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FOR THE ARCHIVE: Keenen Ivory Wayans

When we sat down to talk with Keenen Ivory Wayans for the Archive of American Television, we didn’t know that we already had a connection to the famous comedian. In recent years we’ve worked for a number of pop culture legacy clients, including “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” which we had written a Facebook trivia game about.

During his interview, Keenen talked about his first appearance on the iconic late night series. “That was the greatest moment of my career because it was the only dream I had,” revealed an emotional Keenen about his debut stand-up performance in front of Johnny’s curtain

Since that fateful moment, he has gone on to become a writer, producer and television and film star in his own right. But all of his work behind the scenes took him further and further away from his original passion.

But recently, Keenen decided to return to his roots. He described the moment that he made the decision to return to stand-up. “I was editing a show and a man across the hall came to me and said, ‘There’s something you should see. And I went with him and he was creating this archive and one of the things he had was my first shot on ‘The Tonight Show.’ And the same emotion you just saw, happened then because I was at a point in my career and in my life where I had lost site of the shear joy of making people laugh. I looked and I said, ‘I want to be that guy again.’ And that started me back doing stand-up.”

In the small world category, “that guy” was the friend who had hired us to write the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” trivia game. A small moment of kindness, that led to a life-changing decision to help someone reconnect with their passion.

Watch more of the interview with Keenen below and see the full oral history at

Keenen Ivory Wayans discusses his “Tonight Show” debut

Keenen Ivory Wayans discusses appearing on “A Party for Richard Pryor”

Keenen Ivory Wayans discusses reating the character of French

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