She’s one of the funniest women to have graced television screens in the past quarter century and a proud member of a comedic dynasty but Kim Wayans is still carving out her own path.
The actress is currently starring in Robert O’Hara’s raucously wild ‘Barbecue,’ which is having its world premiere at New York City’s Public Theater. In the Kent Gash-directed comedic play, family strife, drama and addiction are cleverly explored with an intervention masqueraded as an outdoor barbecue for its backdrop.
Wayans, who hails from a family of 10 siblings—including comedy superstars Keenen Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans—said she was attracted to the irreverent work due to its reliability factor.
“I think that the beauty of this project is that it relates to most people, because you can’t honestly say that you don’t have a friend or someone somewhere in your family who had an addiction problem or an alcohol problem,” the ‘In Living Color’ alumnae told NBCBLK. “I think there are very few people on this earth who do not have somebody that they care about who haven’t gone through this experience. So I think it’s universally relatable."
Wayans, officially making her “professional New York theatrical debut” in ‘Barbecue,’ previously starred in her own one-woman show ‘A Handsome Woman Retreats,’ which she said is being developed into a TV pilot. This current project came to her without even an audition, and it fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams.
I don’t find it exciting to be on the cover of every magazine or on everyone’s tongue on social media. That really holds no appeal for me.
“I got a call from my agent that The Public had sent me a play and that they were making an offer; they were just making a flat out offer for me to come to do this play," she recalled. "They sent me this play and I read it and after three or four pages, I knew I was in.”
“I’m crossing off something on the bucket list for me,” she continued. “So when this presented itself to me, I just felt like—oh boy—it was some kind of intervention from a higher source that this thing that I wanted to do, material wise, manifested itself.”
O’Hara’s works, which have been compared to the subversive comedy of Richard Pryor and Jackie Mason, include irreverent plays such as the critically-heralded ‘Bootycandy’ and the award-winning ‘Antebellum.’ It falls in line with some of the envelope-pushing fare Wayans and her siblings brought to fore with unforgettable ‘In Living Color’ skits.
“He’s just a brilliant playwright, he just tackles so much,” she said of the sought-after playwright and director.
Even though she gained fame parodying pop cultural figures like Crystal Waters, Oprah Winfrey and even the town gossip (Benita Butrell) on the legendary FOX series, the dramatic arts is more of Wayans’ focus these days. She has quietly built up her resume with impressive roles like the critically acclaimed Dee Rees film ‘Pariah’ and has starred in the crime drama ‘Reckless,’ also appearing in episodes of ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and ‘Criminal Minds.’
While she may not have the star wattage as her brothers, moving stealthily in the entertainment industry is her preferred style of operating.
“Well, you have to decide what’s important for you in life and while my career is important and brings me a lot of joy, it’s not everything,” Wayans confessed. “I’m more about the art, I like expressing myself as an artist but I’m not chasing fame. It never happened.”
I think it’s an extremely exciting time for people of color, not just black people but people in general because there’s a thirst for other stories, a thirst for people to see a complete reflection of what this country is.
“So the opportunities that have come to me and the opportunities that in some way helped to either expand me as an artist or challenge me as an artist, that’s what I find exciting” she furthered. “I don’t find it exciting to be on the cover of every magazine or on everyone’s tongue on social media. That really holds no appeal for me.”
Wherever she goes, fans will start riffing off some of the funny lines from the groundbreaking sketch comedy series 'In Living Color', which debuted in 1990 and shook up the television landscape. Though today’s primetime line-up is light on the black comedy, Wayans said she’s “excited” about the strides that have been made for drama.
“With the last couple of years, I’m just over the moon with Viola [Davis]’s success and Kerry [Washington]’s success and ‘Empire’ and I think that the powers-that-be are finally understanding that there is a lot of money to be made in telling diverse stories, that people don’t want to see the same story over and over again that doesn’t speak to them,” she said. “So I think it’s an extremely exciting time for people of color, not just black people but people in general because there’s a thirst for other stories, a thirst for people to see a complete reflection of what this country is.”
And as far as the late night scene—a format her older brother Keenen tried to make a go at unsuccessfully—she said there was a still work to be done. “Ummm, I think the late night landscape can use more diversity, not just in terms of men and women but it’s not very colorful so I think that’s an area they can definitely work on.”
“Would I particularly be interested in it? I don’t think so. That doesn’t really hold any appeal to me.”
'Barbecue' written by Robert O’Hara and Directed by Kent Gash runs through November 1 at The Public Theater.