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Wayne’s Way

From comedy to acting, singing, dancing and hosting game shows, Wayne Brady has proven he can do it all. Brady has been entertaining audiences for over three decades with no plans of stopping anytime soon. The multi-Emmy winner and Grammy-nominated Brady grew up in Tangelo Park and is a graduate of Dr. Phillips High School. As a youngster, Brady worked as a performer at both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. While studying and performing improv at the SAK Comedy Lab, Brady met UCF graduate and fellow performer Jonathan Mangum. The two have been friends for over 30 years and have collaborated on several productions together, including Let’s Make a Deal.

Brady credits his Orlando roots with helping him become the ever-versatile performer he is today. The love he has for Central Florida is certainly reciprocated as was evident back in 2019 when Mayor Buddy Dyer declared Oct. 12 to be Wayne Brady Day in Orlando. Earlier this summer, Brady returned to Central Florida to film an appearance on the CBS television program Secret Celebrity Renovation, in which he helped remodel the Tangelo Park home of his beloved aunt, Lillian.

Earlier this year, Brady garnered tremendous praise for a spoken word piece he wrote titled, “A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America (or, How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black Man in America).” The riveting composition appears on acclaimed actor Glenn Close’s spoken word jazz album, Transformation: Personal Stories of Change, Acceptance, and Evolution, and offers a deeply poignant reflection on Brady’s early struggles with colorism.

Currently residing in Los Angeles, Brady, the proud father of a teenage daughter who he lovingly co-parents with his ex-wife and best friend Mandie Taketa, is looking forward to going back on tour this fall. Orlando Family Magazine recently caught up with the charismatic showman as he reflected on how Orlando helped shape his career and the exciting projects that he is currently working on.


ORLANDO FAMILY MAGAZINE: You have said that as a child growing up in Orlando your plan was to enter into the military. What changed your path?

WAYNE BRADY: Yes, I planned to go into the military. I was actually in the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) at Dr. Phillips High School. My father was an Army man, a first sergeant, a drill sergeant, and a lifelong soldier. My dad was a hero; always in various parts of the world fighting the good fight, doing whatever Uncle Sam needed him to do. Because of this, I was raised by my grandmother in Tangelo Park. I did not see any other job outside of following in my dad’s footsteps. I secretly wanted to be a performer but I never shared that with anyone out of fear of being laughed at. Then one day, my friend Keith Carsten, who was in ROTC with me, told me he was dropping out of the school play, Dark of the Moon, and I could take over his role of Uncle Smelicue. So that year, my junior year, I started acting under (former Dr. Phillips High School theater director) Karen Rugerio, who really opened up my world.


OFM: Wow, that moment really changed your life.

WB: Yeah, who knew? That’s the thing, everything that happens is for a specific reason. I think I still would have become an actor but I don’t know if I would have started just then so I will be forever thankful to my friend Keith, who is now a successful judge in Orlando. (Laughing) Thanks Keith!

SHOW #11052 — Host Wayne Brady, Announcer Jonathan Mangum and Model Tiffany Coyne attempt to make a deal with traders for either trips, prizes, cars, cash or the dreaded Zonks on the Breast Cancer Awareness episode of the Daytime Emmy Award winning game show, LET’S MAKE A DEAL. This episode will air October 7, 2019 (check local listings) on the CBS Television Network.
Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS
2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved


OFM: So many notable performers have attended Dr. Phillips High School, such as yourself, Joey Fatone, Luis Fonsi and DJ Khaled. What would you attribute that to?

WB: Well, I don’t know. I can’t say that it’s one particular thing because there have also been many successful athletes to come out of Dr. Phillips, such as Johnny Damon. I think when you have a school that’s big and successful, you’re going to draw in a lot of the talent. In terms of acting, I think a lot of the talent was drawn there specifically because of the program that Karen Rugerio was running and the type of person she is. So many people wanted to be in her sphere and as a kid, I know she made me feel like a professional. By the time I walked out of her classroom and having done the productions that I did, I knew that I was ready to work. She did that for everybody. You can throw at rock on Broadway and at some point, you’ll hit someone from Dr. Phillips High School whether they are onstage, a producer, a tech, or a stage manager. She churned out a lot of great people.


OFM: You have quite a professional connection to the Orlando area having worked for Universal Studios, Disney World and the SAK Comedy Lab. What can you tell us about those early days of performing and how it would go on to help shape your career?

