Damon Wayans Jr. is thrilled to be happy again
Damon Wayans Jr. is happy again.
The Happy Endings and New Girl alum returns to network comedy with his new CBS sitcom Happy Together, in which he stars as Jake — “The only black Jake I’ve ever met,” jokes Wayans — an accountant whose quiet life with his wife, Claire (Amber Stevens West), is turned upside down when his firm’s client, world-famous pop star Cooper James (Felix Mallard), moves in with them to escape the spotlight.
For Wayans, making the long-term commitment to Happy Together was appealing for a few reasons: a manageable schedule, a loving onscreen relationship (“This couple actually likes each other,” he says), and real-life stories, as the sitcom is inspired by the time Harry Styles crashed with Late Late Show producer Ben Winston. (Styles and Winston both serve as executive producers on Happy Together.)
Ahead of the show’s premiere, EW chatted with Wayans about feeding off the multicam’s live audience, living up to the role of traditional sitcom husband, and a possible Happy Endings reunion.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been shooting for a while now, so how are you liking it?
DAMON WAYANS JR.: I’m liking it. I like the hours, I like the writers. The directors have been great, and it’s been a very collaborative effort, and I feel like it has a good feeling behind it. Everybody seems very optimistic and happy with what we’re doing, so here’s hoping.
I’m sure the hours are a little nicer than on Happy Endings or New Girl.
Happy Endings and New Girl were my first shows, so I only know brutal hours — brutal half-hour shows. I love the look of single-cam, so I get why people do it, but man, nothing like a multicam schedule.
After starring on two single-cam shows, has it been an adjustment to the more traditional multicam setup?
The main adjustment is the audience. There’s quite a rush performing in front of a live crowd. I do stand-up for a living when I’m not acting, so it’s almost equivalent to that. You get that instant gratification — or instant judgment if something doesn’t work. But I’ll take it, I like it. It pushes you to give energy that you probably would have to be told to give if it was a single-cam. They’ll come out like, “More energy.” They don’t have to tell you that in front of a live audience because they’ll make you bring that energy.
What went into the decision to star in Happy Together? Every year I felt like I was reading that Damon Wayans Jr. was the hot name that everyone wanted for their pilots…
That’s very nice of them. [laughs]
Right? So what was it about Happy Together that made this the one?
CBS and I have been kind of dancing around working with each other for a while, and I had a meeting with them where I was basically like, “I want to do a multicam, I want to do something funny, something that has some truth in it, “ and they’re like, “All right, be right back,” and they came to me with this. I read the script and I thought it was funny, and then I met with Ben Winston and Austen Earl and Tim McAuliffe, the writers and producers of the show, and Ben told me that this was loosely based off of his actual life, and that kind of hooked me right there. Not because of who it was dealing with — Harry Styles is a cool dude, for sure — but really because I like the idea that this is an unique story to tell and that Ben can actually tell it well. And there’s some longevity there because this was two years of his life that we can pull from, even though this is complete fiction and has nothing to do with his actual life. Still, that its genesis was in truth really drew me to the project.
How would you describe Jake?
I think he’s the only black Jake I’ve ever met. [laughs] He’s a guy who thinks he’s cooler than he really is. He’s like cool until actual cool people enter the room. He’s always positive, very fun-loving, loves his wife. That was another thing that actually attracted me to the show, the relationship with his wife. A lot of times on television, it’s couples that are just putting up with each other. Like, “If we didn’t have these kids, then I’d be outta here!” No, this couple actually enjoys each other’s company, and that was very refreshing for me to read and want to play. He kind of gets in his own way, like most men in sitcoms do. There’s always a lesson to be learned!
You previously had such a great husband-wife chemistry with Eliza Coupe on Happy Endings, so what’s that dynamic been like so far, developing that chemistry with Amber?
Amber is just a likable person. I don’t think there’s anybody on earth that doesn’t like her. So it was easy for us to get along. I think the chemistry comes from the fact that we’re both in relationships outside of this show where we are very happy with our significant other, and so we just kind of take that and bring that to the screen and just have a lot of fun. It’s oddly similar to the relationship that I had on Happy Endings — but in a good way.
So how does Cooper factor into that, and what’s the relationship like there?
You start out with this couple that love each other and love being around each other, but have also gotten into this routine where they’re kind of chill, a little subdued. They’d rather Netflix and chill — without the chill, just Netflix. Then this bigger-than-life character comes into our world, Cooper, and shakes things up in a positive way. He just lets us know, “Hey, maybe we’re not this old. We’re acting like 50-year-olds and we’re really early-30s, so let’s act like that.” He puts a little fire under us and makes us want to get that fun back into our lives. He’s also very positive, so it’s two very positive people and then this guy who is even more positive then we are comes into our world. And I assume that’s why they called it Happy Together, because everybody in this show is just a happy person and then the three of them together just amplifies that. I think it’s really cool to see this unorthodox family grow closer and closer with every episode.
I assumed you just really wanted another show with “Happy” in the title.
[Laughs] I have no control over these titles. I had suggestions, but they didn’t like them.
What would be your pitch for why people should watch?
It’s feel-good television. The world we live in now is pretty tense, and it’s okay to have a show that doesn’t necessarily beat you over the head with any political issues or racial issues or any other –al, and you kind of just enjoy television. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, you’re going to love the characters, and you’ll definitely be happy after you finish watching it. It’s one of those shows that you’re just going to like.
I can’t talk to you and not ask about Happy Endings. You all previously reunited at EW’s PopFest to read an episode specifically written for the event, so what are the chances that we could get a televised reunion?
We always talk about how much fun we had doing the show and I stay in contact with all these dudes, so we talk regularly. Of course I would jump at the opportunity to have, like, a one-off or do a random Netflix movie — that would be really cool to do. I just got to talk to [creator] David Caspe and see what he wants to do because he’s the king of that thing. I know for a fact that everybody who starred in that show would be down to do either a one-off or a movie. I know I would.
Happy Together airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.