Marlon Wayans and his siblings once competed for laughs over the dinner table. Now he rules the multiplex.
It’s no coincidence that the poster for Marlon Wayans’ horror-film spoof “A Haunted House 2” prominently features a digital clock reading 4:20, a code term for consuming cannabis.
“It’s opening 4/20 weekend,” Wayans said on a recent visit to Minneapolis. “Lotta kids gonna be celebrating. A lot of adults are gonna be celebrating.”
The 41-year-old comedian’s new effort is a raunchy, R-rated “South Park” take on the found-footage subgenre of fright films. “It’s a gumbo of a movie, a bunch of fun sketches,” Wayans said.
The film features a largely minority cast, including Wayans, Cedric the Entertainer, Essence Atkins and Gabriel Iglesias, battling various poltergeists. That’s a dilemma that in serious horror films befalls white people almost exclusively, Wayans said, although he couldn’t explain why.
“There’s just something about you guys that ghosts love,” he said. “The ghosts would be scared to go to the projects.”
It wasn’t exactly revenge that inspired Wayans to launch his new franchise last year. But it wasn’t done just for laughs, either.
Wayans and three of his siblings were the creative mainspring of the hit “Scary Movie” series, which spoofs the conventions of fright films. “It was phenomenal. ‘Scary Movie’ made $160 million here, $160 million overseas, and that’s before you factor in video and all that,” Wayans said.
He starred in and co-wrote the 2000 original and its sequel with brothers Shawn and Greg; Keenen, the eldest, directed.
Producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein wouldn’t meet the brothers’ rising salary requests for a third, but stole the premise the Wayanses pitched them, Marlon said with a shrug. “Whatever. They made money; we made money. I’m very thankful to the Weinsteins for the experience.
“As bad as they are, they’re good as well. It was a shame to see the business go awry, but all things come to an end.”
And so Wayans developed his own scare spoof. Last year, even without brand recognition, “A Haunted House” opened stronger than the Weinsteins’ flop “Scary Movie 5” and far outperformed it on a budget-to-box-office basis. Wayans put “A Haunted House 2” into production on the spot. It opened nationwide Friday.
“This has my flavor on it,” he said. “Not our flavor, because it’s not a Wayans brothers movie. My flavor. Spicy crispy.”
Comedy is his business
Aside from detours such as his well-received dramatic turn in Darren Aronofsky’s drug drama “Requiem for a Dream,” comedy has been Wayans’ career for 25 years. It gets easier, and also harder, as the years go by.
“It’s like a great rapper, like Jay-Z’s first album, ‘Reasonable Doubt.’ You talk about a whole lifetime of experience he gets to express on 10 songs. He’s prepared his whole life to do this. But over time he gets better. He gets smarter. Music’s kind of the same, but his life experience is different.”
Wayans said he aims to stay as grounded as he can “because I always want to come from the point of view I grew up with.” His family lived in low-income public housing in New York City, “a very dangerous environment. Yet I was able to see the funny. In everything. In death. In prostitution. In drugs. We had a weird neighborhood. But everybody loved you.”
With nine other siblings competing for attention at the dinner table, mealtime was a raucous talent show. “We always cracked jokes, and that’s what got us through.”
He has begun doing stand-up comedy concerts as a sideline to his film career. “I hope that by listening to 5,000 people laugh when you do a joke, seeing who cringes and who doesn’t, knowing your audience, I hope that’s making me better” as a performer and writer.
“I hope that I won’t be telling a joke that makes me laugh and makes everybody else uncomfortable,” although there is plenty of gross, politically incorrect humor in “A Haunted House 2.”
“Believe it or not, as uncomfortable and crazy as this movie can be, there’s a lot of stuff where we said, ‘Nah, too much. That takes it to a weird place.’ We thought it was funny because comedians are dark people.
“Sometimes you get more out of hitting it quick than drilling into the nerve. You make product for customers. My job is to make you laugh, make you leave your brain at home. It’s not time to think. Be a kid and don’t be ashamed to laugh at something silly, something scatological. That’s what I’m about, and I hope I’m getting better.”
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186