Even as America continues to cede its manufacturing power to Asia, we remain the world's number one producer of Wayanses. Of them, Marlon Wayans has distinguished himself as the leading purveyor of topical comedy dans la mode Wayans in his standup and Scary Movie series.
But when New Times spoke with Marlon Wayans yesterday in advance of his exorcism spoof film, A Haunted House, an otherwise freewheeling conversation took a serious turn. Like the rest of us, Wayans is struggling with how to process the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
We had been asking Wayans about what, since he doesn't believe in ghosts like the ones in his upcoming movie, he does believe in. We had offered some suggestions.
"The only thing I believe in," he said, "is making fun of everything you've just mentioned: Love, God, America."
The new movie is certainly wide-ranging in the targets for its jokes, but some things must feel off-limits to Wayans.
"No," he told us. Then he paused and cleared his throat. "I would say this: there's a way to make any topic funny. You have to be responsible, respectful about how you go about doing it. Right now, the only thing I would say is not funny -- like, I can't find the humor in it -- is what happened in Connecticut.
"And I do crazy jokes. That's one thing I just can't find humor in that. That's just sad. It will always haunt me, that day. I just go, 'What is someone thinking to do something that terrible that I can't crack a joke about it?' That's crazy. I find light in everything. There's no light in that."
Wayans recalled being on the way from Atlanta to New York when he learned about the murders.
"Being that I'm from New York and I've got kids -- when you've got kids, that's the worst thing. It's like, what are the poor teachers going to do? They don't get paid enough for that, not on a teacher's salary.
"That's how you know there's a devil, you know? There's definitely a devil."
But Wayans does see value in comedians working with taboo subjects and tragedy, even if he isn't personally ready to look for laughs in the Newtown shootings.
"If I went on stage to talk about this, sometimes it's therapy because you're trying to figure out what's wrong. You're trying to figure out a happy spin. You're trying to find the funny in the darkest places. And you need to be able to go there."
To Wayans, camera phones in comedy clubs have become an impediment to this process. He likens the exposure of the comedian's explorations to a painter's charcoal sketch being sold at auction before the artist ever has a chance to pick up a brush.
"But no, it's not ready yet," he said. "Let me do it. Not only let me do it here but let me try that joke in Kentucky, let me try it in Atlanta. Now, let me try it in the very place that this happened. Let me see if it works in Connecticut. Can I make the people who are hurting the most laugh the hardest?
"It's the gift that comedians have when you do it right, but it takes a respectful, responsible approach and you can't just fly off the handle. You have to really think about it and talk about it. Find the truth and then find the funny.
"I could talk about my pain. My brother, when he died, I went on stage and I just talked about it. And I still didn't find what was funny about it but you know, I was able to help give myself therapy."
The rest of our interview with Marlon Wayans will run in 2013.