Despite the laughter Wayne Brady elicits during his improvisational performances, the versatile entertainer emphasizes that he is not a comedian; rather, “I’m an actor who happens to do improvisation that happens to be funny,” he says. “It’s an art and that has nothing to do with being funny; funny is the byproduct.”
Growing up in Florida, Brady began performing at age 16. “I started acting in my junior year of high school,” Brady says, recalling the impact of his first role, in Dark of the Moon, a drama by Howard Richardson and William Berney set in the Appalachian mountains.
“I found my calling,” he says. “It was a freeing experience. It touched me in a way that made me happy.”
Starting to sing around the same time – a talent he calls on often in his improv work – exposure to an array of musical styles growing up has served him well.
“I was exposed to all different types of music and music styles – show tunes, ‘50s and ’60s, disco, country, opera and folk – whatever was on the radio at that particular time I would listen to.”
A film co-star later introduced him to an improv class and “I fell in love with it because of how freeing it was,” he recalls.
A regular role on TV’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? improv hit introduced Brady to audiences throughout North America, and earned him an Emmy Award, an honour he later repeated as host of his syndicated talk/variety show, The Wayne Brady Show; the show was also recognized as Outstanding Talk Show. Since then, he has appeared on The Dave Chappelle Show, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother and Don’t Forget the Lyrics.
Beyond television, career highlights have included Broadway and a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for his single “A Change is Gonna Come” off his debut musical album, A Long Time Coming. Significant “firsts” included being the first African American to host the Miss America Pageant and the first actor to win both Daytime and Nighttime Emmys in the same year, he notes.
With such a diverse resume, each entertainment vehicle offers its own appeal, but he particularly enjoys the immediacy of live performances, he says.
With improvisation, there’s an element that comes naturally, he reflects, but other skills are nurtured through education and life experience. “You can teach a way of thinking which in my mind is like being a child almost. You can’t be in improv and not be well-read; you have to know a little about a lot.” At the same time, “your imagination has to come without any parameters, just like a kid’s.”
What can audiences expect from his Nov. 8 show, part of his 2014 It’s My Line tour, at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium?
Rooted in audience participation, “it’s an improv concert, plain and simple. Everything is completely spontaneous and made up and we use audience members on stage (and for ideas),” Brady says.
Coming up for Brady is another season of Whose Line is it Anyway? and his sixth season hosting Let’s Make A Deal. He has a recurring role in Real Husbands of Hollywood and is working on two shows with his production partner, including a sitcom based on his life. All that and a new record he hopes will be out next year.
When he’s not at work? “I spend time with my daughter and we do daddy and daughter things,” playing video games, going to the beach or writing music together. At 11-years-old, “She’s definitely a performer and she wants to (perform.) We just left that completely up to her, and she knows school comes first.”
Who would Brady like to work with? Woody Allen quickly comes to mind, along with John Leguizamo, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. The opportunity to work with Crystal and Goldberg’s friend, the late, great Robin Williams, on Whose Line is it Anyway? stands as an unforgettable career highlight.