WB: I loved it! I loved every single one of those days. In fact, I joke sometimes that the gigs I had while living the starving artist dream were some of my favorite gigs because there were no expectations except to make the show, or whatever I was doing, great. When I was coming up, doing shows at SAK, I was learning every single day. I wasn’t getting paid at first but I was learning. I was sweeping the floors and helping out in return for classes. Eventually, I became a company member and then we all moved out here to LA, the original SAK group, to fulfill our dreams. All of that felt like the best learning time in the world; that was my college, my Second City, my Groundlings. I still use things onstage that I learned when I worked at Walt Disney World as a character. I learned how to bring a character to life without speaking. I learned a lot about improvisation when I was Goofy running around Fantasyland or dancing in the parade. I played a Ghostbuster at Universal Studios in the first cast. I learned so much about being on a set doing a theme park show. I learned the discipline of just because you’re tired and may not be up to a show, that audience that walks through that door came to the park to have a great time and if you go onstage and you are not giving it your all and one person catches it and they don’t have a great time, that’s on you. So that experience in theme parks translated to being in theater and on Broadway doing eight shows a week consisting of two-and-a-half-hour shows and beating up my voice and body but loving it. I also worked at Sleuths, and under Michael Fortner at the Civic Theatre. Michael taught me so much. Everything I learned in Orlando I still use today.


OFM: Once you began performing, could you have seen yourself doing anything else?

WB: No. By the time I graduated high school I knew this was it. You couldn’t have told me that my story would be unraveling the way it has, but I knew that I would be a working actor because there was no other choice.


OFM: I understand you still have family in the Orlando area and visit whenever you can. Are there any must-visit places when you’re in town?

WB: When I come to town to visit my grandmother and my Aunt Lillian, I take them to The Palm restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel because it is one of my grandmother’s favorites. I also like to drop in on some of my old stomping grounds. I always go downtown to visit SAK. I like to go to Universal Studios. I enjoy singing karaoke with Joey Fatone at Howl at the Moon. I moved away from Orlando a long time ago and the city has grown beautifully. I think I left Orlando around the end of ’92, beginning of ‘93. I was back a few months ago shooting a show and I couldn’t find my way around downtown. So many things have been built up or changed, it’s amazing to see.


OFM: Your recent contribution on Glenn Close’s spoken word jazz album has gotten rave reviews. It is intensely personal and I understand it was a project you had been working on for some time but were never able to fully complete. Now that “A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America (or, How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black Man in America)” is out in the world, do you feel a sense of relief and did you ever worry about the vulnerability that comes with allowing people behind the curtain, so to speak?

WB: Yes, to all of it. I was very relieved when I finally got it out. I was worried for a while but I was never worried about what people thought. I think I was most worried about making sure that I wrote it and got it out in a way that people would understand what I’m saying. In comedy when I tell a story, even if it’s something fantastical, I always want people to connect with it on some level, whether they see themselves in the story or they can respond to it. I knew when writing this that it is a very specific window into a Black person’s life but I was hoping that even though it is very personal, with me talking about my experience with colorism, self-love and self-hate, that there would be things that people could latch onto and say, “Oh, I know what it’s like to feel a certain way about myself because of an event that happened to me.” And that’s the part that I kept saying, “Ugh, this isn’t good enough, this isn’t good enough.” Finally, Glenn gave me the kick in the pants to finish it and share it. It’s actually one of a bunch of pieces that are part of a show that I will be doing on Broadway soon called Young, Gifted and Wack about being a kid from Tangelo Park and growing up in Orlando in the ’80s.


OFM: You have performed on Broadway many times. Will this be a different experience for you now that you will be sharing something so personal?

WB: Oh, absolutely! I think sharing anything personal like this is different than playing a character. When I was doing Kinky Boots, Hamilton and Chicago, I got to hide behind that character’s skin. When you’re you, it’s the skin that you are in, that’s it. That’s why you have to feel damn comfortable in your own skin to be able to share something like this; and that’s the place that I think I have finally reached in my life. I feel very comfortable in this skin to share personal stories and not just have things be about the very surface.


OFM: That sounds powerful and intriguing. When do you expect the show to run?

WB: I’m actually going to be doing a presentation with Audible at the end of this year or beginning of next year. It will be three shows and we will use that as the test run; then my aim is to be able to do the show for an extended run by the summer of next year.


OFM: During the pandemic, you revealed that you quarantined with your teenage daughter, your ex-wife and her longtime boyfriend. How did that come to be and what was that dynamic like?

WB: It has worked out great because our family was very close prior to the pandemic. We didn’t start hanging out and staying together because of the pandemic, that’s just our vibe. We happen to live three minutes from each other so the best thing to do was just either stay at my house or stay at theirs. It was lovely because that’s just the relationship that we have. Mandie is my ex-wife but she is also my best friend and we share a beautiful daughter. I think the cool thing was the world getting a chance to see a relationship like that through our TikTok videos, of all things. I hope our family has been a bit of an inspiration and has shown that just because you are not in a relationship anymore it does not mean that you can’t still have love for that person or welcome another person into your life that happens to be their partner. We’re not perfect but like any family we have love for each other and I think that was the coolest thing to come out of the pandemic for us personally.


OFM: Speaking of the pandemic, over the last year and a half many people have dealt with varying degrees of depression and anxiety. As someone who has been so vocal about your own experiences with depression, how did the pandemic affect you mentally and emotionally?

