INTERVIEW: Wayne Brady Opens Up About His Desire for His Own Sitcom, Why He’s No Sellout

by | February 7, 2014 at 12:02 PM | BE Original Interviews, Being Mary Jane, Black Entertainment, Black Entertainment Originals, Kerry Washington, Key & Peele, New Girl, Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Wayne Brady. (Photo: Jeff Katz Photography)

Editor’s Note: To help celebrate Black History Month XFINITY has scheduled a series of celebrity guest editors who will discuss a variety of topics related to black culture and entertainment news. They also will curate TV and movie collections and answer your questions.

Wayne Brady is one very talented brother and if you watched the latest episode of BET’s “Being Mary Jane” you got a sample of his genius. He played a potential love interest of the show’s central character, Mary Jane Paul, portrayed by Gabrielle Union.

“It was a great experience. Working with Gabby was amazing. She’s a dear friend and she’s killing it on that show,” Brady says.

While his role didn’t display the depth of his talent, you’ll no doubt get a full entree when he hosts the 2014 “BET Honors,” which tapes Saturday and airs on Feb. 24. Yes, there’s sure to be lots of singing, dancing, joke telling and improvising compliments of the guy who sees himself as a mash-up of Sammy Davis Jr., Sam Cooke, Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.

“I am the total of all of those individual things because that’s how I was raised as a performer, to try to emulate the old school cats,” shares the 41-year-old who got his start working for both the Disney World and Universal theme parks. ”At one time in show business everyone did that. Everybody was a singer, dancer and actor because that’s how you worked. At a certain time, specialization became OK and it was alright to be lazy.”

And lazy he is not. Brady’s been busy for the past several years, getting his break as the Emmy Award-winning host of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and then hosting his own syndicated talk/variety show, “The Wayne Brady Show,” for two years, earning more statuettes. He played Billy Flynn in a Broadway revival of “Chicago” and has guest starred on several TV shows including 30 Rock,” How I Met Your Mother,” Everybody Hates Chris,” Real Husbands of Hollywood” and most infamously as a thugged-out exaggeration of himself on “The Dave Chappelle Show.” He currently hosts the CBS game show “Let’s Make a Deal” and will be back on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” when it returns with host Aisha Tyler next month.

Brady talks with XFINITY about his favorite science fiction and fantasy TV shows, his reasons for not watching “Saturday Night Live,” the jokes about him not being black enough and what we can expect from him as host of this year’s “BET Honors.”

“Let’s Make a Deal” airs weekdays at 10 a.m. EST on CBS. “BET Honors” airs Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. EST on BET.

Throughout history, black Americans always have been diverse and had varying experiences. Is there any way to define the black experience?

I can define my personal black experience I don’t think I can define the black experience. If I can define the black experience then I’m doing the whole thing that I preach against (putting black people in a box) and I can’t speak on everyone else. But my own black experience, in one where as a child, I experienced racism on both sides. I’ve experienced racism and classism from my own people as a kid and then being bussed to another school and being treated as an outsider.

I think my black experience has been trying to find my identity as a man and where I fit in in this world, where I fit in in this culture and trying to reconcile the two. And trying to find my place as a man who’s a father and as a man who’s trying to find a woman to complete his team. I lost work because I was black, especially early on doing a lot of theater depending on the region we were doing it in. And I’ve gotten work because I was black and I can do X, Y and Z. Then when I started to get TV work, I got work because I was a brother who could do such and such. Then I lost work because people thought, “Well, he can’t possibly play this type of black man.” Race has definitely played a part in it. But I’ve always tried to not be defined by that. At the end of the day, when you’re gone, your legacy isn’t about your race. It’s about what you did. 

Speaking of, you’ve caught some flak for not being black enough. A couple of comedians, including Bill Maher, joked about it.  

I really aim to have 100 percent self-awareness in everything that I do. At no time in my life have I ever done anything that could be called buffoonery or coonery. Just the other day (on Jan. 20) I tweeted that someone listed Kerry Washington and myself and someone else as Uncle Toms. And they weren’t black! What is “black” and what isn’t is so skewed. And even in 2014, it’s ridiculous that that conversation even happens or that it’s given credence, energy or life. Because, first off, there’s no such thing as too black or not black enough because the fact is that you wake up black, you go to sleep black, you’re black any day of the week. You cannot change that and I would not want to change that. My culture is my culture. It doesn’t define me.

So when someone–and not someone of a different race because I try to give them the benefit of the doubt of being stupid–when it’s someone of my own race who does that, it just pisses me off. Because that’s ignorance born of a slave mentality. Slave owners taught us to be divisive, to separate ourselves and get angry. When you sit back and judge a brother or a sister from the outside, you’ve done exactly what that slave owner did to those slaves by calling them a house n—– or field n—–. That’s what you just did to your own people with that statement and that mindset. There is no monolithic black entity. That’s what’s awesome about us: we’re able to become so many things. We are able to be world leaders, to be the president of the U.S., to have different levels of tastes throughout the world, to have Jay Z be a cultural icon not just in this country but in China and to have amazing black CEOs. And in one fell swoop, some ignorant cat can go, “Yeah, but you talk too white.”

You’re very talented and it seems that you’ve dabbled in everything. What projects would you like to do that you already have not done?

