Until then, though, she and her brothers are shopping around a sitcom pilot she co-wrote called Growing Up Wayans that would be a modern-day take on their childhood, starring Kim as the matriarch of a large brood in the projects, with her character’s husband being based on her father, a Jehovah’s Witness who took on job after job—cabdriver, supermarket owner, ice-cream-truck operator, cosmetics peddler—to put food on the table. (Her mother went back to school and became a social worker after her kids were grown.) “It’s a really funny show with a lot of heart, and it reflects what’s going on today in terms of the difficult economy and how hard it is for families to make ends meet,” she says. “You know, it’s interesting to me that so much of the population is living under the poverty line, but when you look at television, you would think that everybody is upper-middle class or wealthy.” The pilot’s story line is based on the time her father quit a high-paying job because it would have required him to take clients to strip clubs and he didn’t want to disrespect his wife.
Kim’s brothers call her Connie the Heart, after the sister in The Godfather, because, she says, “I’m the person who cries at the drop of a hat, who’s always reminding everybody to be kind, who’s bringing 40 people together for Thanksgiving and Christmas.” The Godfather was a Wayans family obsession along with the Jacksons. “We used to watch every single thing that they did. They were a large, close-knit poor family that made it. They gave us such inspiration.” Later she adds proudly, “We’re the Jackson family of comedy.”
Her youthful desperation to get into showbiz was the basis for Li’l Magic, her precocious, untalented aspiring-actress character on In Living Color. “I came out the womb knowing that this is what I was gonna do,” she says. “I was always, like, slappin’ a wig on my head and dancing and singing and performing for anybody who would give me the time of day.” They couldn’t afford costumes, so Kim made her own. “I was always dragging my poor mother to some school production, and sometimes she’d be so embarrassed she’d want to slide under the table, because, you know, all the other little girls had on their cute little pink tutus and here I come with a curtain on and a lampshade on top of my head!” She practically falls out of the booth cracking up at the memory.
The city has changed a lot since then. Kim remembers walking by the Maritime’s portholes and imagining the lives of the sailors inside. Later it was a youth shelter “that helped the community,” she says. “Now it’s a fancy hotel that the community—at least the community that I remember—can’t even afford to stay at.”
She lives in L.A. these days and doesn’t get back to the old neighborhood much. When I ask if she’s seen the High Line, she says she’s never heard of it. “You know what’s funny? We couldn’t even go down there when we were kids because it’s the meatpacking district and it was, like, so dangerous. I know this block. I know Chelsea, the Village. But Tenth Avenue, Eleventh Avenue, that was like, ‘Don’t go down there!’ ” Seeing the boutiques and Apple store dismay her. “Manhattan is for the wealthy now. Pretty soon, poor folks are gonna have to, like, live in the Hudson!”
She gets up; she’s got a busy schedule of trying to get as many people as possible to see this little movie. The audience reactions to Pariah are what she loves best, in particular one she got recently from a woman at a screening in D.C. “She was very heavy in her soul,” she says. “And she said, ‘This movie taught me that I have to go home and love my child no matter what. I have to love my child no matter what.’ ” Kim’s voice breaks. “That’s what it’s all about. I mean, the critical praise is wonderful and all that, but if you can just touch one heart, if one mother goes home and hugs her child that she had become, um, estranged from because of sexuality or any other issue, then we’ve done our job and …” Her eyes fill with tears. “Look at me. I’m getting all, like … excuse me.” She laughs, her face now wet. “Connie the Heart. There she goes. There she goes.”