Growing up, Damon Wayans, Jr. often had Hollywood royalty in his home, as when Michael Jordan moved in next door while shooting “Space Jam.” Said Wayans, “I used to come home and he’d be in my kitchen. I’m like, ‘Go home, Michael Jordan! Drink your own juice!’ But Michael Jordan in your house, I thought that was cool. There have been other famous people in my house and I was like, ‘Please leave.'”
Wayans Jr. shares the name of his famous father, but he’s carved out his own comedic career via comedies like “Happy Endings” and “New Girl.” Now, he’s starring opposite Amber Stevens West (“The Carmichael Show”) in the CBS sitcom “Happy Together.”
The duo play a couple who settle into an ordinary suburban life. When a huge pop star (Felix Mallard) moves in with them to escape the paparazzi, they’re inspired to bring some excitement back to their lives.
Wayans and Stevens West first met when she guest starred on “New Girl,” and the two remained friends. Like Wayans, Stevens West grew up with a father in the industry (her dad is disc jockey, voice-over star, and occasional actor Shadoe Stevens), and she believes their similar backgrounds allow them to approach their careers from an “unaffected” place.
“I’m super grateful I’m able to do this at all,” Stevens West said. “I think both of us have the same philosophy. We’re both weird and nice people. We’re not divas.”
Said Wayans: “I feel like she and I had chemistry from the jump.”
Both actors also have silly high school stories that inform how they ended up as performers themselves. In this edition of IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast, Wayans shares a story about the time he was drafted into starring in his high school play – but never learned the lines, instead improvising the entire show (to the horror of his teachers).
Stevens West, meanwhile, reveals how she created her own club in high school devoted to watching repeats of “Friends” every day during lunch. Listen below.
When asked to name her favorite TV episode of all time, Stevens West chose “The One Where No One’s Ready,” which is from the third season of “Friends” in 1996.
“‘Could I be wearing any more clothes?’ Everyone knows that line,” she said. “What I love about that episode is that it takes place all in one room. It’s these six characters, all having their own drama for the day. And somehow it’s the most entertaining half hour of TV, to watch these people stirring about trying to figure out whatever they need to figure out. It shows you can have really good storytelling and you don’t need all the extra stuff. You just have to have really good characters.”
Stevens West was in the audience of the show’s final episode taping in 2004 (thanks to her dad pulling a few strings). But as big a fan as she is, the actress isn’t ready to actually meet any of the show’s stars. Matt LeBlanc even shoots his CBS sitcom “Man with a Plan” on the same lot, but she said, “No, I did not go up to him! I’ve had so many opportunities to meet them and I never do.”
Wayans and Stevens West also bonded over the joy of working on a multi-camera sitcom. Stevens West had the experience of a live studio audience on “The Carmichael Show,” but this is the first time for Wayans.
“It’s almost like doing standup, but I’m not writing my own jokes,” he said. “It’s that instant gratification or instant judgement; you know what the audience likes, or doesn’t like. And the schedule is phenomenal.” Unlike single-camera, which is shot every day, multi-camera weeks consist of several days of rehearsal and blocking, ending with one tape day.
Said Stevens West: “I don’t want to do anything else ever again! You get to do a live show and have pizza parties at the end. It’s the best.”
“Happy Together” airs Mondays at 8:30 ET on CBS.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.