If you were sentient during the early '90s, you tuned into the fledgling Fox TV for a very few things — but one of them was the edgy, outrageous sketch comedy show In Living Color. Brothers Keenan and Damon Wayans created and starred in it, and a whole bunch of other Wayans were on the show as well. It was where America discovered Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx and got entertained by young flygirls like Jennifer Lopez and Rosie Perez. And Damon Wayans — hilarious as the pissed-off Homey D. Clown — has had a long, diverse post-Color life. He continued doing stand-up; he acted in scads of movies; he wrote, produced, and starred in several TV series; and he co-wrote a best-selling book, Bootleg. But the 49-year-old Wayans — who does two stand-up shows at the Wilbur Theatre this Saturday — hasn't been very visible lately. Prompting the first question . . .
You've been away from stage and screen for a while. What's up?
I just took a year off writing a book, Red Hats [due in May], traveling, doing what white people do. When I was a little kid [in Manhattan], white kids would always say, "I'm going to Europe to find myself." I couldn't understand it, 'cause I couldn't afford to go to Brooklyn. Now, I understand what it is. It's about having a worldview. About stepping outside the country, seeing it for good and bad, coming back and seeing where you fit in. I went to Paris, and I'm hanging out with Lionel Richie at this restaurant, and I said, "I've hit a crossroads. Who am I as an artist? How do I get to the next level?"
Your first book was ripped from your stand-up act and your life. What's Red Hats about?
This is a novel. It's about this society of women called the Red Hats who are global. It's women over 50 — kind of a Sex and the City for old biddies. They're there to support other women who've been widowed or divorced or finished raising their children and don't know what to do with their lives. They just get together. This story is about this woman who has this cancerous relationship with her husband — she's always saying mean things to him, trying to provoke him. She says, "I hope you die in your sleep" — and he does. She's left with this tremendous guilt. And through the friendship of the Red Hats, she's able to forgive herself and find love again.
That's not exactly what I expected from you.
This is definitely a new direction for me. Unlike the first book, I had to have rich characters and a well thought-out story. I wrote not only this book but 10 different scripts — some television, some film.
How about this return to stand-up? What's different now?
You know, when I first started doing stand-up, I was just a guy on stage doing silly, funny stuff. Then I tried to say something, and for some reason, I picked up this flag. I felt I had to have a cause and a purpose. Right now, I'm 180 back to being silly and funny on stage, trying to tell stories, doing characters.