Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Marlon Wayans: God Loves Me’ On HBO Max, Making The Oscars Slap All About Him

Marlon Wayans’ third HBO Max comedy special in three years is unlike the first two in more ways than one, primarily because it’s focused around one event and how it impacted one person. Does that also make this special a singular achievement?

The Gist: Marlon Wayans, now 50 but still the youngest of 10 children — his older siblings include Keenan Ivory, Damon, Kim and frequent TV/movie collaborator Shawn —  starred in his own NBC sitcom (Marlon) for two seasons from 2017-18.

Since the pandemic, Marlon has filmed three stand-up specials for HBO Max: 2021’s You Know What It Is, filmed outdoors in Miami; 2022’s Marlon Wayans Presents: The Headliners; and now this hour, filmed in Atlanta. Why Atlanta? “Because y’all make me feel special,” he tells the audience.

What makes this hour particularly special is how he spends the entire hour focusing on how one event — Will Smith slapping Chris Rock live on TV during last year’s Academy Awards —  made him reflect upon his own personal relationships with Smith, Rock, and Jada Pinkett Smith, ultimately concluding that “God loves me.”

What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: We don’t often see a new comedy special that reminds us not of something similar in the past, but of something yet to come, and yet here we are, with Marlon Wayans reminding us that Chris Rock’s own take is coming very soon to Netflix.

Photo: HBO Max

Memorable Jokes: Marlon not only dissects “The Slap” from four different perspectives (Rock, Smith, Pinkett Smith, as well as the audience), but also flashes back to his own personal recollections upon his relationships with each of those three more famous celebrities.

In doing so, he ribs Rock for how he looked and sounded in the late 1980s (calling Rock’s skin tones back then “the color of violence” and epitomizing the stereotypical crackhead onscreen), cops to crushing on Pinkett Smith when he first met and hung out with her, despite also jokingly describing her as “the most beautiful little boy I’d ever seen,” then contemplating how Smith could be the only Black action star to save the world on film, while simultaneously making “easy-listening hip-hop.” Of Smith, Marlon said: “It look Black but it write White,” citing hits such as “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” as songs that only related to the White experience.

But Marlon gets most animated when acting out various aspects of “The Slap,” from how it actually unfolded, to how he might have reacted both in the moment and later in the ceremony if it were him (at one point jumping into the audience so he can leap back onstage later), to how his large, extended funny family of Wayans would’ve swooped in to have his back.

Our Take: Like Michael Richards, Marlon once endured a horrible heckling experience at The Laugh Factory. From Chris Rock, no less. As Marlon recalled, he was 19 and Rock was just coming into his prime, and broke him down with insults including barbs about his standing within the Wayans family: “Which one are you, Tito?” And Marlon (Wayans, not Jackson) reveals all these years later that the incident prompted him to stop doing stand-up for two decades: “I was that broken. I was humiliated.” But unlike TV’s “Kramer,” Marlon Wayans neither imploded his entire career nor quit stand-up forever. He has a long list of lucrative TV and film credits to his name, and he’s fully back in the game now.

Of course, some of that success could easily be attributed to Marlon’s status as a Nepo Baby Brother. Even if he did lose the part of “rib man” to Rock in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, he stlill got cast in the movie while still a tween.

Though I haven’t been as harsh on Marlon’s recent comedy specials as Rock was on him as a 19-year-old, Wayans concedes that even now, some of the members in the audience only came to the taping just in case they might see him bomb. He jokes that’s why audiences paid to watch rapper T.I. try his hand at stand-up.“This is the hardest shit anybody wants to do….You know why? Because you evil drunk motherf—ers love to see a n—r bomb.”

He also claims that’s why he pointedly made this hour all about his interpersonal connections to the Oscars Slap.“The reason why I’m doing like a set about it, is because our thing in stand-up, man, it gotta come from something personal, and that shit was personal to me.” And by reflecting on it with enough time and perspective, Marlon now can thank Chris for roasting him as a young comic, thank Will for taking all those movie roles that he had unsuccessfully auditioned for, and Jada for teaching him about love.

The big question now? By putting this hour out just two days before Rock’s live Netflix special, it feels almost as if Wayans is daring Rock to respond. Will Rock take the bait, though? Probably not. But maybe?

Our Call: STREAM IT. Whether or not you believe the Hollywood myth that show business only allowed one Black superstar at a time, we all can rest easy knowing that’s not the case today. There’s plenty of room for funny comedians at the top. So this weekend, it’s not a competition. You can enjoy both Wayans and Rock.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.