Marcus D. Wiley knows how to crack up a crowd. The Houston-based comedian travels the world making people laugh with his brand of church-based, clean humor. He’s not your typical comedian by any stretch of the imagination. He holds three degrees – an Associate degree in Fine Arts Theatre, a Bachelor’s degree in Radio/TV and Film, and a Master’s degree in Communications. A former college professor, Wiley is also a published author. For a decade, he was the co-host of the nationally syndicated Yolanda Adams Morning Show.
Wiley, 46, recently sat down with Mocha Man Style’s reporter, Lloyd Gite for a wide-ranging and funny interview.
Mocha Man Style: People call you a Christian comedian. How do you feel about that?
Marcus D. Wiley: Hate the name. Other Christians don’t put a label on their occupations. People don’t say I’m a Christian body shop owner or I’m a Christian doctor. I’m a comedian who happens to be a Christian.
MMS: What was it like growing up in a household where your dad was a preacher? Was it strict?
Wiley: The problem was the First Lady. It’s my mama. She’s the problem. My dad was cool because he understood. He told me a long time ago that he did not want to be a pastor. He said it was his calling and he accepted it. He said he needed me to be active in the church because he couldn’t get other kids to do it if the pastor’s child didn’t do it. He never stopped me from doing other things in school. He raised me with good balance. So I’m one of those rare preachers kids that’s pretty sane. I didn’t have any issues growing up in the church. But my mama was the one with the whippings. She is something else. Even today. She lives with me and my family. I’m an only child, so when my father passed, I moved my mom in because she was acting like my side piece. She would call me in the middle of the night. You alone? No mom, I’m married. What are you calling here for? She didn’t really want anything. So I asked my wife if my mom could come live with us and she said sure.
MMS: Besides doing clean comedy, what makes your comedy different?
Wiley: Eighty percent of my shows are done in a church setting. I’m a church boy. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all pastors. I know church. Church is my thing. Even when I’m performing outside the church at comedy spots, people at those shows generally attend church. My shows definitely have a heavy dose of Christian values to them. However, I’m trying to keep it 100 percent real. I’m a Christian who is in the world. I have people in my family who may engage in drug dealing and cheating. Those things can be really funny. My job is to make light in whatever arena I’m in.
MMS: You don’t shy away from controversial issues like sex and relationships.
Wiley: Why not joke about those things? That’s what’s going on. The church can’t talk about celibacy. Children’s church is full and they are not the children of married people. A lot of those kids are from single parents. So it’s happening. I joke about those things which are taboo topics in the church. And I get lots of laughs from those things.
MMS: What kinds of people come to see you perform?
Wiley: People who are tired of church. They are not tired of God but they are tired of church. Of course the ladies love me. The guys just wish they had a pastor like me. That’s what I get all the time. I wish I had a pastor like you. Really all kinds of people. Outside of churches, I have performed at clubs, theaters, corporate events, wherever they have a check. I’ve performed at a funeral, a divorce party, and I just got an inquiry about performing for an atheist group. Wherever they got a check, they got me. The Lord said go thee therefore and that’s where I’m going.
MMS: As a child, did you always want to be a comedian?
Wiley: I kind of knew in the third grade I wanted to be an entertainer. At a show, I did Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at Gregory Lincoln in Houston’s Fourth Ward, and man the crowd just went crazy. I was like, “That’s what I want to do. Entertain.” I couldn’t beat that applause. I knew I wanted to be an entertainer, but I didn’t know what kind of entertainer. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument. All through college, I hosted shows and events but I never really thought about comedy. All of the comics I liked cussed. They were vulgar. I don’t have a problem with the cussing, but I have a problem with me cussing. My dad and grandfather were on another page with cussing. One of my buddies said bro you should try comedy, and that was the beginning. I was hosting something at the church and this lady came up to me and said I was funny. She said why don’t you come to my coffee shop and do comedy for our one-year anniversary. I said I’m not a comedian.
MMS: But she said you were funny.
Wiley: I was like yeah, but that was for my church folk. They know me. She said, “Well, I have $500,” and I said, “When is it? So you’re going to pay me $500 to come and talk to people?” This was like 2002. I went and did it. I was telling stories about college and my family. She called me back and said the people loved it and they wanted to do this once a month. Then she said, “I’m going to pay you $750.” So unlike other comics, I started off making good money. I felt God was like hey man, all right now. I’ve put you in the lane now do the work.
MMS: I know the church inspires you, but what else inspires or motivates you?
Wiley: Those bills. That’s what really inspires me. I have a bunch of bills, and those bills help me stay creative. Just like a typical cat, I think I’m living above my means. So I have to keep working. I realize bills are not a burden. They’re a blessing. Bills indicate you have life. Bills are faithful just like God. They are faithful.
MMS: What makes you laugh?
Wiley: I’m easy. I don’t go to the comedy shows saying make me laugh. I go to laugh. I love sitcoms. They make me laugh. My 11-year-old son makes me laugh because I see me in him. When he gets into trouble in school, I tell him, “I’m a comedian. You are a clown. Comedians get paid. Clowns get into trouble. You can’t do me.”
MMS: A few years ago, you wrote a book, “Hustle & Faith.” Tell us about it.
Wiley: The whole thing is about God. He honors your faith, but He rewards your hustle. A lot of times when people come to church, they say okay I’m in church now, do it, Lord. He says keep believing in me but you still have to do the work. It is the story of how I became a comedian, a professor, and a radio personality. I credit it to my hustle and my faith.
Photos by Keith Cornelius