Keenen Ivory Wayans
The trail-blazing linchpin of a sprawling African-American family of comic entertainers, it was multi-talented writer/director/producer Keenen Ivory Wayans (born June 8, 1958, in New York City) who was the first to achieve national prominence by successfully creating, launching and hosting a landmark 1990s black-oriented comedy satire on Fox TV. That, in turn, ignited and/or advanced the careers of not only his younger siblings Damon Wayans, Kim Wayans, Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans, but others of his extended family as well.
The second of ten children of Howell Wayans, a grocery store manager, and Elvira Wayans, a social worker, Keenan attended Seward Park High School, then majored in engineering at Alabama's Tuskegee University. He dropped out during his senior year when the comedy bug hit him full force. Heavily influenced by Richard Pryor, he found only lukewarm success on the New York standup stage, deciding later to relocate to Los Angeles in order to pursue film and TV opportunities. After being glimpsed in bit parts in such TV shows as "CHiPs" (1977) and "Cheers" (1982) and movies as Star 80 (1983), in which he played a standup comic, he found his first real break in a sudsy TV drama--the short-lived military series "For Love and Honor" (1983), in which he had a recurring role as Pvt. Duke Johnson, who aspired to become a professional boxer.
After hooking up with comedian Eddie Murphy and earning writing credit on the star's raunchy live performance feature Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), Keenen's visibility rose. Partnering with actor/director Robert Townsend, he had his first film hit with Hollywood Shuffle (1987), a pointed satire highlighting the plight of the black actor in Hollywood. Done in hilariously stereotypical fashion, one great bit had detective Townsend battling a blaxploitation villain named Jerry Curl (Wayans). Following this came another similar 1970s blaxploitation parody, the even bigger hit I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) in which Keenen had the starring role and made his directorial debut. He played the revenge-minded, but not particularly macho Jack Spade alongside such icons of 1970s blaxploitation cinema as Jim Brown, Isaac Hayes and Bernie Casey. The film also featured several members of his family.
The sketch-oriented, Emmy-winning variety series "In Living Color" (1990) was Keenen's creative baby and ultimate pièce de résistance. He also turned the show into a family act as well with Damon, Kim, Marlon and Shawn all appearing on the irreverent series that showcased the deviously scathing social humor Keenen was infamous for. As host of the show he graciously spotlighted the comedy ensemble more than himself. Not only did the show introduce the public to a number of terrific black comedians, it made superstars out of brother Damon, as well as Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey, the latter being one of the show's few white regulars. Jennifer Lopez also got her start as one of the original hip-hop dancing, sexy "Fly Girls." Ironically, Keenen would be one of the first of the cast to leave the show over creative issues and contract disputes with the network. He felt Fox was overexposing the show, which would have reduced its monetary value once it turned to syndication. He abruptly left in 1992 and, by next season's end, the rest of the Wayans clan had bailed as well. Nearly half of the regular cast on the show's final season were white.
This unfortunately bitter and acrimonious incident led the one-time driving force to become more selective in his projects, while retreating more and more behind the scenes. In 1997, however, he produced "The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show" (1997), a party-themed talk show in which he served as the cool, urban-styled host. The set resembled a nightclub and the atmosphere was rowdy and jaunty. The show wasn't cool enough, apparently, as it was canceled before year's end. Keenen also tried to turn buff action star with the films A Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), which he wrote and directed, The Glimmer Man (1996), pairing up with Steven Seagal, and Most Wanted (1997), but the attempt backfired and he dropped, big time, out of the limelight.
When it comes to outrageous satire Keenen has few peers. Come the millennium he directed the hilarious horror spoof Scary Movie (2000), which prominently displayed brothers Shawn and Marlon and is one of the most successful feature films ever directed by an African-American. He also directed its first sequel, Scary Movie 2 (2001). Keeping things more or less a family affair these days, he recently directed Shawn and Marlon in White Chicks (2004), and is helming Damon's upcoming feature _Homey the Clown (2007)_, based on Damon's famous mean-spirited ghetto character from the "In Living Color" days.
The Wayans family is filled with talented members, so there is no surprise that the two youngest brothers, Shawn and Marlon Wayans, have followed in their family's footsteps as Hollywood icons. These two comedic prodigies have accomplished a lot in their relatively short careers so far. Both Shawn and Marlon Wayans made their acting debut in 1989 in their brother Keenen Ivory Wayans’ feature film “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.” Immediately following their feature film debut, they joined the cast of the Emmy Award winning comedy series, “In Living Color.” “The Wayans Bros.” sitcom, which Shawn and Marlon created and starred in, was the first WB show to be sold into syndication after heading up the WB network lineup for five years. Shawn and Marlon’s past film credits include the hit comedy “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in The Hood,” which they co-wrote, produced and starred in together. The movie was a comic spoof of the coming-of-age-in- the-hood movies and is a huge cult favorite. More recently Shawn and Marlon starred in the box office hit, “Little Man” and “White Chicks,” both of which they also co-wrote and produced. The brothers began co-writing this string of blockbusters with the smash “Scary Movie” where they also starred along side each other, and was directed by their brother Keenen Ivory Wayans. Co-written, produced and starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans, “Scary Movie 2” was the only sequel in the “Scary Movie” franchise with direct Wayans involvement. Shawn and Marlon were next seen on the big screen in “Dance Flick,” the new comedy co-written with brother Keenen Ivory, which premiered in May, 2009. Shawn and Marlon, along with their brothers and sisters, created “Thugaboo” and the subsequent “Boo Crew” animated specials for Nickelodeon, which began premiering in August, 2006. In addition to creating, the Wayans are also writing, directing and voicing the series which takes a humorous look at the trials and tribulations of nine inner city kids. TheBooCrew.com released in fall, 2009 and plans are underway to turn The Boo Crew into a daily comic strip. Marlon also starred in the 2009 blockbuster “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” where he played Ripcord, the G.I. Joe team HALO’s jumper. When not producing and starring in hit movies or on the road performing standup, Shawn and Marlon can be found hard at work in the “lab” where the Wayans siblings are busy concocting their next project.