SINGING, ACTING, COMEDY, GAME SHOWS—THE INIMITABLE
WAYNE BRADY DOES IT ALL. HIS ULTIMATE GOAL?
MOVE TO HAWAI‘I.
On a stage, on the spot, Wayne Brady can do it all—and do it with finesse. His ability to make people laugh is out of this world. He’s a talented dancer, too. Also a singer and a stage actor with numerous awards, including multiple Emmys and a Grammy nomination. Those who saw his act this past spring in Honolulu, where he performed for two nights at Blue Note in Waikīkī, will testify to the man’s extra-human talents.
And his work ethic? Downright alien. Last year, he was the sly fox with the velvet voice and dapper moves who won “The Masked Singer” season two. Since then, he’s released a single entitled Flirtin’ w/ Forever, tracking toward a new album this summer. He played DC Comics vil- lain Tyson “Gravedigger” Sykes on the last four episodes of the CW’s “Black Lightning,” and is expected to return next season. That’s not to mention appearances on the sitcoms “Mixed-ish” and “The Neighborhood,” as well as hosting the iconic game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” But that was all before stay-at-home orders in California came down, in mid-March.
“As soon as we can, we’ll go back to work,” says Brady, speaking from his home in Los Angeles.
He’s lived on the West Coast since the mid ‘90s, just a few years before he landed a regular role on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on Britain’s Channel 4. When ABC picked up the program, it represented his first major stateside TV exposure. He seized on the moment. He quickly be- came a favorite among fans and critics alike, earning his first Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance, in 2003.
Now, he’s helping usher in the next generation of funny. His new reality show for teens, called “Wayne Brady’s Comedy IQ,” premiered on BYUtv this April. The program features a select group of kids competing to be the next comedy superstar. The improv master himself provides them with mentorship and guidance.
Brady, 48, shares production credits on “Comedy IQ” with Mandie Taketa. The two married in 1999, and split more than a decade ago, but remain close; Brady says they are “best friends” and co-parenting their teenage daughter, Maile. Taketa was born in Hawai‘i (her father, Ron, is a prominent union leader on O‘ahu) and this is where she and Brady first met. He returns to the islands two or three times each year, depending on his schedule.
“I’m still very close to my family there,” Brady says. “I always tell people that Hawai‘i truly is the place where I learned the meaning of the word family. The true meaning of ‘ohana. That’s why [Hawai‘i] is so special to me. I truly feel connected there. From the first day that I set foot on the islands, I always felt like I belonged.
“It was one of those places where race never seemed to get in the way or be discussed, unless it was being made fun of, like actually making fun of racism, and it’s nothing to see a family where someone is Filipino, Portuguese, Japanese, black, white, all in one family in one way or the next. I love Hawai‘i because of all of those things.”
When he’s in Hawai‘i, Brady spends time at his ex-father-in-law’s house, where you can find him “sleeping on the floor.” He makes “way too many trips to Zippy’s” for Chili Frank and Apple Napples, his go-to meal. He likes driving to the North Shore, stopping at the beach across from Foodland Pūpūkea to picnic, and people-watching in Waikīkī.
“I also love live entertainment,” he says. “Normally, you can go to almost any of the bigger hotels and see some amazing talent playing right there in the lobby. I’m a big fan of the Hawaiian music scene. I got a couple of friends in a group called Simple Souls who are my favorite artists out right now and people who I collaborate with. And the food. I love the food in Hawai‘i.”
Brady makes no bones about it: “Hawai‘i will be the place that I retire to. I absolutely will one day, whether it’s on the North Shore or Kāne‘ohe. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Talk about a journey. Brady was born in Columbus, Georgia and raised in Florida. That’s where he discovered the performing arts, while attending Dr. Phil- lips High School. (Brady was inducted into the Orange County Public Schools Hall of Fame in March 2017. In a video acceptance speech posted on the OCPS Facebook page, he acknowledged some of his teachers who played a pivotal role in his life’s course.) By the age of 16, Brady was showcasing his talents around Orlando, dressing up as Tigger and Goofy at Walt Disney World, and developing his improv skills at SAK Theatre and later SAK Comedy Lab. At the time, he intended to join the Armed Forces.
“A career in the military was probably most achievable, and I [could] walk in my father’s footsteps, and make him proud,” Brady says. “But ever since I was old enough to know what performing was, I knew that I wanted to do that, to get a certain reaction and make people laugh.”
By 2003, Brady was already a house- hold name. He’d gotten his own variety show, “The Wayne Brady Show,” and was racking up TV credits, which today reads like a rundown of the century’s best primetime comedy programming: “Chappelle’s Show,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Key and Peele,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “30 Rock.” Brady also branched out onto the stage, starring as Billy Flynn in Chicago and Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway, and played Aaron Burr in the Chicago production of Hamilton.
“I had been blessed with so many ups, like the first time I won an Emmy, that was amazing and I’m very fortunate for that,” he explains. “The first time I was nominated for a Grammy. When I got the chance to perform at the Kennedy Center Honors to honor James Brown. When I was able to bring my baby girl on the set of my talk show and show her off to the world.
“Last year, I was able to perform with my daughter, singing on the talk show ‘The Talk,’ and then we were together on a soap opera, ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’— that was definitely a high.”
Now, with Hollywood filming and TV productions on pause due to public health concerns, Brady’s followers on Instagram are getting to see him cook in his kitchen, watch the premiere episode of “Wayne Brady’s Comedy IQ” in his living room, and, of course, make TikTok dance videos with his family on an outside deck. The latter led to rumors that Brady was quarantining with ex-wife Taketa and her boyfriend, Jason Fordham.
“No, we are not quarantining with them, we quarantine in a parallel manner,” he says in a social media video post, clarifying that the couple live just two minutes away. “And even if we were all living in one big-ass house, who cares? That’s my family.”
Despite being a public figure with more than three decades in the spotlight, Brady admits to being an introvert, so social distancing hasn’t been too difficult.
“It’s been a pretty fun time for me,” he says. “I like to spend my time writing, reading and creating. I think it’s time that’s gonna be well spent. I’m able to get stuff done.”
He’s a self-proclaimed heavy gamer (just before he spoke with HILuxury, Brady admitted he was playing the new DOOM game on his Xbox) and loves to unwind by reading a book (he’s been reading and re-reading The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion) or sitting by the creek on his land listening to the water falling. That might seem odd for a high-energy person, but Brady knows from balance. In recent years, he has opened up about his struggle with depression and become a notable mental health advocate, including for Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit co-founded by actress Glenn Close.
“[The organization] helps deal with taking the stigma away from mental health and from battles with depression and bipolar disorder, and casting a positive light on it,” says Brady. “Basically making people feel like they can talk about those things and not be ashamed.”
When asked what he would tell the person he was 20 years ago, Brady answers: “Appreciate what you have, listen more than you talk, and I think you’ll be OK.”
And looking ahead 20 years from now? He sees himself producing “a gaggle” of shows, but that’s only one part of the larger picture.
“Watching my daughter become successful in her own right,” says Brady. “Getting up in the morning from my house in Hawai‘i, and only flying into Los Angeles if I needed to work. Being in such control of my own work that I can make work there in Hawai‘i, that I don’t have to go anywhere else. That would be awesome.”