Wanda Sykes is wonderful. Just ask anyone who’s seen this stand-up ace in action. She hit town several years back, opening for Tommy Davidson, and had a full house at the Orpheum Theatre absolutely howling. It is wry, dry wit delivered with Swiss-clock timing that distinguishes Sykes as a premier artist.
When she returns to the Orpheum on Sept. 28, it’ll be as headliner. Expect more of the same, side-splitting hilarity done to a wizened turn.
Wanda Sykes has come quite a ways since starting out at a Coors Light Super Talent Showcase (Washington, D.C.) in 1987. After opening for Chris Rock at Caroline’s Comedy Club, she joined The Chris Rock Show’s creative team: The writers were nominated for four Emmys, and in 1999 won for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special.
She’s gone on to become a household name as stand-up comic, writer, actor and voice artist. Her bread and butter, of course, excelling at comedy, paved the way. For Comedy Central she hosted Premium Blend and did the hit special Tongue Untied. On HBO, there was Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired and I’ma Be Me.
Among sitcom appearances, she guested on Will & Grace and had recurring roles on The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Chris Rock Show, The Drew Carey Show and starred in Wanda At Large.
In film, she acted in Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evan Almighty, License to Wed and voiced characters in Over the Hedge, Barnyard, Brother Bear 2, Rio and Ice Age: Continental Drift.
For good measure, Sykes wrote the book, Yeah, I Said It, humorous observations on assorted topics.
In 2008, the comedic powerhouse was part of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Tour for LGBT rights. In April 2009, she was named in Out magazine’s “Annual Power 50 List”. The next month Sykes was featured entertainer for the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the first African American woman and first openly LGBT person to do so. In 2010 she won a GLAAD award for promoting equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Wanda Sykes (WS) took time from a grueling schedule on-tour to for a phone interview with the MSR about her craft and her career.
MSR: Timing, of course, is all in stand-up. How did you come by yours?
WS: I’ve been watching comedy since I can remember. Especially, growing up, we had all those great variety shows. It was all about timing. Bill Cosby had a show. Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson. I loved Moms Mabley.
Comedy has a rhythm to it. I play the drums, too. So, maybe that’s it. I don’t think it’s something you can learn. You feel it.
MSR: So many comics go in for gratuitous cussing. You don’t.
WS: Don’t get me wrong. I curse. I don’t want that to be the joke, though. I try not to overdo it, let that get in the way of the joke.
MSR: Tracey Ashley came through town a little while ago. And she is the first woman comedian to hit the big stage here in a long time. Why aren’t women getting a break in the business?
WS: It’s about numbers. Way more men are doing stand-up. You have [relatively] few women if you go percentage-wise. If there are, for instance, only 10 women doing it, chances are two of them will be funny enough to get a break. If more women were doing it, you’d probably see more of us out there.
Aside from that, comedy really is a man’s game. There’s nothing pretty about comedy. You gotta be able to, you know, make fun of yourself. Women, we’re supposed to be pretty, feminine, and supposed to be ladylike. There is nothin’ ladylike about doing stand-up comedy.
MSR: Why did you decide, after working five years at the National Security Agency, to go into comedy? There couldn’t be two more different lines of work.
WS: I just knew that I should be doing somethin’ else. I didn’t belong there. Felt out of place. Was just really throwing my life away. I had to take a stab at something. Always wanted to do comedy. So, I decided to write some jokes, get on the stage and see what happens. I’m glad it worked out.
MSR: I’ll bet you are. A few more folk are, too. Okay, you’re on the road into 2013?
WS: Yeah. When I’m working in a new act, it takes me at least about a year and a half, possibly two years before, you know, you feel like it’s ready to shoot it. Until you feel like, “I’m ready to do this [TV or DVD] special.”
Plus, I love doing stand-up. It’s 20-somethin’ years, now. I still love it. It’s where I feel the most comfortable and at the same time the most challenging. I love touring. Love doin’ it.
MSR: How was it filming My Super Ex-Girlfriend? You sure kept Luke Wilson’s character in check, dismissing him as “Mr. Bottom-Watcher.”
WS: I had a great time. Ana Ferris was really cool. The set was a little stressful at times, ’cause they were running behind. But, we had a good time on that movie. Luke Wilson was a nice guy. I enjoyed it.
MSR: Anything else?
WS: I’m excited about coming back to the Twin Cities. The people there are great. They come ready to have a good time. And that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.
MSR: At a time when it won’t be snowing.
For more information about Wanda Sykes’ Sept. 28 show at the Orpheum Theatre, see the Spot listings on this page.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.