My holiday preparations are all done. At least, the important preparations! But don’t be hating! You can do it, too. Here’s how: go see Shawn Wayans at the Improv the weekend after Thanksgiving. After a conversation with Shawn last week, I felt spiritually and mentally ready for the big weeks ahead. For one, he has an indomitable upbeat energy. I’d always wanted to ask him the “how” of it. He told me.
And in the hectic weeks ahead, how can you best look after your emotional well-being? I took some more inspiration from Shawn’s story of how he got started in comedy. It’s all about honoring promises to yourself.
Between now and the Improv, check out Shawn’s animated series, The Boo Crew, available on YouTube and written with his brothers Marlon and Keenen. The series is beautiful in both essence and design and it’s got plenty for kids and adults alike. (Listen for the shout-out to Sanford and Son!)
The Boo Crew is nine kids from diverse backgrounds who sometimes get along and sometimes don’t, just like life. There’s also a hilariously relatable mom. Lessons are learned through real world situations infused with comedy and music. A Boo Crew Christmas special will be out next week with more next year. I recommend following Boo Crew on Instagram for bonus content and to stay up to date with new releases.
Shawn is a prolific writer. He has written several Boo Crew books for kids. He also wrote, produced and starred with his brothers in the blockbusters Scary Movie 1 and 2, Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, White Chicks and Little Man. He and Marlon created and starred in The Wayans Brothers sitcom and of course, Shawn was one of the stars of the multi-award winning, iconic series In Living Color.
So even if the weather gods don’t smile on Chicago this time of year, the comedy gods do. What will Shawn be talking about? “Life,” he told me. I can’t think of a better person to do that at a better time of year.
Shawn kindly spoke with me by phone about comedy, family, and how to stay positive.
Teme: How did you decide to start your comedy career with stand-up?
Shawn: I’d wanted to do stand-up comedy since I was a little boy. I grew up with Keenen and Damon watching Richard Pryor on T.V. and me watching them watch Richard Pryor on T.V. It gave me the bug.
All of my family always was the class clowns in school. We had that natural comedic thirst. We wanted to laugh. Since I was little I was always plotting that when I came to California to visit my brothers, I was going to try to do stand-up.
One summer, when Keenen and Damon were shooting I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, I came out to L.A. I stayed with Keenen while he shot that movie. And before I went back - I was going back to finish school- I promised myself that I was going to do stand-up. So I did. Me and my buddy Bentley, who ended up being the executive producer of Jamie Foxx's show later on in his career, made a pact that we were going to do stand-up after I'm Gonna Git You Sucka wrapped.
So after the movie wrapped, me and him went down to the Laugh Factory and we both did five minutes and we were high on laughs. We were high on the excitement of actually following through on what we said we were going to do. Right after that, we went to Keenen's house and told him. He was happy for us and he told us, "Just keep doing it. Keep working hard, stay on it. You did the hard part, now the rest is just continuing to do it."
That was my first time. Yes, I was nervous as hell, but I got through it. And I got a laugh or two.
Teme: What is the most memorable or craziest thing that's happened at one of your shows?
Shawn: Well, two things. I was in Texas and some women threw their panties on stage, so that was a different and interesting thing. And then another night, there was almost a brawl with an entire family because one person heckled me and I said something back to them. Then their old grandma started racing towards the stage like she was going to do something.
Teme: Oh, wow! What ended up happening?
Shawn: Security stopped the family from rushing the stage. They subdued Granny!
Teme: What are you thinking right before you go on stage?
Shawn: I'm thinking about what I want to talk about and how I want to get into it.
Teme: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Shawn: I stretch. I warm my mouth up and I drink green tea.
Teme: You have such great, upbeat energy. What is the key to maintaining that positive energy?
Shawn: Well, first of all, thank you. And second of all, for me, it's how I approach life. Enjoy the moment and try to keep positive thoughts in your mind, body, and soul and that will radiate out of you. So, that's what I try to practice.
