Wayans Brothers Aim 'Thugaboo' at Hip-Hop Kids

Marlon and Shawn Wayans discuss their new animated TV series Thugaboo. It's a hip-hop cartoon the brothers say is also meant to be educational.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Thugaboo. That's the name of a new children's animation series created by the Wayans Brothers. Now, when you think of the Wayans family, raw and risqué comedy probably comes to mind, not child-friendly educational television. But that's just what the Wayans Brothers' latest venture is.

The series launched earlier this month on Nickelodeon. Brothers Shawn and Marlon stopped by to talk about the cartoon. I asked Shawn to explain exactly what Thugaboo is about.

Mr. SHAWN WAYANS (Commedian, Creator of Thugaboo): The title is called Thugaboo and it's a group of kids who grew up in, who's growing up in Boo York City. It's nine very different children who are from different racial backgrounds who hang out with each other and go through the trials and tribulations of life together. And although they have their ups and downs, at the end of the day, they land on their feet.

And, you know, we teach universal lessons and themes like, you know, never give up on your dreams, and blood is thicker than water, and friendship, and just all the really important stuff and glue that you need in order to move on in life.

GORDON: Thugaboo, talking about the name of it. In the Black community in particular, we see a lot of these cats who want to portray a certain image and it isn't them at all.

Mr. MARLON WAYANS (Comedian, Creator of Thugaboo): They're sweet kids. They're little good kids, and just cause you wear your hat to the side don't mean you ain't getting A's in school, you know what I mean? It's like, you know, we were thugaboos when we grew up.

And what's great about it is the generations - like my mom was like, well, baby, you might want to change that name, Thugaboo. I was like, Ma - me and Shawn both, we was protesting to her - said, like, look, that's the reason why we're keeping the name the way it is because we're trying to teach your generation something. Which is the connotation of the word Thugaboo. It's not the denotation in which you guys take it. We're trying to bridge the gap, basically.

(Soundbite of Thugaboo)

Unidentified Man: Man, this is how you do it. When my rap career blows up and I make my first million, I'm gonna buy my mom and dad a house and all we're gonna do is swim, eat candy and write rhymes all day.

DEE-DEE(ph): Yeah, your rap career is gonna blow up all right, cause you're gonna bomb at every show.

Unidentified Man: Why you say that, Dee-Dee?

DEE-DEE: Because your rhymes are like daddy's feet, corny.

GORDON: When you think about it - we were talking about how animation has really exploded in the last decade or so. And your brother was saying how you learned a lot of life lessons, as we all did, watching Charlie Brown or watching Fat Albert. And, you know, it almost sounds simplistic, but really you do learn things from cartoons.

Mr. M. WAYANS: Man, I didn't wash my behind until I saw Fat Albert sing that song to that kid Suede(ph). (Singing) Soap and water, a toothbrush and a comb. You should learn to use them or you'll stand alone.

Mr. S. WAYANS: They taught us about hygiene. My mother and father used to try to chase us down. And they would, literally, would chase us down and then have to wash us like dogs, like with all the suds, and hold us down with underwater.

Mr. M. WAYANS: With the hose, yeah.

Mr. S. WAYANS: And then finally we saw this Fat Albert episode and we was like, ah, we get it. We don't our friends to talk about us like that.

GORDON: You guys, Shawn, are bringing an impressive group of people to this project as well, along with your sister. Some really funny cats - David Alan Grier…

Mr. S. WAYANS: Charlie Murphy.

GORDON: And Charlie Murphy.

Mr. S. WAYANS: Aries Spears.

Mr. M. WAYANS: Aries Spears.

Mr. S. WAYANS: I mean we did get…

Mr. M. WAYANS: Mike Rapaport.

Mr. S. WAYANS: We got a great cast. Everybody, you know, when we sent the script out, everybody responded very positively to it and they were down for it. And we had a really good time doing it. We're having a blast.

GORDON: Now let me ask you guys, did you feel the need to find a balance, to strike a balance? I know as Keenan and your other family members grow their own families, there is this sense of the kind of comedic genius we saw early from the Wayans Family being raw. And while that still exists often on the big screen, was there a sense, was there a feeling of the need to balance it all out?

Mr. M. WAYANS: I think once you become fathers, you find that, you know, you find a certain responsibility when you watch TV and you go, you know what's missing? Good lessons for y'all. I like Spongebob, but he ain't teaching you nothing. And for us it was trying to find that thing for our children so that they can sit there and watch it and it's a good show that we could watch with them.

Mr. S. WAYANS: Right. We made the show that we wanted to see our kids watch. Had to be a little bit heavier on the message pen, and, you know, it's a good thing. It's a growth for us.

