Here is a list of things Marlon Wayans does at certain points of Woke-ish, his first comedy special: a rap about mixing cocaine and baby aspirin, his fears about scaring people when his knees pop in a club as his tries to stand up after dancing too low, essentially acting out what he thinks it’s like for people to have their talents sucked up by the Kardashians, and jumping over his stool to show people how he came to think O.J. Simpson is Khloe Kardashian’s father.
Lots of ridiculous stuff. It’s a comedy special—you’d expect that.
Here’s another list of things Marlon Wayans does in his special: a Trump section, bringing even his funniest moments back to the fact that he’s getting older, discuss why Barack Obama’s presidency was so important to black people, and a confessional about how difficult it is for a parent to have a lesbian daughter.
This special is far from 65 minutes of pure laughter stemming from comparing Desiigner’s sounds to having some sensitive parts of your body waxed. At times, his quick jumps from funny to serious can be jarring, but as the special goes on, Wayans settles into the pattern. The comedian radiates energy throughout, so when he starts to get serious it really stands out. Wayans goes from a ball of energy, sweating the entire special, frequently dabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief—although Wayans would probably laugh in my face for being the whitest of white men for calling it a handkerchief—to still, pausing for what feels like an age at times to hammer home how much he means what he says.
The Obama section is a great example of this strategy: Wayans sincerely stops his act to explain to his audience how badly black people just needed a win. A real win, a win that earned them leadership and respect from their compatriots. Even if some people would just end up being racist about it, they still had the win, they still had a black president. Especially because I’m a white guy, watching how seriously this man—who will have his legs up in the air in the most inappropriate sense very very shortly after he speaks on this matter—takes the struggles of his race is a really moving experience.
But Wayans is still funny: He qualifies this Obama take—that black people got their first true win—by admitting that O.J. was the first win, but that black people totally knew the man did it. Not only did they know, but they all feel bad about it—that poor woman and that poor man got murdered and the white guy was just trying to get some action…
It’s quite the turn from how significant his words on the former president are, and Wayans makes plenty of those turns throughout. The title of the special, Woke-ish, has to do with Wayans’ age and the difficulty he has seeing the changes coming to this world—because he’s finds it all funny.
It’s an interesting conundrum to think about. Wayans has a joke about how saying Caitlyn Jenner is beautiful is a step too far for him. He does an entire bit as a gay Martin Luther King Jr. and leans heavily on stereotypes throughout. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure—I laughed at times, thought the sentiment came from a good place, but cringed a bit when he rolled up his shirt to look “gay” before he started in on freeing rear end.
Comedy in the 21st century can be hard to parse when it comes to determining whether something is over the line, especially when you’re a white dude. There were multiple moments where Wayans has the crowd roaring, rapping or singing along with him, nailing call and responses. I didn’t laugh a lot during this special, but I was captivated throughout on a number of levels. I personally wonder how different my rating of this special would be if I was black, or more embedded within black culture than I have been.
The thing is, although the audience probably experiences Woke-ish differently depending on race, sexuality, and gender, my takeaway from this special is that every one of those … “types?” of people should watch the special. Black parenthood, black aging, and black perspective is seriously underrepresented just in general, and Wayans is confident enough to open the audience to his perspective.
I think we should be listening, even if this isn’t a comedy special that necessarily has you rolling on the floor laughing. So, come for the stories the veteran comedian tells about his children and parenthood, stay for his thoughts on circumcision. Wayans will barrel you over with his energy, and you can’t help but empathize with him, even if you’re not always laughing.
Featured Image by Netflix