Wanda Sykes: 30 years of activism and comedy

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Wanda Sykes was never shy of integrating her passions within her platforms.
Wanda Sykes was never shy of integrating her passions within her platforms.

Wanda Sykes has a new 2019 stand-up tour and a special with Netflix

There are not many in show business that are capable of effortlessly wearing all of the many hats that Wanda Sykes adorns in an ever-changing industry. Actress, comedian, host, producer, and writer come to mind. An out lesbian and activist, happily married to partner Alex Niedbalski of which they share two children, Wanda Sykes was never shy of integrating her passions within her platforms. In the midst of embarking on a 2019 stand-up tour, inking a special with Netflix, producing shows for EPIX and appearing on ABC’s Black-ish, Sykes sat down for a candid conversation.

Your career has truly transcended over the past three decades. What are your thoughts on the comedy industry today, specifically where female comics are concerned?

"Comics want people to laugh, albeit we realize this is a highly tense environment we are in right now," said Wanda Sykes. "During my act, I try to bring this to light.
“Comics want people to laugh, albeit we realize this is a highly tense environment we are in right now,” said Wanda Sykes. “During my act, I try to bring this to light.

Wanda Sykes: The comedy industry today is a mirror of what is taking place throughout the country. Everyone is on edge and uptight. Comics want people to laugh, albeit we realize this is a highly tense environment we are in right now. During my act, I try to bring this to light. Moreover, I feel technology and cell phones have made it more difficult to perform naturally. As opposed to the past, where you had your social freedom, you have to think about everything you say in the case it is recorded, and ultimately used against you. In talking with other comics today, everyone seems to unanimously feel this is a growing issue. Thus, I have a strict no-recording policy during my shows.

Comedian Wanda Sykes was heckled at the Count Basie Center in Red Bank

This past year there have been incidents with hecklers interrupting performances by Kathy Griffin, Lisa Lampanelli, and most recently you during a show at the Count Basie Center in Red Bank. Lately it appears as though there is this disruptive trend taking place at comedy shows in an attempt to garner social media views. Do you see this as a prevalent issue?

WS: I can certainly see people doing this for shock value which is unfortunate because the attendees purchased tickets and want to enjoy the show. Acts such as this are very unruly, and more so, disturbing.

Were the Red Bank hecklers the first time this occurred in your career or at least as of late?

Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes

WS: That was the first and hopefully the last of its kind. Fortunately, I did not have to say much. The audience were on them and sort of policing the situation. This was all due to Donald Trump satire.

You are very outspoken, however, do situations such as this make you feel apprehensive about performing in such a volatile political climate?

WS: These circumstances can mess with your spirit. I get frustrated often, however, I am grounded in reality in that I am aware of people currently feeling disenfranchised. I am hopeful; I believe there is more good in society than there is bad.

Wanda Sykes said she is confident we can turn things around by 2020

You recently collaborated with the NAACP to get the vote out. By 2020 do you feel it will be a completely different political climate, and Donald Trump will not win a second term?

WS: This one is going to be a hard road to bounce back from. Nevertheless, I really do hope there is a blue wave and judging by what we witnessed taking place in November, I am confident we can turn things around by 2020. If we can get more democrats in office, hopefully we can keep turning the page as far as LGBT rights are concerned. At this point, it is clear the people want change.

Following the massive success of ABC’s revival of Roseanne, was it difficult for you to quit the series after Roseanne Barr’s racist outburst, especially given your role as both a writer and consulting producer?

Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes

WS: It was extremely difficult, however, there was no other option for me than to quit. I could not condone what Roseann said, and I feel ABC made the right decision.

Was Roseanne difficult to work with?

WS: Roseanne was not difficult to work with at all. The show was her voice and she wanted to touch on real issues such as healthcare, the opioid crisis, etc. It was fun working on the show, as well as with her. What Roseanne did truly took me by surprise. I was aware her social media game was a little out of whack; however, I never thought she would ever go that far.

Did you feel it was appropriate for the show to return as The Conners minus Roseanne?

WS: Definitely! I enjoyed working with ABC and I loved that entire cast. I am relieved ABC was able to bring it back under the umbrella of The Conners and continue to address issues and reach a segment of the population which you do not regularly see portrayed on television. I am happy they were able to bring it back.

You have received praise for your recurring role as Daphne Lido in the ABC sitcom Black-ish. How has your experience been filming the show, and will you be returning for Season 6?

WS: I love the show. I love the cast. I am always excited to see what crazy things Daphne will get herself into next. I am happy to say we are in the process of working out some filming dates for the future.

You have had an estimable career, in that you have managed to find success in a number of areas as an actress, comedian, and writer. Up until now, what have been some of your most memorable career moments?

WS: I have been very blessed in my career. If I had to choose three prime moments, they would be performing in my first HBO special, I’ma Be Me, in my hometown of Washington D.C.; performing at the first White House Correspondents Dinner for President Obama; and surely the Emmy nominations for Black-ish.

Having garnered success in a variety of fields, which is most important to you?

WS: I have to say stand-up, because all of the other opportunities I have been afforded came from my career as a stand-up comedian. I love going back to it. It is the most challenging of all, yet for me, it is also the most rewarding. To receive that recognition from the audience, to hear that laughter, it is a high. I recently struck a deal with Netflix for my fifth stand-up special.

In addition to your 2019 tour, are there any projects that you are currently working on?

WS: Through my company, Push It Productions, I am the executive producer of Unprotected Sets on EPIX, which showcases up and coming comics every Friday night. Past episodes can be viewed On Demand.

Read Out In Jersey magazine’s previous article with Wanda Sykes.

Wanda Sykes’ Oh Well Tour includes the following area dates:
February 28th – New York, NY – Town Hall
March 1st – New York, NY – Town Hall
April 6th – Wilkes-Barre, PA – F.M. Kirby Center

wandasykes.com