Keenen Ivory Wayans (1958- )

Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jennifer Lopez' Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony, 2013
Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jennifer Lopez' Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony, 2013
Photo by Angela George, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Keenen Ivory Wayans is a filmmaker, actor, and comedian best known for his comedic satire and for creating the Emmy-winning show In Living Color, a variety show which featured a mostly black cast and helped to launch the careers of many prominent actors and comedians.

Born on June 8, 1958, in Harlem, New York City, New York, Keenen Ivory Wayans is the second of ten children of Howell and Elvira Wayans. Wayans attended Seward Park High School in New York City, graduating in 1976, and then enrolled at Tuskegee University on an engineering scholarship. He dropped out his senior year to pursue comedy and returned to New York but found little success on the stand-up scene in the city. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1980 to pursue film and television acting and was able to secure small parts on various tv shows and movies throughout the early 1980s.

Wayans’ career took off when he met the comedian Eddie Murphy. The two became friends and in 1987 Wayans helped to write and produce the 1987 film, Eddie Murphy: Raw, which showed Murphy performing his stand-up comedy routine in front of a live audience. The film helped jump-start Wayans’s career. The same year, Wayans helped to write the screenplay for the satirical comedy about the stereotypes around African American performers called the Hollywood Shuffle, which became an instant hit, putting Wayans and the lead actor, Robert Townsend in the spotlight. In 1988 Wayans wrote, directed, and starred in his own film called I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, which parodied blaxploitation films of the 1970s and 80s. This was Wayans’s debut as a director and the film featured several of his family members with whom Wayans would collaborate on other projects with the future.

In 1990 the television network Fox allowed Wayans to create his own variety show, In Living Color. Wayans acted primarily as the show’s host and quickly became known for his recognizable social critique and humor. In 1990 the show won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series. The show also helped to launch the careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Damon Wayans, and Jennifer Lopez. Despite its success, Wayans left the show abruptly in 1992 due to creative differences and tensions with the network. In Living Color ended its run in 1994.

After several attempts to relaunch his career on screen in the 1990s, Wayans has done most of his work behind the camera, especially through work on creative projects with his family. His most successful venture has been directing the horror spoofs Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2 in 2000 and 2001. Additionally, in 2001, Wayans married Daphne Wayans (born Polk) and the couple has since had five children together. The couple officially divorced in 2005 but remain close friends. Wayans, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, continues to work on film and television content.