There’s a line comedians sometimes reiterate when confronted with criticism: the one about how humour is subjective and what one person finds funny another may not.
It’s easy for critics to get hoity-toity about comedy, but there is merit in the argument that the ultimate test of a joke’s worth is simply whether or not people laugh. Great films have explored the beauty of shits and giggles escapism, from Singing in the Rain’s Make ‘Em Laugh (1952) to Preston Sturges’ breakdown of high and low art in Sullivan’s Travels (1941).
Marlon Wayans is not a creator of great films — but he does make people laugh. The 40-year-old performer is probably best known as the co-writer and star of box office titans Scary Movie (2000) and Scary Movie 2 (2001). His CV an actor and writer also includes lowbrow fare such as Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), White Chicks (2004) and LITTLEMAN (2006). Which is to say, Wayans is no stranger to a bad review.
“After White Chicks I gave up on reviewers. I was just like, whatever. Whatever you guys want to say,” Wayans tells me, in Australia to promote his new film A Haunted House (which opens May 30). “I’m looking at the audience and I’m hearing the thunderous laughter. I’m just going, you know what, you guys have got a thumb up your ass. You have a fist. It’s a fist up your ass and I’m not going to fight you on it.”
One critic I know of, I tell Wayans, argued getting waterboarded would be more entertaining than watching White Chicks. Like much of his work, the film was very much a family project: Wayans stars alongside his brother Shawn. They play disgraced FBI agents who “go way undercover.” It was directed by another of his brothers, Keenen Ivory.
“I would love to see that,” he says. “I would love to see him be waterboarded versus watching White Chicks. I’ll watch White Chicks while the critic is waterboarded and let’s see which one’s funnier.”
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I didn’t have the heart to tell him that critic was me.
Wayans and I talked about writing while high, getting comedies off the ground, playing “serious” (he gave a terrific performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-nominated Requiem for a Dream), the sequel to White Chicks and, most of all, dealing with critics.
If you were writing another Scary Movie style comedy, but this time you set it in Australia, what would be the first joke you’d put in it?
Something about fucking some kind of koala bear. Or maybe some kind of kangaroo anal rape joke.
So in other words, you’d start off nice and classy?
Of course. Maybe kangaroo farts. Then he opens the pouch and the baby farts too.
I realised before this interview that you made Little Man with your brothers in 2006, which was two years before the Oscar-nominated film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. So I figure David Fincher and everybody behind that film really owe you for preparing the general public for movies about grown man babies. Right?
Pretty much. We were pioneers. That’s what we were. They didn’t appreciate the shit jokes as much. Benjamin Button found a way to, you know, get those out of there. But yeah, there’s still a lot of stuff. I think just because Brad Pitt was a lot cuter as a kid than I was. So he gets the Oscar nods and I get the Razzies. That’s how we do it. I would pull the race card, but, um, I’m not going to do that. Even know my little man baby had a much bigger penis than his.
You said earlier this year during an interview on Australian TV that when you’re writing movies like Scary Movie, you guys write them completely sober. That you don’t get baked at all during the process. Were you being 100% honest?
I never have been baked while – one time I got baked. One time. One time. I don’t wanna have to rely on getting high to think of crazy stuff. I want to do it sober. But on Don’t Be a Menace, there was a point when we were re-writing the script and I had to get high because I couldn’t think of anything else. When I did, I thought of the craziest stuff in the world. There was a scene with this guy, and we pass the joint around. The guy takes a hit of the joint. He starts coughing. His eyes start watering. He foams out the mouth and he dies. Then my character Loc Dog goes “hey, pass dat shit!” That really happened during one of the weed smoking sessions. One of my friends coughed and damn near passed out and I was just like “yo, pass dat shit!”
Do you reward yourself when you finish a script by getting high immediately after?
No. You know, I’m not big on weed. I like a drink. Drinking is my poison, you know, because I can control that. Weed, it takes me to weird places. I just don’t like thinking that I’m Spider-Man.
You said in another interview I read recently that they’re not making movies anymore in Hollywood unless the lead character is a superhero. Do you think it’s harder to get comedies off the ground than it used to be?
It’s way harder. Way harder. A Hunted House I did independently and A Haunted House 2 I’m doing independently as well. A Haunted House opens May 3o in Australia. It’s a really funny comedy by the way, you guys should go check it out. It did really well in the States and hopefully in Australia it’s going to be a big bang. It’s basically Paranormal Activity if it happened to a black couple. There ya go.
When you write these kind of parody projects – i.e. Scary Movie 1 and 2, A Haunted House and so forth – how, broadly speaking, do you approach the job? Do you gorge yourself on every genre film you can beforehand?
You have to. You have to input before you ouput. The key is I definitely watch over 100 movies like three times each before I put pen to pad.
