- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. When he was small, nobody would have guessed that Keenen Ivory Wayans harbored a terrible secret.

He was funny.

He made sure no one knew it.

"I don't think anybody who knew me would've thought I was a comedian. I was quiet and observant. I knew there was something different. I knew I had a twisted point of view, but I didn't know what it was," says the tall Mr. Wayans, seated in a beige dining chair in a hotel room.

That twisted point of view created one of the most innovative comedy shows on television, "In Living Color," as well as such movies as "A Low Down Dirty Shame," "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" (which Mr. Wayans directed) and his latest, "Scary Movie," which opens tomorrow.

One of 10 children and older brother to comics Damon, Shawn and Marlon, Mr. Wayans always has been a role model a position he takes seriously.

Two of his brothers co-star in "Scary Movie" which Mr. Wayans wrote and directed and all three were part of "In Living Color."

"On the set, my brothers behave better because I'm their older brother. They listen to me," Mr. Wayans says. "They trust me. They show up on time. If I tell them to get out of the trailer now, they get out of the trailer. It's actually very smooth working relationships because I almost raised them, so they don't give me no stress."

The stress part came from their parents. The Wayans boys' Jehovah's Witnesses parents were strict and demanding. The children were required to be in the house by 6 p.m. every night, and television often was prohibited.

Play was restricted to their own block. Their mother would watch constantly from their apartment building as the children played below.

Damon Wayans, who has enjoyed a thriving career of his own, says he never had a dream. "I followed Keenen's dream."

Keenen Wayans knew when he was 6 what he wanted to do. "I realized it was comedy when I saw Richard Pryor on 'Dinah Shore.' That's when it dawned on me what it was that I wanted to do," he says.

"I didn't tell anyone. I didn't tell anyone till after I had already auditioned at the Improv because I didn't want to hear anything from anybody. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

"I went as far as college in Alabama Tuskegee Institute and it was there that I found out about the Improv. I guess around high school, junior high school, I'd come out of my shell and was much more like a class clown. Then when I got to school in Alabama, everybody was fascinated with New York because I was one of the few kids from New York."

Mr. Wayans used to tell stories about his hometown, playing the various characters as he talked.

"A guy who was from New York came up to me and said, 'You know, when you go home you should check out the Improv.' I said, 'What is that?' And he told me about the club and its history. The irony was that it took me 2,000 miles away to find out about a place that was a mile and a half from where I grew up," he says with a chuckle.

He did well at the Improv. Mr. Wayans' career was beginning to blossom when the chance to head up his own skit comedy show on the Fox network arrived.

Shaking his head, he says, "A moment in time. That's usually how a lot of good things happen. Everything was there at the right time. Fox was an upstart network that was looking to make a statement. I was a young filmmaker who was given the opportunity. Basically, what they said is, 'You can do any kind of show you want to do.' And I think the country was in the right frame of mind and ready to sort of open their eyes to something different. A moment in time. Everything came together."

Mr. Wayans was instrumental in fostering the careers of people such as Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, Rosie Perez, David Alan Grier and his brothers, who got their start on that show.

After it ended, though, he learned how green he really was. "That was the darkest period," he says.

"It was time for reflection and understanding the business I was in. And 'Living Color' was only my third project, so I wasn't really a seasoned businessperson. I didn't understand the business and didn't understand how ruthless the business could be. And I was very naive. When you have that kind of disappointment happen, then it's time for you to just reflect on events that have passed: OK, let's make sure this doesn't happen in the future."

He says he wasn't worried about not working again. "It was just getting over the fact that I had to walk away from something I loved as much as I did 'In Living Color.' "

The father of three children with one more on the way Mr. Wayans, 42, says he is "as close to marrying as you can get. We're going to make it official next year."

Mr. Wayans says he's still surprised that show business often tries to take advantage of him and his brothers.

"People always try to come between you. It's as simple as offering two of us the same part and seeing which of us they can get for less money. We always avoid that. Whoever wants it and whoever's best for it is the one who should do it. We just approach everything like a family. We don't worry about the snakes in the grass. We just look out for each other."

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