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Keeping The Brothers Laughing
Working with the Wayans family is like a comic's paradise. The combination of backgrounds in outlandish humor, sketch comedy, improv and some good old fashioned bad taste make for a film set like no other. "I was like, ‘You mean, I get to come to work every day and have fun? This is a dream,'” recalls Shoshana Bush.

"I just kept coming every day hoping that we'd have to shoot more things,” adds Christina Murphy. "I remember one day I wasn't getting any laughs, and it was because we were all laughed out. I mean, you come to the set, and it's so hard to keep a straight face. They kept telling me, ‘Lock it up, lock it up, Murphy.' It was just too much fun there. I actually asked them to tell me they'd fire me if I didn't lock it up, just so we could get a scene done.”

The cast also found that their contributions and suggestions were always welcome. "It was an awesome experience,” says Essence Atkins. "It's fun to come to work and know that you can just be creative, and you can be free, and you can improve and bring suggestions.” Director Damien Dante Wayans not only permitted such suggestions but encouraged them. "He was always great, in terms of filtering and taking in what we thought would work, but also encouraging us to be outrageous, to go the extra mile for the comedy, as long as we maintained the story he wanted to tell,” she says.

"They really wanted to help you find that laugh in your character,” adds Chelsea Makela. "When you're working on a character that has no boundaries,” notes Brennan Hillard, "it's great, because I could do whatever I wanted and they trusted me to do whatever I thought would bring out the joke.”

"I'd always do two takes for Damien and then I could do one take for me,” notes Damon Jr. Damien himself also found the family atmosphere supportive for his first time directing a feature film. "I couldn't have asked God for anything better,” he says. "I had around me some of the funniest minds in the world, some of the sweetest individuals in the world. They're caretakers, they're there for me when I need to pick up that phone – ‘Hey, uncle, where should I go with this scene?'”

Years of watching the previous generation at work proved invaluable for Damien. "It's not only what they've instilled in me, but I've been able to watch them do their thing and take from what they did well and avoid what they maybe didn't do so well.”

Having all of that experience looking over his shoulder may have been extra pressure on the young director, but he handled it well, says his uncle Marlon. "Having the guys on the set is definitely a great way to gauge whether the comedy is either going or not going,” says Damien. "But I like to think of myself as a pretty good gauge of what's funny and what's not funny. I'm not a big believer in checking the gate or moving on to the next take if you don't got the funny.”

Behind it all, of course, was Keenen Ivory Wayans, often referred to as the godfather of the Wayans family. "He's so wise,” brother Marlon says. "Ivory can tell you about anything you want to know, from business to life. He's not our dad, but he's kind of like our dad. And his taste is impeccable. When it comes to knowing what's appropriate, he's brilliant. We call him ‘the puzzle master' because he could take something, break it up into a 150 different pieces, and then put it together little by little the way he sees fit. The guy is a brilliant at it.”

Keenen's instincts are never wasted, even on the younger set. "He's definitely the godfather of take-offs,” Damon Jr. says. "He knows the formula. I'm all ears when he talks.”

Damien was particularly keen to absorb Keenen's experience. "We'd call him ‘the ghost whisperer' on set. He'd come in and whisper in your ear, ‘Okay, it looks good,' and then he'd leave.”

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