don’t fail till you quit trying.”
Wayans has partnered with TBS to produce Funniest Wins, a reality show where professional and amateur competitors are brought together to learn a different comedy style every new episode: stand-up, digital short, sketch, etc. The group tests their skills in front of a weekly audience till one winner is chosen for a grand prize of $100,000 plus a digital series for Wayans’ new “urban comedy” site, WhatTheFunny.com. Wayans and guest comedians including Orlando Jones, Affion Crockett, and Andy Dick help guide the contestants in a series he promises gets “funnier and funnier every episode.”
Wayans came up with the show’s concept four years ago. “I was watching Last Comic Standing [brother Keenan Ivory Wayans is a judge] and I thought to myself, this needs a reinvention,” Wayans explains. “I stayed away from reality TV a long time. I didn’t want to be involved in a show where someone got hit with a bottle. I wanted to create a forum for everybody to test their talent and see how funny they could be.”
After “working and learning for 25 years,” Wayans’ love for the art of comedy almost equals his love for his famous family. He may have followed in his brothers and sisters’ footsteps when it comes to stand-up comedy, acting, writing and producing, but he’s made pivotal decisions of his own: including turning down the opportunity to work in television straight after high school and deciding to enroll and graduate from Howard University instead. “Being the youngest, I get advice from them every day. Of course we try and outdo each other when it comes to being funny, but that’s where the competition ends. As much as my family is ingrained in me, I’ve always been my own person.” The brothers—Keenan, Damon, Shawn, and Marlon—are reuniting for an upcoming nationwide live comedy tour, kicking off next month.
The youngest of 10 children from arguably the funniest family ever is now a mentor in his own right, and Marlon is visibly excited to give back to the next generation of comics.“I remember how happy Keenan was to see us all go from In Living Color to our own careers,” he says. “I want the cast of Funniest Wins to go on and do great things. I like giving advice and I love being a teacher.”
Funniest Wins premieres Friday, June 20 on TBS at 10/9c.