Teme: I need to remember that!
Shawn: Have fun. Don't dwell on the negative. If you catch yourself dwelling on the negative, think of something positive and go have a good time because all that negativity makes you sick.
Teme: That is great advice! What is Thanksgiving like with the Wayans family? Do you all get together on the holiday?
Shawn: Yes. At Thanksgiving we all get together and we'll do it at my house or Keenen's house, or Marlon's house or one of the guy's houses. We'll all pick straws and decide who's going to have it at their house. Everybody brings a dish and we get together and we have a feast and the babies are there and it's a blast.
Teme: Do you have any family Thanksgiving traditions?
Shawn: The tradition is all of us getting together and hanging out and having a great time together.
Teme: What are you most thankful for this year?
Shawn: I'm most thankful for my family and my health!
Teme: I love that you and Marlon each named one of your sons after each other. When did you decide you would do that?
Shawn: Well, when we were little boys we wanted to do that. We got inspired because we watched a movie that my brother co-wrote called The Five Heartbeats. In Five Heartbeats, the two dudes named their kids after each other and that touched us. We made a pact. We said, “We’re going to do that when we get big. When I have a boy I'm going to name him Marlon. And when you have a boy, you name him Shawn.”
Teme: That's so beautiful.
Shawn: It almost didn't happen because I had two girls first while he had a boy named Shawn. I almost didn't make good on my part of the deal.
Teme: What did your parents do to encourage all the siblings to have such a close bond?
Shawn: They beat the hell out of us. I'm kidding!! My mom would never let us be mad at each other for a long period of time. She would force us to make up. And if we would fight against making up with each other, she'd make us kiss each other in the mouth. And none of us wanted to do that. And she knew that. So that would always squash all beefs.
Teme: I’d love to hear about your animated show The Boo Crew. How did you come up with it?
Shawn: As a little boy, I grew up watching Charlie Brown and Fat Albert on T.V. I loved those shows and when I was little, I thought, "One day I'm going to make a show like that," because those shows taught me some really good life lessons that I actually used in different situations in my life. So I wanted to create something like that for this generation. That's what The Boo Crew is. It's Charlie Brown meets Fat Albert with a hip-hop twist.
Charlie Brown was mostly all Caucasian and Fat Albert was mostly African-American. I decided to put all nationalities in it and have all kids play with each other because that's how I grew up. So this is centered around nine kids growing up in Boo York City, and it's them going through the trials and tribulations of growing up in the big city and learning life lessons through humor and music. My goal is to teach a little bit of life’s lessons, but to make 'em laugh at the same time.
Teme: What is a typical day in the writing room when you, Marlon and Keenen are working on Boo Crew?
Shawn: It's a lot of fun and it's very intense. A lot of thinking, snacks and drinks. And laughs.
Teme: What are your favorite snacks to work by?
Shawn: I drink a lot of green tea. There’s a chocolate that's sweetened with Stevia. I like that. And olive oil-based potato chips.
Teme: That sounds really good. When you’re writing, what is the key to keeping the flow going?
Shawn: The key is talking about the story that you're trying to write and the characters and building on who they are and what their journey is.
Teme: What do you like to do in Chicago when you're not on stage?
Shawn: I like to go to the gym. Sometimes I take a walk. I like to find a really good restaurant. And I like to get some sleep.
Teme: Thank you! It’s great speaking with you!
Shawn: And thank you! Stay positive!
Shawn Wayans is at The Improv, 5 Woodfield Road, Store K120B, Schaumburg, from Friday, November 24 thru Sunday, November 26. More details here.
Fri, Nov 24 at 8 p.m. & 10:15 p.m.
Sat., Nov 25 at 7 p.m. & 9:15 p.m.
Sun., Nov 26 at 7 p.m.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @shawn_wayans
Boo Crew YouTube Channel here.
Boo Crew Official Instagram here.