GORDON: Marlon, how much does the rock throwing, so to speak, from critics sometimes? Does it get under your skin at all? We should note that Little Man, the latest movie project that you made, has grossed upwards to $57 million to date. Yet there were a lot of critics that weren't very kind to the movie. Talking about it stereotypical…

Mr. M. WAYANS: Man, we never…

GORDON: Does that bother you at all?

Mr. M. WAYANS: They never have been kind to a Wayans film and nor will they ever. Because what we're doing in itself, it's an anomaly. Because, you know, we're doing movies and we're stretching our imagination beyond the cap that they try to put on top of us. You know what I mean? They try to put that cap on you, but we're thinking through that.

And we're going, you know what, our imagination is limitless and we can tell any story that we chose to tell, the way we want to tell it. And, look, comedy is subjective.

Mr. S. WAYANS: And the words when they say stereotyping, that's like, it's not valid. It's like you can't tell me what my life experience is. You can't tell me the people that I know. We write about people and experiences that we know. So it might be a stereotype to you cause that ain't your truth.

GORDON: One of the things that's interesting is, often when you see families who enter in the same business, you see one or two that make it big and then you have the others that kind of exist because they're part of that name. But your family really has become the, quote, first family. And all of you have found your niche. Do you all understand and talk about how unique that is?

Mr. S. WAYANS: No. We just do. We just do and we try to stay close as a family. It really is about us just doing. And a fact that I think that we and Marlon had really good examples in Keenan and Damon before us, and they set a high standard. And we just, we knew what we had to do in order to maintain the quality.

Mr. M. WAYANS: And it's good that we, you know, like I said - the greatest part about it is we're doing what we're doing what we love, how love, with who we love.

GORDON: What about Shawn and Marlon? Will we see more individual projects from the two of you? Do you like the fact that it's a duo when people talk about you? Do you want to branch off? What will we see in the future?

Mr. M. WAYANS: You know what's funny? We've always been Marlon and Shawn -Shawn and Marlon. We've been that since we was, we was always paired up…

Mr. S. WAYANS: Since our father used to call us from the room into the other room. It was Shawn and Marlon…

Mr. M. WAYANS: Marlon and Shawn.

Mr. S. WAYANS: When he used to wake us up for school…

Mr. M. WAYANS: Come on, get up, it's time for school. Go get the coffee.

Mr. S. WAYANS: So, and we grew up, me and Marlon grew up watching Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Abbott and Costello, and we always kind of wanted to do that.

GORDON: What's down the road for the big screen? What can we look for and forward to from you guys?

Mr. M. WAYANS: My brother Damon just recently filmed an independent called Behind the Smile. And it basically, this one that the critics might like. And basically it's a drama about comedy. And it's basically a young stand-up comedian - that's who I play - who comes to Los Angeles and gets taken under the wing by a older, you know, more successful comedian played by Damon. And the older comedian feels threatened by this young guy and goes about destroying him. He takes his family, he takes his, he gets him hooked on drugs. And basically it's…

Mr. S. WAYANS: He ruins him.

Mr. M. WAYANS: He ruins him. And it's the journey of - and as he ruins him, the guy, because of the pain of his life, becomes, starts becoming a even better comedian. And it's kind of the journey of a comedian. And it's like a tragedy. And it's a great movie. My brother Damon directed and, you know, we're probably going to put it out in December.

Mr. S. WAYANS: And then the next kind of mainstream kind of film we're working on is we're going to produce the TV show The Munsters for the big screen. So we're not going to be in it but we're just writing and producing it. And that's for Universal.

GORDON: Well, we'll look forward to those coming to the big screen, and, of course, Thugaboo, Sneaker Madness, coming your way on DVD and a primetime broadcast with Nickelodeon. So all of that coming down…

Mr. S. WAYANS: We also got a soundtrack to go with - I'm sorry about that - we also got…

GORDON: No, go ahead, man. Tell me about the bean pies and everything else.

Mr. S. WAYANS: Oh, we got bean pies - no, really we got…

Mr. M. WAYANS: We got Thugaboo bean pies and Thugaboo hats.

Mr. S. WAYANS: No, but we got a really cute - what I'm proud about, this soundtrack is that it's hip-hop for kids so it's very kid-friendly and it's a lot of fun. And you could get that at Thugaboo.com.

GORDON: Thugaboo coming to a store near you. Hey, fellas, as always, good to talk to you.

Mr. M. WAYANS: Thank you, brother.

Mr. S. WAYANS: You too very much, man.

(Soundbite of song from Thugaboo)

THUGABOO CHARACTER VOICES: (Singing) Hanging with your crew - just be you.

When you're chillin' at home - just be you.

When you're playing at school - just be you.

No matter what you do - just be you.

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