Rolling Laughter

An Interview with Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes
Courtesy Photo

Winner of four Emmy awards for her writing, charismatic comedian Wanda Sykes is also a film and television actress who has played characters ranging from the voice of Gladys Murphy in “Crank Yankers” to various versions of herself, most recently in the TV show “Wanda at Large.” But, most fortunately for her fans, she has never abandoned stand-up comedy, performing not only in her own HBO and Comedy Central specials, but on live stages all over. In advance of her show this Thursday, May 17, at the Chumash Casino, Martha Sadler got a chance to chat with her on the phone.

I love your comedy, a lot, and I love stand-up in general, it’s my favorite kind of comedy – but I’m not familiar with your work in sitcoms, because it usually makes me sad to see brilliant stand-up comedians trapped in sitcoms. So may I just ask you random questions?

Yeah, sure.

Why are you so funny?

I guess it’s just how I’m wired. I didn’t go to funny school or take classes or anything.

Is your mother funny? Is your father?

We laughed a lot in our home; they’re funny. My brother’s funny. Yeah.

I have this theory, do you want me to run it by you? It’s a theory of boldness and humor – I notice that a disproportionate number of women comics who are really funny, at least that I can find, are either African-American or gay. Why is that?

Um, you know, I don’t agree with that. I think there are just way more males than females doing standup. But if you look at the percentage of men who are really funny, I think it would be equal to the percentage of females who are funny.

So if an equal number of women got up there and did stand-up you would see as many funny women as there are funny men? But it takes a lot of boldness to step forward like that.

Boldness or craziness. I think there’s got to be something missing. There really is, to think that you can go on stage in front of a lot of people and make them laugh, there’s something wrong with you.

You must have made your friends laugh.

Yeah, I did. I did make my friends laugh and I have friends who crack me up, but there’s something about me where I said, “Hey, I’m going to do this in front of total strangers.”

And make thousands of people laugh at a time. Comedy is often rather subversive, isn’t it, or – it makes waves.

Yeah, it does, it goes against the norm, and the type of comedy that I like is when you ruffle some feathers and speak on hypocrisy and point out injustice. That’s always fun.

Has your comedy always been political?

I have always been political but these days it’s more family and more personal because that’s what I’m going through. Now that I have kids, they’ve pretty much taken over my life and they’ve taken over my comedy too.

Does it make your family nervous? When you walk out the door to do a gig do they want to see your notes and have veto rights?

No, I think as long as I pay my bills and all they’re happy.

Who are your favorite audiences?

Paying! Actually, you know, I love my audience, my audience is so diverse, it’s across the board, all races and age groups, it’s beautiful. No matter where I go in the country, my audience has that makeup of a little bit of everybody, I get a nice cross-section.

Do you write all your own material?

Yes, my standup, I pretty much write that, and if I’m going to do a special, like an HBO special, maybe two weeks before the special I’ll have one or two of my close friends who are writers come out on the road with me and maybe punch up or tighten up a few things.

What are their names?

Lance Crouther is mainly who I try to work with.

And you’ve written for Chris Rock.

That was my first writing gig, that was great. I learned so much from working with him and from the “Chris Rock Show.” It was a fantastic experience.

Are you planning to do a movie?

Yeah, I enjoy doing movies. Hopefully I will get to be in another one soon.

One that you have creative control over?

I have ideas but I haven’t written anything yet.

Oh, you haven’t’?

No, as far as a movie – I haven’t written a movie yet.

Why don’t you write a movie?

Why don’t you write a movie? I guess it’s easy, it’s just that simple. “Why don’t you write a movie?” Okay, I’ll get on that, I’ll start that today.

I look forward to it. What’s your new show like?

My new show, my standup, is pretty much a snapshot of what’s going on in my life. Of course, there’s politics, because it’s an election year and it’s what’s in the news, but mainly it’s about what’s going on, you know – motherhood, relationships. It’s very relatable, people seem to be really enjoying this new hour.

And where have you taken it so far?

I was in Melbourne for two weeks; I’ve been to New York, I just got back from Houston – it’s been all over.

So, your humor crosses cultural lines. Your wife is French, right, and she presumably finds you amusing. Does she speak English? I heard she doesn’t.

Yes, of course she speaks English. She’s an American citizen, too.

Thank you so much for you time. Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Um, no, I’ve gotta get started on my screenplay, so …

Thank you very much for everything.

Thank you. Take care!


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