St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Humor will shock in new series

Published September 14, 2006

BURBANK, Calif. - Expletives were flying, body parts were being poked, Mafia culture was being mocked, and Damon Wayans was in whiteface.

Wayans was playing an inappropriately affectionate mob hit man in a skit titled "Touchy Feely Guy" for his comedy series The Underground, which debuts tonight on Showtime.

"It's In Living Color on steroids," said Wayans, referring to the 1990s Fox series created by brother Keenen Ivory Wayans. "We get a chance to complete the joke. And if you want to see something that's shockingly funny, tune in. ... It's the next generation of comedy."

Wayans, 46, became known for his portrayal of outrageous characters on In Living Color, one of them being the hilariously scary Homey D. Clown. Then he starred for five seasons on the ABC sitcom My Wife and Kids. He felt stifled on that series, which was canceled last year.

"Creatively, I felt I was walking through those five years. This is very freeing," he said at a modest Burbank soundstage where The Underground was shooting.

"It's scary because I have to stop censoring myself (now), because you go, 'They're not going to let me do that!' But then you go, 'This is Showtime!' This is breaking that television mentality."

Clips from The Underground shown to a gathering of TV critics in July clearly offended some in the audience. Wayans defended the skits as "honest." But he says he will not be surprised if the raw humor offends everyone at least some of the time.

"I think we are a very repressed society, just very hypocritical," he said, comparing American television unfavorably with British comedy shows such as Little Britain, the original The Office and Benny Hill, all of which he looked at for inspiration.

"Television here, I think, is 30 years behind."

Wayans is highly critical of the primness and prejudice of a medium much more uptight about sex than violence and death. He finds it absurd that expletives are bleeped and body parts scrambled.

"I think that's cheating. It's like you are lying to people," he said.

"I just have to shock people and get them watching, I've got to get people talking, so some of (The Underground) is just designed for that. I've got to get people there; then I can be smarter, I can be a little more political, I can be more about social commentary. But now I've just got to be funny."

The "new generation" of comedians he hired for the show are drawn from the comedy club and improv circuit. They include his son Damon Wayans Jr., a staff writer on My Wife and Kids, and Aries Spears, a regular on Fox's MAD TV.

"It's about improv and having fun," Wayans Sr. said. "My goal is to do what we did on In Living Color, what they did on Carol Burnett's show: make each other in the scene laugh. That's infectious."

[Last modified September 14, 2006, 05:40:55]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters