Wayne Brady is always on the run these days. The multiple Emmy-winning entertainer has been pulling double duty for weeks, hosting the CBS hit daytime game show “Let’s Make a Deal” in the morning before racing to the Pasadena Playhouse for rehearsals of the new musical revival of “Kiss Me Kate,” which opens Sunday.
But after a two-decade career in which he has excelled at improv on ABC’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” the classic musical “Chicago” on Broadway, his own talk show and countless sitcom guest roles, Brady is handling the pressure with ease. In fact, he’s thankful for every challenge that comes his way.
“Things are only as hectic as you make them,” says Brady. “I’m not breaking rocks, working chain gangs or working in McDonald’s. I tape shows, get in my car and go to rehearsal. Plus I’m a producer with other projects happening, and I’m a dad who’s involved in my daughter’s life. Be cool, calm and collected and you can make it work. I live a very blessed existence.”
While the Orlando, Fla.-raised Brady is a long-time veteran of musical theater, he has never performed “Kiss Me Kate” before. He said it was the combination of the show’s status as an American staple and the ability to work with Playhouse director Sheldon Epps that enticed him to jump at the opportunity.
“Sheldon can pull things out of you that maybe you didn’t know were laying around, and it’s great to be able to access certain places in yourself as an actor,” says Brady. “Sheldon is a director I love because not only is he passionate about any project he does, there’s a reason behind every decision, and he’s collaborative. He can rule with a velvet fist, which is great because nobody wants to work with a pushover, and I respect the hell out of him.”
Brady recalls performing in “Oklahoma!” in high school, which set the stage for his frequent musical gigs throughout his career. Aside from “Chicago,” he has also taken the stage in “A Chorus Line,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in which he played Judas.
He defends the current state of American musicals, saying that recent years have helped the theatrical world develop shows that are more truly reflective of American culture than ever before. He notes the hard rock edge of “American Idiot,” as well as other shows’ hip-hop and Latin influences, as signs that theater is truly embracing all aspects of the audience.
At the same time, he makes it clear that revivals will always have a strong share of the musical market.
“There are always revivals when there’s a demand for something,” explains Brady. “You can sit down all day and say ‘I’m going to create a classic.’ But you don’t know you’ve created a classic until the people and time say it’s a classic. People want that connectivity with the things that they love. That’s why we’re nostalgic for old movies, TV Land and classic MTV.”
Much of Brady’s career success has come from his experiences with improv comedy, a skill he recalls learning early in adulthood when an actress he worked with at Walt Disney World suggested he take classes she was teaching with her husband. He had an instant knack for it and scored a plum role in the cast of the British version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” during its final season on the BBC before his popularity there led to him joining the likes of Drew Carey in ABC’s American version.
The combination of his work in classic musicals, the family-friendly comedy of “Line” and his own innocent daytime talk show (“The Wayne Brady Show,” which won four Emmys in its two seasons on the air a decade ago) have combined to give Brady a squeaky-clean image. But as the star of his own Las Vega comedy show called “Wayne Brady Making %@it Up,” he also feels a need to make it clear he has a naughty side.
“There’s almost a reverse stigma to being clean,” says Brady. “I’m not a Boy Scout or a Ken doll, because I have a penis down there. I’m a grown man and I use the language I like. But I use common sense. A lot of what I’ve done on network TV is venue specific.
“A daytime talk show has to be clean, and ‘Whose Line’ cleaner than not,” Brady continues. “But after a few years, because people label folks and because I’m black, then I’m clean to those who stupidly think black comedy needs to involve grabbing your crotch. I never set out to be a clean comedian. I’m just a person with a modicum of class. When you come to see me in Vegas, you may be surprised because I say what I want to say.”
Brady famously torched his clean image on Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show” a decade ago, via a skit in which he picks up the show’s host Dave Chappelle for a night on the town and winds up terrifying him with a night filled with hookers, drugs, shootings and even a cop killing.
The short film was so well-regarded it is enshrined in TV’s top museum, the Paley Center, as one of the 100 funniest moments in TV history.
“That was so long ago, but it’s referenced every day,” says Brady. “This is a business where you never want to be tied to just one thing. That film came out of a conversation with Dave after [famously controversial black comedian] Paul Mooney said about me, ‘You make Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.’
“I did the show because that joke was so offensive because in one fell swoop one black man says about another black man, that Bryant Gumbel can’t be black because he’s so well spoken, and then says I’m even less black,” continues Brady. “Who’s the arbiter of what’s black? Race shouldn’t matter, but sadly in the real world it does. I try to proceed as though the world is color blind, but sometimes you’ve got to pop your head up and say something.”
Wayne Brady stars in “Kiss Me Kate,” now through Oct. 12 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. EL Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $57 to $125. Call (626) 356-7529 or visit pasadenaplayhouse.org.
I won the title of "America's Funniest Reporter" in a national contest at the Laugh Factory club in Hollywood.
I'm a free-thinking political junkie, standup comedian/reporter and film addict. I'm a big champion of the underdog and love to help others in real life personally as well as as a reporter. I've gone undercover as an inflatable dinosaur whoring myself for Kraft Mac & Cheese, as a Guardian Angel subway vigilante, and injured myself five times while joining a circus for a story. I'm a magnet for weird events and weirder people and you can read all about it on my blog through my articles and essays. I also get to do a ton of celebrity interviews and movie reviews and you will find those there too both now and more in the future.