Wayans started making people laugh at early age

April 03, 1995|By Luaine Lee | Luaine Lee,Knight-Ridder News Service

When comic Damon Wayans was a little boy -- one of 10 kids -- he and his siblings used to play a game called "Make Me Laugh or Die."

He explains: "We'd sit there and you'd act the fool and everyone would try not to laugh. If you lost, you'd have to die. To die was to go in a room and pour my father's beer out, knowing it was his last one."

It must have worked, because nearly half of the Wayans kids are funny. Damon and his older brother, Keenen , proved that on their television show, "In Living Color."

Damon Wayans is back in his third big feature film, "Major Payne," in which he plays a spit-and-polish Marine assigned to shape up a sloppy Junior ROTC crew at a prestigious school.

The father of four kids, Mr. Wayans, 34, knows what it's like to wrestle with an unruly pack. He himself was no shining example.

He was kicked out of three high schools (he later got his General Equivalency Diploma) because he was always cutting up.

"I had a running commentary on everything," he says.

His humor came along early. When he was 14, and goofing off with friend Robert Townsend, he conjured up some imitations that made young Townsend remark, "Man, you'd better get on stage."

Actually, the stage was the farthest thing from his mind. Born with a club foot, Mr. Wayans cherished only one aspiration:

"My dream was to wear Nikes," he says. "I wanted to get out of orthopedic shoes and dunk a basketball."

He underwent four surgeries when he was little, and his foot is improved. But he didn't get his first pair of "nice" shoes until he graduated from junior high.

When you first start out in comedy, you're working from insecurity, says Mr. Wayans, who is also a writer and producer. "You want to prove your wit. Everything someone says, you try to find comedy in it. Now I'm very reserved."

The hardest thing he ever had to do, he thinks, was accepting the responsibility of being a father.

He has been married 11 years now. He has two boys, 12 and 9, and two daughters, 7 and 4. "The way I was raised, it was a commitment for life," he says. "There was no divorcing. My mother and father are still married after 39 years and 10 kids."

Mr. Wayans is a deeply religious man, a Jehovah's Witness, and -- though he would probably not admit it -- he adheres to a firm set of values.

Though his last film, "Blankman," did not fare well, Mr. Wayans isn't deflated by every disappointment. "This is just my job," he shrugs.

He doesn't worry about the competition or the box-office grosses. "Do the best you can and have fun with what you do," he says. "Failure and success mean nothing. I rejoice in the doing. If I have success, fine. If I have failure, I'll get over it."

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