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Actor Marlon Wayans is enjoying a new passion for stand-up comedy

By now, at age 42 and as the youngest member of an iconic comedy family, Marlon Wayans could probably cruise through Hollywood.

His famous name, lengthy credits and solid returns (his movies have grossed an average of nearly $50 million domestically) will prevent him from ever falling into show-biz obscurity.

He could chill. Relax. Ease up on the work.

But that’s not what Richard Pryor would have done. And it’s not what a Wayans would do.

Which is why he’s launched a comedy site (www.whatthefunny.com), created a comedy show (the just-concluded TBS series “Funniest Wins”), filmed his latest movie (“A Haunted House 2”) on a $3.5 million budget, and is on a stand-up tour. The latter brings him through Buffalo this week, when he’s performing at Helium Comedy Club today through Saturday.

After a couple of decades of avoiding the stand-up stage, Wayans decided to step behind the microphone a few years ago, when he was in line to play the legendary Pryor in a biopic.

Today, the film is still in planning stages and director Lee Daniels is reportedly going with another actor (Mike Epps), but Wayans is holding out hope not only of securing the role, but also landing a spot among comedy’s greats.

“I’m really trying to build the legacy of Marlon,” said Wayans, who has a 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. “I would love to play Pryor and make that part of my legacy, but if not, that’s OK. I heal quickly.”

And he laughs a lot, even in interviews.

Gusto: It seems like you’re becoming more entrepreneurial as a performer.

Marlon Wayans: I’m definitely becoming more entrepreneurial, but then again, I’ve always been that. I was raised to think like an entrepreneur. My dad never kept a regular, structured job. He always wanted to have his own business, and do things the way he wanted to. Now, he failed, and he was broke as all hell. But it gave his kids an entrepreneurial spirit. We inherited that from my dad. Thank God we didn’t inherit his ugly feet.

Gusto: What were some of your dad’s ventures?

Wayans: My dad started selling condoms and he stopped right before AIDS came out. I was like, “That’s when you’re supposed to sell the condoms.” Business was terrible and he stopped selling them; HIV hits an all-time high, and he’s not even in the condom business anymore. He started selling beads for hair in the late ’80s, and it was popping in the early ’80s.

When we got older, he was like, “Hey sons, give me a couple hundred thousand dollars so I can invest in real estate.” So we gave him some money to invest in real estate, and he invested in some great buildings, and then the market crashed. My dad has terrible, terrible timing.

Gusto: What’s something different about your family?

Wayans: No matter how mad we are with each other, we always end every argument with, “I love you.” Even if it’s a disagreement. Even if that “I love you” means another four-letter word. We still say it and kiss each other on the face. We don’t let things separate us for too long. We’ll have knockout, drag-out arguments, we’ll have some tension for maybe a month or two, and then we’re back to being best friends.

Gusto: Would you like your own kids to get into comedy?

Wayans: I want them to be great at whatever they do. Whatever they choose to get into, they’ll be representing the family. As long as they know that hard work, dedication and commitment is the key to success. If you learn the art, the science, the business and the politics behind any particular arena, you will become successful. I want them to do what they love. Success, for me, is doing what you love and being able pay your bills. I just want them to do what they love in life and be happy. I’m happy every day I go to work.

Gusto: In a previous interview, you said that you and your siblings wanted something beyond simply getting college degrees. What fulfillment did you find in comedy?

Wayans: In comedy, you never stop studying. It’s the same as with a doctor or lawyer. The career of comedy is a science. You learn something every night. It teaches you not only about the art of comedy but also about the art of life. For me it’s been therapeutic. I attribute a lot of my quick healing to comedy. As soon as something negative happens to me, I find the funny. Then I get that much closer to healing. When I laugh, I heal.

Gusto: Do you inject your personal experience into your performance?

Wayans: I take a lot of my real life and inject it into my comedy. I think it’s important that you do. I’m on my fourth year of stand-up, and I’m at the point now where I’m trying to make it more personal. I’m having a good time really exploring that and being able to express on the stage.

Gusto: What prompted you to start doing stand-up in your late 30s, well into your acting career?

Wayans: For years, I ran from stand-up. I think I had a fear. But I have such a comfort with acting. When it was me doing (stand-up) because I was thrust on stage as an actor, I was very committed to doing it. Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the movie, I don’t know if I’m the person for the role. I don’t know. All I know is I started out wanting to play a great. Now I want to be a great. I really love doing stand-up comedy.

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