The real deal with Wayne Brady
Vegas-based performer adds another page to his resumé
Wed, Sep 30, 2009 (3:55 p.m.)
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Editor's note: Since this story was published, Wayne Brady's shows for the month of October have been called off. In a statement, Brady's spokeswoman said: “Due to vocal strains, Wayne Brady has decided to postpone his show Making It Up for the month of October to give his singing voice a rest. He will continue to shoot Let's Make a Deal and will return to The Venetian in November where his show will continue through September 2010.“ Read The Kats Report for more details.
It’s a weekday afternoon, and Wayne Brady is backstage at his showroom in the Venetian rehearsing his dancers. They are going over just a tiny part of a single section of the show, but Brady dedicates over an hour to the task. The mood is light and friendly as the star and his male dancers (David Aiken, Jamile McGee, Christopher Quiban, Marcel Wilson) work over the choreography of a track from Brady’s 2008 R&B disc A Long Time Coming, playing from an iPod docking station. The boss’ most common question: “Can we try it once more?”
Later, Brady explains: “They always tease me for this. But we have clean-up rehearsals, because I always think it can be better. I think if I am going to ask an audience to buy a ticket, I don’t want to think, ‘Well, this is the third-best show, or second-best show.’ I am going to make it the best show. Why wouldn’t I?” Like his friendliness, Brady’s determination comes through clearly. And the actor-singer-dancer-comedian is very determined to have even more hyphens in his description. One of the few negative thoughts expressed during the Weekly’s interview by this overwhelmingly positive person: “It is frustrating to be penned in.”
To Brady it was simply by chance that America got to know him through the relatively clean improv comedy on ABC’s Whose Line Is it Anyway? “I acted and danced. The improv stuff is cool. And I was a singer on the side. But I never thought I was funny. I did improv at first when I moved to LA just because I liked to be onstage. I never expected to get Whose Line. I thought I would get cut when I auditioned. Whose Line changed my life. But I have never wanted to limit myself to one thing. I want to do everything that I can do well as well as I can do it. I have never understood people who do one thing well and just stick with it. If you have the ability and opportunity to do a bunch of things, why wouldn’t you? Why limit yourself?”
So in 2004 Brady leaped into the most famous moment of his career: a guest appearance on Chappelle’s Show. Easily found on YouTube, the skit has Brady taking host Dave Chappelle on a car ride that portrays Brady as a hustler and a pimp and features Brady delivering the now frequently quoted tagline, “Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?” Before that, the comic had been regarded as squeaky clean.
Turns out, Brady was never squeaky clean—he just starred on a television show designed to be that way. Brady wasn’t out to push the envelope, but shattering stereotypes was deeply appealing to him, and so he appeared on the Chappelle skit.
In an era of entertainment specialists, Brady is an old-school, all-around personality who casts himself as the medium requires. From serious drama (he has performed in August Wilson plays) to song, Brady sees himself as able to do anything.
When discussing his influences, Brady frequently invokes Vegas icon Sammy Davis Jr. Later this month, Brady says, he will play Carnegie Hall backed by a symphony orchestra. “I am doing an evening of the music of Sam Cooke and the music of Sammy Davis Jr.,” he explains. “It is not an imitation. It is me as a fan channeling both their music. The first half is me doing Sammy, doing his signature song and dancing, and the second half is all of Sam Cooke’s hits.”
The need to keep all options open— that’s why Brady’s image as a clean comic was set only until he casually tossed it away in the famous Chappelle skit. “That was me,” he says. “I am so glad I did that. You can be funny, and you can be a professional; that is show business. It does not matter if it is streetwise or daytime TV. I am so glad I did [Chappelle], because that is who I really am, too. I entertain. I’ve been in the business most of my life.”
On October 5, CBS will begin airing Brady’s latest Vegas venture: the relaunch of the venerable game show Let’s Make a Deal, shooting now at the Tropicana. How will Brady act as host? “They got me because they wanted someone a little edgier, but I get that it is daytime, so I am not going to say, ‘Hey bitch, what’s behind Door No. 1?’ But it lets me push it as far as you can in the daytime schedule, because it is a Vegas audience.”
And in the end, Wayne Brady loves Las Vegas: “Vegas is the only town that lets you really be the consummate showman. And I work daily here at that, and keep trying to get better.” Then again, Brady never wants to be limited to a Vegas stage, even with his two shows here: “I always want to be doing something else—and then come back to Vegas.”