Interview with Kim Wayans: Comedian & Advocate – by Deborah Levine

Kim is a key member of the Wayans clan that created TV’s In Living Color. The ten Wayans siblings grew up poor in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. Elvira, Kim’s mother, was a homemaker and social worker who took the kids everywhere, no nannies, and no babysitter. Their father was a supermarket manager and the Jehovah’s Witness in the family. With no background in the entertainment business and little money, the Wayans’ success is an unlikely story.

“Our entertainment came from having fun with each other,” Kim explained. “I was the only one interested in acting. I always wanted to be an actress.” She was in every play in school and her fifth grade teacher sent her around to other classes to tell her stories.  Kim explained that the In Living Color role of ‘Lil Magic’ was modeled after the real thing – herself. Keenen, the eldest, as an unlikely mastermind behind In Living Color. He was a student at Tuskegee University, on track to becoming an engineer. When he announced that he’d dropped out to do stand-up comedy, the news was an unwelcome surprise to Elvira. She took great pride in having a future engineer in the family, but she can take even greater pride now.

How did the cutting-edge humor of In Living Color get on the air in 1990? Kim reports that Fox was ‘scared to death’ and hesitated. Someone leaked the pilot around Hollywood and it developed an incredible buzz. Fox took the plunge before someone else stepped in. Kim says, “In Living Color was a testament to Keenen. He had a genius for seeing the potential in actors like Jim Carrey. He chose the Fly Girls dancers including Jennifer Lopez and Carrie Ann Inaba, a judge on Dancing with the Stars. “The toughest judge,” says Kim proudly.

Kim’s most memorable In Living Color role was the gossiping, dissing Benita Butrell with the line, “…but you didn’t hear it from me.” Thousands of people have run up to her repeating that line, on the street, in airports. Puzzled by its staying power over decades, she says graciously, “I’m happy the character gave them joy.” Kim modeled the character on a combination of women from the old neighborhood. “Benita is really a part of every one of us. She resonates with something in everyone.”

Kim is a thoughtful and well-educated woman. She graduated from Connecticut’s Wesleyan University which, unfortunately, was in the news for a gruesome murder when we did this interview. Kim spoke passionately about the ‘disease in our culture’: unstable people, stalkers robbing people of their lives. “Wesleyan is a little cocoon. I can’t imagine this happening at the college bookstore. It points to a larger problem in our world, a violent, twisted form of expression.”

“The kids are all over the place. It’s not good for the soul. It has to be digital or texting. We’re becoming more distant with each other. There is a connection here to the violence – souls crying out.” Educating young people is a calling for Kim. Her Amy Hodgepodge books draw on her 38 young nieces and nephews, many of whom are multi-racial. “We need to reflect the reality of the world. Amy is a home-schooled multi-racial little girl who starts real school in the 4th grade. She encounters teasing and bullying as she tries to fit in. Her experiences mirror the lives of many children, but her multi-racial background gives the stories a unique twist.” (See Amy Hodgepodge books and resources at www.amyhodgepodge.com)

Kim remains grateful, “I’ve been very blessed. Creatively, I’ve been able to do a lot of things.” She is generous and wrote a testimonial for my CD, Bunny Bear Adventures in Diversity Land. Kim is honest about the challenges, revealing her history of severe panic attacks. In her one-woman show, A Handsome Woman Retreats, she talks about searching for inner peace at a yoga retreat, describing it as ‘boot camp for the soul’ with no television, no reading, and no talking. She shares lessons learned, advising us that “It’s always the right time. Trust that you’re doing what you are meant to do and enjoy every step of the process.”

WayansKim is a treasure and I greatly appreciate her endorsement of my CD, Bunny Bear Adventures in Diversity Land.

Editor

Editor

Deborah Levine is an award-winning, best-selling author. As Editor of the American Diversity Report, received the 2013 Champion of Diversity Award from diversitybusiness.com and the Excellence Award from the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. Her writing about cultural diversity spans decades with articles published in The American Journal of Community Psychology, Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, The Bermudian Magazine, and The Harvard Divinity School Bulletin. She earned a National Press Association Award, is a Blogger with The Huffington Post, and is featured on C-Span/ BookTV.
Editor

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