Born in Orlando on June 2, 1972, Wayne Brady became set on a career in show biz at the age of 16, after appearing in a play at his high school. He started out right there in Central Florida, where one of his first jobs was dressing up as the cartoon character Tigger at Disney World. He also appeared in local stage productions of A Chorus Line and A Raisin in the Sun, before pulling up roots and heading to Hollywood.
Wayne was well received in L.A., soon landing cameos on such television programs as Superboy, I'll Fly away, and In the Heat of the Night. He went on to enjoy a recurring role on The Drew Carey Show, before he Drew and Colin Mochrie collaborated to create Whose Line Is It Anyway, a popular, improv comedy series for which he won an Emmy.
His engaging personality enabled Wayne to win another Emmy for hosting The Wayne Brady Show, a syndicated series, while his overall versatility was parlayed into a variety of appearances on sitcoms and dramas, award and talk shows, TV specials and feature films.
He and his wife, Mandie, currently reside in Los Angeles with their three year-old daughter, Maile Masako. Here, Wayne shares his thoughts about his latest outing lending his distinctive voice to The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, a politically-correct, animated overhaul of the original folk tale which has just been released on DVD.
The Adventures of Brer Rabbit Interview with Kam Williams
Kam Williams (KW): What made you want to be involved with The Adventures of Brer Rabbit?
Wayne Brady (WB): I wish there was a big explanation, but the truth is I like cartoons.
I'm a big animation fan. I watch Cartoon Network. So, it was just fun for me. Plus, I've got a three year-old, and this is something that I could sit down and watch with her. I get a kick out of the fact that when she listens to it, she goes, ’That's Daddy!’
KW: What were the difficulties you encountered in doing your voicework?
WB: Actually, none. Voiceover for animation is something that I've done a lot of before, and it's a little freer than being on camera, because you're in a booth and no one cares what you look like. You can just go in there and be as big as you want to. So, I'm standing up on my stool, pretending to be my character and making faces. It's just fun.
KW: Where did you come up with the voice you settled on for your character?
WB: It's kind of a very bad, goofy, Bill Clinton impersonation. I thought that it would be fun to have one of those Southern voices that's a little simple, but I wanted that really rich bottom end, like Clintons. But I didn't want to do an impersonation, so I went over the top.
KW: How long did it take for you to perfect it?
WB: I was able to develop it pretty much in about ten minutes. I just sat there and played around with it till they said, ’Let's roll!’
KW: What type of message is this version of Brer Rabbit trying to deliver?
WB: What I get out of it and what I think kids will get is that even though Brer Rabbit was really mischievous, he was a thinker as well. He's always able to come out on top. He's very inventive. So, what I hope kids get out of it is using your mind, using your head to get out of sticky situations.
KW: How did your daughter enjoy watching Brer Rabbit?
WB: She liked Brer Rabbit a lot. In fact, she even liked Brer Rabbit a lot more than she liked my character. So, there goes [co-star] Nick Cannon getting all the girls again.
KW: Some people see you as the new Sammy Davis, Jr, since you have so many talents and do a show in Las Vegas. How do you feel about being compared to him?
WB: I am a huge fan of his and consider it a compliment to a degree. But I still think everyone wants to be known as their own person.
KW: Why do you think people see a similarity?
WB: I think the similarity is just there because we're both people who tried to do every single thing that our talents would let us. But by the same token, I just want to be known as my own self, because I think there's a certain stigma that goes along with being compared to someone else. Then, everyone looks to you to be that person. And I'm not Sammy, I'm just Wayne.
KW: What's the most challenging of the various types of work you do? I'd guess improv.
WB: It's all pretty much the same to me in that I enjoy doing all of it.
I've been acting since I was 16. Doing improv is a difficult part, but it isn't something I can't do. Obviously, it's something that I do, and I do well. In fact, it's almost the easiest one, because there's no script, no director, no middleman. It's the only time as an actor that you get a chance to be completely and utterly creative, because everything is coming out of you and being delivered to the audience unfiltered, and that's a blast.
Plus, you get a chance to get in touch with that inner kid. As a kid, you get a chance to turn a block into a castle, and a broomstick into a sword.
Later on, you miss that when you grow up. I'm lucky enough to be a kid every day.
KW: How was it working with Dave Chappelle on that episode of his show last season?
WB: There really isn't a ton to tell. We had a great time. We shot the whole show over a period of two days. And we had a great time writing and performing it together, along with his writing partner, Neal [Brennan].We came up with the whole concept. We set out to do something that we hoped would be comedy gold, and I think we hit a home run.
KW: Any plans to work with him again?
WB: Well, that's really up to Dave. I would work with Dave any day of the week. I think he's a brilliant man, and I had a great time.
KW: Did you feel comfortable sort of lampooning yourself on the show?
WB: Well, see, I didn't think of it as lampooning. Lampooning implies that I find something repulsive about the way that I am, and that I needed to send that up.
What I was doing was going after the image of me that I think some people have of me. The fact of the matter is that I was an actor doing a sketch. It was funny, and the fact that I was able to maybe turn a certain image on its head was a great bonus.
KW: What do you think some people's perception of you was before the Chappelle Show?
WB: I know there are some quadrants of the black audience that saw my talk show and saw me hosting Miss America and certain other things I do which led them to see me as being the All-American black guy. Not necessarily cool enough, street enough, black enough, or whatever. Some people thought that.
And it's something that I've had to make peace with pretty much my entire life, since you can't please everyone. Just because I don't behave a certain way, some folks will say you don't have any street cred. I've pretty much had to put up with that since I was a little kid, just because I was raised to communicate in a certain fashion. Some people didn't like it. It's pretty much just extended itself to being on TV where, as soon as you're in the public eye, everyone's got an opinion, and that's just the opinion they’re going to have. So, by doing Chappelle, I stepped out of what some people thought was a comfort zone for me, mainstream entertainment, though, in reality, I do many different things that make me happy and that make me laugh and that I see as a challenge.
KW: Are you able to walk the streets, go to a movie theater and shop in a mall? Or do you have to hide from fans and the paparazzi?
WB: Folks are really cool with me. Not being on the talk show every day anymore, I can pretty much go under the radar, whenever I want to. It was different when I was in people's homes every single day for three years.
Now, I can hang out. Some folks come up to me, and that's an honor, but there are way, way bigger fish than I around. I'm just happy that a couple folks still know my name, and that I'm still able to sell out venues when I perform live.
KW: Thanks for the interview, Wayne.
WB: Thank you so much for taking the time out. Thank you, very much.