Well, I really think I would like to do a musical biopic. “Ray” did it for Jamie [Foxx]. So I’d definitely like to find something for myself whether a project like a Sam Cooke movie. I admire Sam Cooke and I was nominated for a Grammy a few years ago for singing “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I would love to do his biopic. I would love to still not to just appear on a sitcom—I’ve done a lot of sitcoms—but to anchor one which race does come into it because if you look at the history of TV there have not been a lot of mainstream black-anchored sitcoms or sci-fi shows. I would love to do a sci-fi piece. You know, I’m still young, I’ve got a lot under my belt and a lot that I’d like to do. I have to keep my head down and keep on trucking.

You mentioned sci-fi. Are there any sci-fi TV shows that you enjoy watching?

I love “Revolution.” I don’t know if you’d call it sci-fi or more along the lines of fantasy, but “Sleepy Hollow.” “The Tomorrow People” on CW, “Being Human” on BBC and “Doctor Who,” of course, I just love that. And it’s also more along the line of fantasy, “Merlin.” Yeah, man, that’s my stuff. Those are the things that I watch to get an escape.

Have you seen the BBC show “Orphan Black”?

No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve got it on Apple TV but I haven’t gotten a chance to sit and watch it. I think I’m going to wait for a couple of the seasons to stack up so I can watch it.

I know that I specifically asked about your favorite science fiction picks but are there any other shows that you watch in addition to those?

“Raising Hope” is probably one of my favorite sitcoms ever. “New Girl”—I absolutely love. My buddy Lamorne [Morris] does a great job on it. And the actor who plays Schmidt (Max Greenfield)—Schmidt is like my dream role. “Once Upon a Time”—oh, how can I forget that? And also “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.” You’ve got to watch that. I also love “Episodes,” “House of Cards” and “House of Lies.”

Let’s talk about the Shonda Rhimes effect, which seems to be a very real thing on TV. With the success of her shows “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” there seems to be more shows popping up with black characters anchoring them like Nicole Beharie on “Sleepy Hollow.”

I love Nicole. And I love Shonda. I love the fact that Shonda is a storytelling machine. And you know what the cool thing is? Shonda Rhimes is a mover and shaker like Tyler Perry. I’m sure people have their opinions about both of them. I’ve read that some people think that Shonda Rhimes has formulaic, soap opera programming. And I go, OK, that’s your opinion. I think that she’s a great writer and she has a gift for creating these characters. And, why wouldn’t she as a strong black woman create a vehicle with a strong black woman as the lead? I think it works. I think it’s amazing. And she has such a great ear for dialogue and has multi-ethnic casting because that’s the real world. Not just black, not just white, Asian– you’ve got everything there.

There are people who love Tyler Perry. I can’t say that I enjoy all of his shows but I’m proud of the fact that he’s in the position to make those shows. And that’s huge. He’s supplying a lot of work for a lot of actors and we have a lot of beautiful brown faces on TV because of that.

Sasheer Zamata debuted as “Saturday Night Live’s” newest cast member and LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones also were hired as writers for the show. Do you know or have you met them?

No, I haven’t. In fact, I’m not a big “Saturday Night Live” watcher and if I watch, I would watch certain sketches that’ll go viral. I really dig my man Jay Pharaoh. He has incredible energy. I think if they just give him a little more to do, he’ll be in [Eddie] Murphy-land at some point. I think that he’s great. But I really don’t get a chance to watch the show much. The fact that they had to make a stink about getting black women—it’s just hard in comedy. Because, in comedy, the conventional knowledge is that most women aren’t funny, much less a black woman because a black woman’s going to always do a black character. Well, yeah, you know what, a black cast member will do what you’ll write for them. That’s been the problem on “SNL.” That’s why I don’t watch really because not since Eddie Murphy has there been a black cast member who had the freedom to do anything. He did all of those outlandish “black characters” but he could just stand there and [go into character] and you’d completely buy it. I think it’s a self-caused problem that if “SNL” would just let cast members be and just write characters as a character regardless of race, maybe they’d get a few more cast members who are black or Hispanic or whatever. But, I’m so happy for the ladies that are on the show. I hope they prove themselves and prove that they aren’t there just because they are black and ladies but because they are funny.

Does there need to be more sketch comedy shows in the same vein as “SNL” or “Key & Peele”? 

Ooh, “Key & Peele”—they’re brilliant. I’ve gotten a chance to work with them on a show. And Keegan [Michael Key] has gotten a chance to come on “Whose Line?” a couple of times. And we’ve done a show together called “The Black Version.”

You’re hosting the “BET Honors” this year. Tell me how you became involved.

They just called and said, “Hey Wayne, do you want to do this?” It’s a huge show and it’s the kind of thing that I’m proud to be associated with. The fact that we get to honor these tastemakers and the milestones that they’ve achieved in the culture, it’s a pretty classy night. So I love that fact they asked me to do it.

What can we expect? Will it be similar to the numbers Billy Crystal used to do as an Oscar host?

Yes. We’re definitely opening up with a big musical number that’s going to catch you sideways and you’re going to go, “What?! That’s great!” At least, I hope. And then we’re doing a nice little number in the middle of the show and of course we will have jokes in the intro. I think the thing that I’m going to do with this hosting spot is I’m a great traffic cop. I’ve had to do it a lot. And a good traffic cop knows when to let things go and when to stop. I know that it’s called “BET Honors” not “BET Presents Wayne Brady.” So the night’s not about me. I’m a part of the night and I will facilitate the night. I’m going to walk that line between taking my time but making sure the shine’s definitely where it needs to be.

Read XFINITY’s interview with Guest Editor Tamron Hall, host of MSNBC’s “NewsNation with Tamron Hall,” here.