Damon Wayans Jr. and Damien Wayans join their famous uncles to talk about ''Dance Flick,'' pushing the envelope, and what they have in common with VH1 reality shows

By Josh Rottenberg
Updated May 22, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

When Damon Wayans Jr. auditioned for the lead role in the comedy Dance Flick, he might have figured he had it in the bag. Granted, he had never starred in a movie before, but he was a member of the Wayans clan, and this projec — a spoof of dance films like Step Up, High School Musical, and Save the Last Dance — was wall-to-wall Wayanses. His cousin Damien Dante Wayans was directing and had co-written the script with another cousin, Craig. Uncles Keenen, Marlon, and Shawn were pitching in as writers, producers, and actors. But getting the part was hardly a lock. After his first audition, he was called back for another. And another. And another. ”I was like, Where is the f—ing nepotism here?” says Damon Jr. ”This is hardcore!”

If you’re a young Wayans and you want to play with the big boys, you have to expect a little hazing. Keenen, Damon, Marlon, Shawn, and Kim were five of 10 children born to Elvira, a homemaker, and Howell Wayans, a salesman, in New York City. For the past two decades, as the siblings built a Hollywood dynasty with the trailblazing sketch-comedy series In Living Color and movies such as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Scary Movie, they always knew the family business would eventually expand to include their kids and nephews and nieces. ”I remember when I did Scary Movie, one of my kids was a baby, five or six months old,” says Keenen Ivory Wayans, who is the elder statesman of the family. ”Just to be funny, I said to the writers, ‘If the baby laughs at your joke, it goes in the movie.’ So they literally had to pitch to the baby.”

Growing up in the shadow of their famous relatives, the young Wayanses couldn’t help but be weaned on comedy. ”A Wayans family gathering — that’s a true VH1 reality show,” says Damien, whose mother is Keenen et al’s sister Elvira. ”A Wayans Thanksgiving? That’s a pay-per-view special.” Graduating from small parts in other Wayans productions, Damien cut his teeth directing numerous episodes of his uncle Damon’s series My Wife and Kids. He even helped write the show with his cousins Damon Jr. and Craig. (Craig’s mother is Keenen et al’s sister Deidre. Still with us?) Not until Dance Flick did the next-gen Wayans sufficiently prove they were ready for the limelight. ”They’d pitched us movies before, but it was just: ‘What about black Superman?’ ‘What about high school?”’ says Marlon. ”This one they actually fleshed out. You know they’re ready when they’re willing to do the work.”

Taboo-smashing humor has long been the hallmark of the Wayans brand, but Keenen, who sparred with Fox censors as the creator of In Living Color, says Wayans 2.0 is bent on pushing the envelope even further: ”I’m the guy who tells them where the line is, if you can believe that. They wrote a love scene in Dance Flick that was really graphic, and I was like, ‘Guys, this is X-rated!”’ The younger set, says Damon Jr., is constantly wondering, ”How are we going to top what they did? How do you top a d— in someone’s ear? I still haven’t cracked that one.”

Craig and Damien are now forming the production company Second Generation Entertainment. Damon Jr. is working on his own scripts. And still other Wayanses are waiting for their own breaks (”My daughter is writing scripts and my son wants to be a black Jackie Chan,” says Marlon). Moviegoers may soon need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them all. ”Even I kind of get confused sometimes,” jokes Damon Jr. ”For a long time, I thought Keenen was my dad.”