When you look at someone on TV, you look at whatever image that person is projecting. Just because the earlier things I did were Disney-based and ABC-based and therefore they followed certain clean factor, a certain class factor, and maybe even a certain ‘cheese’ factor, you don’t know me,” he said. “You don’t know that I grew up singing in church or that I spent years at a stretch singing in R&B bands and touring and doing cruise ships and singing in bars and dives. All you see is that’s that brother from ‘Whose Line’. So that’s the ace up my sleeve. No one knows me in that regard so I can show them that side of me that I haven’t been able to because I was busy doing the other stuff.”
*Who is Wayne Brady? Is he a comic, an improv master, a TV host, a singer? Yes. Emmy-winning comedian and television personality Wayne Brady is a man of many talents. Just when you think you know him, he offers another very entertaining persona. Whether it’s comedy or drama, Brady has dabbled and done well. Tomorrow, Brady’s musical offering makes its debut in the form of the R&B CD “A Long Time Coming.”
Brady shot to fame thanks to his clever and quick improvisations on the hit ABC TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” which won him an Emmy – and his talk show, “The Wayne Brady Show” – which won him an Emmy. This year, Brady began hosting duties on the TV game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.” And now, Brady is currently on tour in support of his debut disc.
“I started doing musical theater when I was 16, and started acting at the same time, and started doing improv when I was 19,” Brady said of the basis of his talent. “I’m sure there were a lot of early things that I was horrible in, but I kept coming back. I think I had a natural affinity and a natural talent that would sometimes trump the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing and I was not good at it. So I just kept going back and going and going and auditioning for everything. Every time something wouldn’t work right, I would come back and try something else. Experience really is a good teacher, particularly in the realm of improv comedy. We did shows six nights a week and sometimes two shows a night, just because you’re hungry to do it and as long as you have an audience, you’ll go. So the first six nights, I sucked – maybe all six, then five, and then three. I started becoming better and learning what I was doing. So, by doing that, I got better and developed it by on-the-job training.”
The very persistent Brady continued that while he worked hard to hone his comedy skills, there is a bit of natural talent required in improv.
“There is a certain combination,” Brady said of the improvisation formula. When I teach improv class, I always say, ‘I’m not going to teach you to be funny.’ When I started learning improv, I think I brought something to the table. Not everyone can do improve, because it takes a certain level of intelligence. Coming from a background where I read everything I can get my hands on, I watch everything I can, I’m basically a receptacle of a lot of information, some of which is useless until I’m on stage. You have to be a learner to be able to do improve. It’s not about, ‘Hey, I just did a funny fart joke.’ It’s about the reference you can make while doing the fart joke. That’s what I think improve boils down to. ‘Whose Line’ is really about a bunch of nerds being funny and trying to one-up each other with cultural references, a character, or some bit of trivia that we can stick into the scene.”
Such commentary might be one of the reasons some consider Brady a celebrity elitist. It’s no secret that some consider him too mainstream or commercial – to be a black man.
“I think what happens is the same thing that has happened to me my entire life. My folks are from the Virgin Islands. I had a very strict island upbringing and my mother always told me to always hold my head up and to always try to be the best person in the room” Brady said in attempting to explain why some people react to him in that way. “That doesn’t mean that I’m going to be the best person in the room. There are so many people that tower over me in intellect and talent, but I just happened to get lucky. So I’m going to try to be the best person in the room whether you’re black or white or pink. That caused me to develop skills in terms of communication where I could sit down in white classrooms where I was bussed to and I could communicate with every student. And I could go home, and talk to everyone around me. I didn’t develop them so I could be the white dude’s friend or be the black dude’s friend; it was so I could be me and be relatable to the broadest group as possible so I could get ahead in life. So when you transfer that to entertainment, I didn’t’ get into this to say I want to be the best black actor on Broadway and win an Emmy. I really want to be a good actor.
It’s no surprise that Brady’s “good actor” influences also wore/wear many hats. The actor told EUR’s Lee Bailey that he grew up inspired by music and film legends Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr, and Harry Belafonte.
“These were men of multiple talents that carried themselves in a certain way. They still wore their color – you have no choice, you are what you are, but they made the choice not to stuff that in everyone’s face every single second. It was about them and their work and that was the ethos that I’ve tried to follow,” he said. “When I came to some prominence and people saw that I wasn’t wearing a Malcolm X T-shirt and saying ‘Screw whitey,’ [some black folks] were angry with that. I can’t help that. That’s not my position in life – to make them happy.”
Brady, however, did admit that he attempted to make them happy in his younger days. The actor/singer said that he tried to appease his black audiences and questioned whether he and his act were “black enough.”
“And then I thought, ‘What the hell does ‘be blacker’ mean?’,” he said. “So now that leaves me at 36 years of age, very confident in who I am and in what I represent and that means putting something out so that everyone can enjoy it. I’m not going to make it for blacks, I’m not going to make it for whites. I’m going to make it for me and I hope you guys dig it.”
Brady presumes that, in addition to his upbringing, audiences find it difficult to see him in a raw light.
“When you look at someone on TV, you look at whatever image that person is projecting. Just because the earlier things I did were Disney-based and ABC-based and therefore they followed certain clean factor, a certain class factor, and maybe even a certain ‘cheese’ factor, you don’t know me,” he said. “You don’t know that I grew up singing in church or that I spent years at a stretch singing in R&B bands and touring and doing cruise ships and singing in bars and dives. All you see is that’s that brother from ‘Whose Line’. So that’s the ace up my sleeve. No one knows me in that regard so I can show them that side of me that I haven’t been able to because I was busy doing the other stuff.”
“A Long Time Coming” has been a long time coming for Brady. He’s been itching for quite some time to release a music disc. The album is a collection of contemporary R&B described as having an “old school” feel.
“It’s like having that secret that you really want to tell everybody, but you just don’t know how. When I was finishing up ‘Whose Line’, I thought, ‘Great, now I can make this album,’ but I started doing the talk show. At the time I had a record deal with Hollywood, but the timing didn’t really work out because of the talk show. After that I was involved in a bunch of pilots. But now is the time to really do this record. Now in hindsight, I don’t think I was ready. I don’t think I’d lived enough. I don’t think I had a lot of real life experiences of ups and downs. So finally when you’re forced to take stock of your career, and as your personal life, and you take stock in yourself as a man, and as a father, and as a person. That’s when you can turn around and say, ‘Oh, now I can write a record.'”
“A Long Time Coming” hits record stores tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept 16. Speaking of which, tomorrow, he’ll be signing copies of the CD in Hollywood at the Virgin Megastore in at Hollywood and Highland.
You can also catch Brady performing cuts from the new CD tonight at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
For tour dates and more info and to HEAR cuts from “A Long Time Coming,” check out www.waynebrady.com.
Watch Wayne Brady perform his single “Ordinary” and throwdown on James Brown’s “Sex Machine” on The View: