Damon Wayans always seems to be getting back into the game, and this week is no different. The native New Yorker popped in to the Comedy Cellar on Wednesday night for a surprise half-hour set, telling me afterward: "I’ve got to get ready for the big show." That big show is Friday night at Beacon Theatre as part of the New York Comedy Festival.
When we spoke over the phone last week, I asked him about an upcoming Comedy Central special, and somewhere in between that and Last Comic Standing, we got talking about comedians being ready for primetime.
"I’m not a primetime guy, not in stand-up," Wayans said. "You don’t want to be. If you don’t express yourself — if you can be primetime you’re not expressing yourself."
How do you look at comedy differently now after more than two decades onstage? "I’m a little more seasoned right now. I’m definitely a lot less afraid now. I think I enjoy it more because I realize I’m not going to be as physical now. It’s time. I’m 47 years old. That youth when I used to bound onstage, now I’m a little more like Cosby, looking forward to sitting down on a couch."
But he still remembers his first time onstage, when he wrote all of his jokes down so he wouldn’t forget them. "I put the paper in my jacket pocket," he said. "As soon as I got onstage it was so hot, I guess it was adrenaline. I took my jacket off and tossed it across the room…that was the first time I improvised. I remember laughter. I dont know why they were laughing but I went home thinking I was brilliant."
Do you believe in the saying that most first-timers in stand-up have beginner’s luck? "No," he said. "It takes year of rejection to understand, first of all, what’s not funny. That’s the key. The guy who makes people laugh by the watercooler thinks he’s really funny, but put him in front of six angry drunks and then he’ll see. It takes years to develop a true voice and a passion for the degradation. It’s kind of like being in prostitution. You need to be naked in front of people and hope they throw you two dollars."
They do tend to call comedians whores for taking so many gigs for bad money or no money, after all.
"Put a miniskirt on and the pumps on and try to get attention!"
Why are you starting up a new online comedy site, wayouttv.com?
"I’m trying to perfect YouTube. Instead of people uploading whatever they want, I’m filtering what people produce in entertainment…It’ll start in comedy. In that arena. Eventually it’ll branch out into all forms of artisitic expression…It’s called wayout because I’m looking for a way out for artists."
How’s that coming along? "I’m looking to put together some strategic partners. We’re locked and ready to go, but we want to put all of our ducks in a row."
How has the Internet changed comedy? "It has the potential to change show business and how stars are made and how entertianment is distributed. It’s fast. It’s global and you get that instant feedback. The only other place you get that is live stand-up, or music. It’s almost the same."
Do you like coming home to New York City? "For me, I’m not in New York until I’m walking the streets. I like to stay up by the park. I’ll walk all the way down to Battery Park City and back." Doesn’t that mean a lot of stops when people recognize you? "My thing is, I love people. I love the concept of people…people just want to say hi…for the most part it’s just hello and I walk real fast. I’m not stopping to have tea with people. I’m moving."
When does your best material come to you? "Onstage. I get a little smile in my eye and I hit a zone…Sometimes I go up and I’m lazy or tired or distracted or whatever and that’s when you do the premeditated improv…But you want to go home and enjoy it and think about it…Some nights you go into that club and smell the old liquor on the floor and see all the other comics in the back watching to see you fail and it’s time to raise your game."