WB: I actually have to admit that for me, life was pretty good because of my family. We kept each other’s spirits up, kept creative and made sure that our minds stayed occupied. Now I know that isn’t the place that everybody was able to be in because it hit everyone differently depending on your work, social, economic or health status so I certainly don’t mean that in a way of, “Oh, I had a great pandemic.” But we worked at having a good experience during the last year and a half. There were definitely a couple of times, especially a few months into the pandemic, that we each had our rough patches but those are the times when you rely on your family; that’s when you all huddle and say, “OK, we are going to get through this and we are going to lift each other up.”


OFM: You have also talked about growing up with a stutter and the angst it caused you. How do you reflect on those struggles and what you have been able to accomplish?

WB: Any struggle that any of us go through forms who we become. I think that’s what getting older is all about; it’s about how to make those choices and which are the healthy ones and which are going to lead you down the wrong path. As I look back on some of the choices I made when I was younger regarding certain things, I can say, “Those weren’t the healthy choices; I could have dealt with that a different way and now I know I’m not gonna deal with it that way anymore because of that life experience.” But I think that any challenge I faced from dealing with the stuttering, bullying, colorism, or any challenge—each of those things, had they not happened I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you because I wouldn’t be the person that had to develop strengths that put him on stage and have a certain place in this world. If you took out any of those struggles, then I’d be a completely different person.


OFM: You have made a point to support numerous charitable causes over the years. Why is it so important for you to give back?

WB: I wish I could find a way to do more and be more involved. I think anyone who is successful on some level, and I’m not talking about just someone on TV—you can be a successful realtor or plumber— anybody who has gotten some help, a nudge, encouragement or a push somewhere in life, you owe it at some point, even if nobody knows you’ve done it, you owe it karmically to give back. I have had people in my life who have given me the nudge and the bump so I’m not trying to give back because I want to make a grand gesture, I’m just trying to live up to what I feel is my debt.


OFM: You seem very conscious of your career and your choices. Have you thought about your legacy and what you would want to be remembered for?

WB: There are two things that I would like to think of as my legacy. One being that I would like to have been a small part of the bigger picture of race relations in our country. I want to be a small part to say that at some point I was able to help people cross that gap that can exist sometimes between cultures, and I’m not saying that in a Pollyanna sort of way. I mean more of taking time to open conversations to where we strive to understand each other. I’ve been able to play every town in the Midwest, up north, down south, towns on the West Coast, East Coast and internationally. I have had audiences where I’ve played to only white people, only Black people, a sprinkling of in between, old people, gay people, straight people, so I hope my legacy would be that I was part of not just a race conversation but also a human conversation and being one of those people that is a bit of a nexus. The other legacy that I would like to leave is of my daughter and how she lives her life. I don’t mean that she has to be in show business, just carrying on the legacy of doing whatever jobs she chooses and is happy and wonderful at, and that she goes on to show her kids how to be good humans and then they show their kids and so on. That’s a legacy that I want.


OFM: You have accomplished so much in your career from being a fixture on television for decades, winning several Emmys, making music, your time on Broadway; the list goes on. What do you find that most people recognize you for?

WB: I think it depends on the person you are talking to. If you stick around long enough, you’ll have a career where people know you from multiple things. Many people remember me from Whose Line Is It Anyway? and then there are people who are diehard Let’s Make a Deal fans. Many international people recognize me from How I Met Your Mother, and sci-fi fans always ask me about Colony. One of the biggest things I get recognized for is the work I did on Chapelle’s Show over a decade ago. What’s so cool is that you could never have told me, growing up in Orlando, that I would have a career where people would know me from so many different things. It’s awesome.


OFM: Speaking of which, today fans have greater access to celebrities through social media. You are active on social media. Do you enjoy being able to communicate with fans that way or is there a downside?

WB: When used for good, social media can be amazing, particularly from a place of social change as we saw during the pandemic. However, I think there is always a downside when you share too much of your life. I’ve never been an over-sharer on social media or in life. I post intermittently or when I have something going on. There are celebrities who choose to share everything and to each his own. I’m of the mindset of, I will let you see what I want you to see.


OFM: You have truly done everything in terms of comedy, music, dance, theater, movies, television and hosting, just to name a few! Is there any one particular area of entertainment that you prefer over the others?

WB: I would have to put all those things into the same lump. They are all connected. I think that my brand of comedy wouldn’t be as strong if I didn’t have the musical component and I wouldn’t be as good of a musician if I weren’t a good actor and I wouldn’t be able to do the impressions if I didn’t sing, so I love it all.



OFM: With your upcoming Broadway show and the numerous projects you are working on, do you feel that your best work is still ahead of you?

WB: Absolutely! I absolutely believe that. I feel so blessed looking at the things that I’ve got coming up and I know my next act is going to be ridiculous. Like in January, I start working on American Gigolo, a TV series on Showtime starring Jon Bernthal, where I play his best friend. I’ve got Let’s Make a Deal where we get to change people’s lives. I’m producing shows along with Mandie—things involved in the LGBTQ+ space and the diverse space that are just great human stories. I’m writing a novel with an amazing novelist and that will be out next year. I have new music, I’m going back on Broadway with Freestyle Love Supreme, and I’m just enjoying life. I’m