Review: ‘Marlon Wayans: Good Grief’ Is The Best Special Of the Year

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 4, 2024 (Last updated: 5 days ago)
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Marlon Wayans: Good Grief Review – Brilliant and Beautiful
Marlon Wayans: Good Grief | Image via Prime Video
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Summary

Funny, honest, thought-provoking, and powerful, Marlon Wayans: Good Grief is a fantastic comedy special.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t go to Marlon Wayans – or any of the Wayans family, honestly – for earnest sentiment. I don’t watch a Wayans special and expect to see the world any differently, to change how I look at and treat the people in my life. But Good Grief made me reassess. I might think back to it one day and find myself quietly thanking Marlon Wayans for being so honest and vulnerable in it.

I hate feeling like this. I earnestly believe in the power and importance of art, so much so that my entire career is dedicated to thinking and writing about it, but it’s always a bit embarrassing when critics get all serious. This is stand-up comedy, after all. We’re here to have a laugh. The point of Good Grief is that we need to have a laugh, even in the hardest, most painful moments.

Good Grief debuted on Prime Video the day after Jo Koy: Live from Brooklyn debuted on Netflix, entirely by chance. But both specials reiterate the same sentiment – that it’s good to laugh. But Jo Koy tells you why like a high school science teacher. Marlon Wayans shows you why. You can see the pain that the laughter helps him cope with. You could draw a line between the experiences he recounts and the edgy sense of humor possessed by all of the Wayans clan, a comedic dynasty that owe everything, it seems, to Howell and Elvira Wayans.

Marlon was the youngest of ten children and got the best version of Howell and Elvira. They were older by the time he came around, no longer the strict disciplinarians that had raised his brothers and sisters, who at this point were rich and famous. Life for the Wayans was different, and Marlon saw his parents as his friends. That made losing them, especially his mother, even harder.

Real voicemail messages from Elvira and Howell bookend the special. Almost all of the material is about them, aside from a hysterical section in the middle about the death of Kobe Bryant and the (continuing) life of Magic Johnson. It’s here that Good Grief most resembles a Wayans brother special, but the same themes of appreciating what you have are threaded throughout this bit too.

The rest of the special isn’t as funny, but it’s more heartfelt and poignant. Marlon has lost both of his parents; first his mother, who died from “everything” because she loved life too much to succumb to a single illness, and then his father, who drank himself to death in his grief. It’s sad in many ways, and Marlon spends most of the hour on the verge of tears and several minutes in floods of them. But it’s also bracingly honest and thought-provoking, and will likely change your relationship with your own parents.

The honesty comes through in Marlon’s outward emotions, but also in the truths he shares about how the family – and his mother especially – were affected by his father being a devout Jehovah’s Witness. There’s a unique way that particular belief system is isolating and cold in its steadfast refusal to acknowledge holidays and even personal milestones. Howell spent a lot of time physically separate from the rest of the family, locking himself away from their jubilation and celebration for the sake of his faith.

It’s hard to make this stuff funny, but Marlon manages it consistently. Some of his puerile sensibilities still creep through – an extended bit about changing his parents’ diapers will raise a few eyebrows, but even that builds to a vital point – but there’s an expert, seasoned quality to his writing and delivery that takes a real comedian to pull off. Only rarely will a comedy special make you want to laugh and cry at the same time like this one does.

Marlon Wayans: Good Grief is, on balance, a pretty exceptional special, one that treats its audience like part of the family, welcoming them into private and powerful moments. Many people who watch this will take a lot from that openness. So, call your parents. Tell them you love them. Now’s as good a time as any.

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