There aren't many people who sound like Wanda Sykes.
Then again, there aren't many people like Wanda Sykes, period. The longtime comedian who's battled cancer, come out as gay, remarried and had children all while in the spotlight, safely stands in a category all her own.
But it's not just her personal life that has managed to go in all different directions. When it comes to her career, Sykes keeps her plate full as a writer, actor, producer, and first and foremost, a stand-up comedian. Between her many projects, we caught up with Sykes on the phone to discuss motherhood, comics who are too cool for school, and why she doesn't bother with labels.
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You had a lot of changes in your life since your last comedy special and you've covered a wide rage of topics in the past. What can we expect from this new show? Well, I'm talking about all of it, so it's a lot about the kids and being married and I'm 50 now, so quite a lot. And the thing is, once you become a parent, it just changes everything. Like before I was on top of everything that was going on in the world and now with the kids I really don't have the opportunity to watch the news as much and read the paper. It's pretty good because one, you can't have the news on when the kids around because you don't want that on. It will scare them to death; you won't be able to get them out of the house. So yeah the kids have really taken up a lot of my time. I do talk a lot about that.
So if there's no time for news, what do you watch? Sports. And once they go to bed, I want to laugh so I watch a little Modern Family, Veep. I love dramas. I'll watch just about every drama on HBO.
So no watching cartoons with the kids then? Oh they watch that during the day.... They watch french cartoons. And have no idea what the hell they're talking about but I watch that.
So you're picking up some French? Not at all.
Besides stand-up, what other projects are you working on? Well, I just finished the second season of Alpha House, which is on Amazon Prime. It's the show that Garry Trudeau created. John Goodman is the star. It's really funny. It's about senators in D.C. who are sharing this house and I'm a senator from Illinois. So I've been working on that and also on the production of the ninth season of Last Comic Standing.
Do you follow any of the up-and-coming comics in the industry? Well, that's what's so fun about producing Last Comic Standing because we're actually handpicking these comics. We picked a 100 comics that we thought deserved a shot and this season we've already starting looking. So were going around, our team is going around, to like 16 cities and holding showcases and then we'll watch the videos from these showcases and pick some comics for next season. So it's really exciting to see all the comics who are out there and all the new faces. It amazes me how many comics are out there.
And how many do you think have what it takes? Well, that's the thing. We're looking at the board with 500 names and my partner and I are looking at each going, "They all can't be funny! This is just impossible." But we know we'll find a 100 out of that 500 or how many people we look at, 1000, I don't know.
Is there something you're noticing with these aspiring comics that you wish you could correct. A trend you might criticize? I would say, it's not like a trend, but I've seen a few comics where they're not trying to entertain the audience. They're doing it more like for self, like they get a kick of themselves rather than entertaining the audience.
I'm like, "Look, let's focus on making the people laugh." And some of them just think they're above it, you know, like they think they're too cool to be funny. It's weird.
You're comic who happens to be black, gay, a mother, and a cancer survivor. Because of that, do you feel that people try to put you in a category? Well, I always get "female comic," which bugs me because I'm just a comic. Because you don't go, "Oh, male comic," but for some reason when you're female people feel they have to put that "female" before it.
But as far as putting me in a category. I mean you just rattled off like four or five different things so I think it'd be hard to put me in a category. "Oh yeah, she's the black, lesbian mother, cancer survivor comic!" [laughs] I'd be the only one in that box!
How does being the spotlight affect how you handle all these personal shifts in your life? It's just who I am. It's my reality, so like... I have to talk about it. It would be harder for me not to talk about it. I don't want to say "use it," but it is what it is. That's what I draw from, I draw from my real life in comedy.Funniest person in your life right now:
Probably my son but I will not tell him that because he's 5 and he's really trying to be funny and he is, but it also can be annoying and you know sometimes he's not listening. So we have to find that fine line of, "Okay, I'm not going to laugh at him. Although it's funny, I'm not gonna laugh."
He's a pretty funny guy. His timing is great. I was kind of lecturing him. I said, "Hey, you gotta listen" and he pretended to doze off like he was sleeping, and it was perfect. He snored and everything and I just couldn't get mad because it was too funny.
Sounds like he takes after you. Yeah, unfortunately, yeah.
Does being the comic in the family mean that you get to be good cop? Actually, I'm bad cop. I'm the no-fun mom. Maybe it's because of the language thing. My wife speaks French to them so when she's reprimanding them, it doesn't sound like it. Me, when I'm getting mad at them and being strict, I sound like a black mother.
You turned 50 this year. How did that go over? I embraced it, I really did. And I see things that are happening to my body and my eyesight.... and you know, aging, that's real. Certain things just happen but I embrace it. I find it funny.
Wanda Sykes performs at Celebrity Theatre on Friday, October 17. Club doors open at 6:30 p.m. Theatre doors open at 7:30 p.m. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. Ticket are $71 for rows 1 through 8, $46 for rows 9 through 25, and $96 for pit table seats. For more information and to purchase seats, visit celebritytheatre.ticketforce.com or call 602-267-1600.
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