Your movies have earned a hell of a lot of money over the years, especially the Scary Movie franchise. But they aren’t exactly known as these critically acclaimed masterpieces. Does that mean –
Put it this way. The audience loves it. The critics hate it. The more the critics hate it, the more the audience love it. It’s insane. My last movie was at six percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Six percent! But it was on 85 percent with the audience. So somewhere along the line, you know, I think the critics understand we don’t make movies for them. We make movies for the audience. Critics don’t pay to see movies. Audiences do.
Does that mean you’re totally invulnerable to negative reviews? Or do you sometimes read something and think ooh, ouch, that actually hurts?
I don’t give a shit. After White Chicks I gave up on reviewers. I was just like, whatever. Whatever you guys want to say. I look at White Chicks and it gets one and a half stars and I’m looking at the audience and I’m hearing the thunderous laughter. I’m just going, you know what, you guys have got a thumb up your ass. You have a fist. It’s a fist up your arse and I’m not going to fight you on it. Just enjoy it and I’m not going to fight you on it. Their opinions are their opinions and I’m not mad at them. The only time they give great reviews is when you do a movie for them. Critics like, I guess, smarter comedy. Scatalogical comedy and weed jokes don’t work for them.
I’m assuming you don’t agree with one critic who said that being waterboarded would be more entertaining than watching White Chicks?
I would love to see that. I would love to see him be waterboarded versus watching White Chicks. I’ll watch White Chicks while the critic is waterboarded and let’s see which one’s funnier. They look for different things in movies. You do comedy and comedy is subjective. It’s all about the audience member and it’s based on your type of humour. Our type of humour apparently isn’t theirs. But that’s OK, because when I watch a movie with 350 people and they are laughing from beginning to end, and some are falling out of their chairs, I just don’t understand what movie critics are seeing. When you’re doing comedy the only thing that’s truly important is that people laugh.
Does it mean more to get a positive review for a movie you made or for a live comedy show you wrote and starred in? Which one do you value more? Or do you value neither?
Neither. I mean no disrespect to critics. They have their job to do. Critique. For me, when I do dramas, that’s when they tend to like it. When I did Requiem (For a Dream) they loved that. Because they don’t get your humour doesn’t mean they hate you. It just means they hate your humour. But for me I don’t do anything for anybody except for the audience and for myself. I try to make people laugh. Enjoy. Be a fool. Have fun. And that’s the key. I can’t worry about reviews and critics. All I can worry about is the people in front of me, and ask myself the question: are they laughing?
Talking about Requiem for a Dream, which is such a powerful movie, you turned a lot of heads with your performance. How highly do you regard the film in terms of your career and street cred?
It was great to do. Darren Darren Aronofsky is a brilliant filmmaker and I was lucky to have that experience. I was lucky to also work with the Coen brothers and I have had the experience of doing a great screen test for Richard Pryor and the great Bill Conden. Every experience I have is a great experience for me. It’s great when I go to a coffee house and people go “oh my god, I love Scary Movie” and then somebody else will go “man I really really enjoyed you in Requiem for a Dream.”
It’s kind of hard to enjoy that performance, right? You end up shivering and coming down in a jail cell.
I wanted to shoot myself in the face when I was done with that movie. It was that depressing. At the end of Requiem I wanted to shoot myself in the face and hug my mum. They were the two thoughts that came to mind. I don’t know in which order.
Often in interviews people in Hollywood don’t tend to slag each other off, for obvious reasons. But for the record: do you agree with me that Michael Bay absolutely sucks?
I actually like the way Michael Bay’s movies look. I would love to be in a Michael Bay movie. I would like to put together my terrible and his terrible and make a great popcorn movie. Honestly, they call him terrible but the guy makes entertaining movies. When I watch Transformers I can’t help but think that there is some kind of mastery in bringing cars to life. It’s popcorn. It looks good, it looks big and he’s really great at that. Is it going to make you cry? Is it going to change the world? No. But he’ll change your mood. When I saw Transformers, my son turned to me. I think he was erect at the time. He was sitting there with a hard-on. He was just “this movie, dad” I said “it’s alright son. I see. I know.”
Recently Spike Lee spoke out against Django Unchained and its use of racial politics. Do you think he had anything to get upset about?
Spike gets pissed off pretty quickly. But you know, I get it. It’s the year 2013 and black people don’t like to hear the N word except when we call it to each other. But Quentin Tarantino, that’s on his brain. He finds a new way to use the N word and make it cool. God bless him. They’re both really great filmmakers and I respect both their work. I think they should duke it out. Let Spike Lee and Tarantino fight and let’s see who wins.
If you making a sequel to White Chicks, would you call it Black Chicks? And if you would call it Black Chicks, who would you cast in the lead roles?
I would definitely not do Black Chicks. I would do White Chicks again and cast me and Shawn in those roles. Actually, we’re talking about doing a sequel. It’s one of our favourite movies and it’s the one movie people always ask us to do a sequel for.
What would you call it?
Two More White Chicks.
Marlon Wayans will attend a range of A Haunted House Q & A screenings in Australia, including one at Melbourne’s Jam Factory cinema on Tuesday May 7. He is also appearing in comedy shows across the country with his brother Shawn.