What’s inspiring comedian Wanda Sykes in today’s America  

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Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes on the Correspondent’s Dinner, Roseanne Reboot and more

From hitting the stage for her hilarious stand up gigs worldwide to hitting the writing room on the Roseanne reboot, Wanda Sykes spreads her patented brand of hilarity into as many places of the American culture as possible. As the Roseanne season finale was about to air, I caught up with Sykes to chat about her upcoming show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ on September 27, 2018. We talked about what it’s like being an out and proud comedian in Trump’s America. And why the kids of Parkland are “giving her life.”

Michael Cook: You’re coming to the Count Basie in Red Bank, NJ on September 27, 2018. It sometimes seems like every member of the LGBT community within a thirty-mile radius comes out to see you when you’re in Jersey! 

Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes: (Laughs) yes, I love the Count Basie.  I love seeing everyone come out too!

What is it like to perform for a crowd with somewhat of a coastal sensibility, as opposed to a crowd with more of a midwestern sensibility? 

WS: You know, I was just in West Palm Beach, Florida and “the family” definitely showed up! It was a really nice group of people from the LGBT community to show up and support. It’s always good to see us in places like that.

Female stand up comedians are getting so much attention right now, for a myriad of different reasons. We have heard several other times “this is the time for female comedians,” but I truly think that now actually could be the time. 

Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes

WS: I agree! We have a lot of good ones out there and you have to deliver. The ones who deliver, it’s really about the longevity. We hang around and keep on the grind until people say “hey yeah she is really funny”! It may take us a while to get that recognition, but we stay on it until we get it. We are getting a lot of other young ones coming up also. Female comedians have a lot to say these days you know?

Wanda Sykes on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Speaking of having a lot to say, Michelle Wolf certainly had a lot to say at the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner! 

WS: She sure did! I absolutely loved it. I think she gave them exactly what they deserved. I mean, the guy who is supposed to be President can’t even show up and take a joke; I mean, c’mon! It’s so ridiculous that they were offended. Especially when they are offending us day after day, not calling a lie a lie. I mean, you can’t even say the words “he lied” you have to say something like “he reversed his position.” Are you kidding me? I wish I could have tried that with my parents! Something like “I did not lie to you, I reversed my position!”  My mom would have knocked my teeth out! (laughs).

I think that not having the President there somewhat takes that air out of the room, in that him not being there changes the tone of some jokes. And instead of it being a good natured ribbing it comes across that he and the Administration are being made fun of. 

Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes

WS: I completely agree. I also don’t think she said anything that she would not have said in his presence either. That is exactly what that gig is.

You frequently speak politically about how you feel about the President. When you see other female comedians like Kathy Griffin and Michelle Wolf getting backlash for things that they have said, is it frustrating to all of a sudden be looked at as being disrespectful to the President, as opposed to simply being a comedian? 

WS: Yeah, it is frustrating. Like you said, we are being held to a different standard these days, and it’s not right. It’s not like it is going to stop us though, or make us go away. We just have to call that out too. The whole thing is, we are comics. We are not commentators. As long as it’s funny, we can say whatever we want to say.

What can we expect in the new show?

So much of what you talk is about is relatable to so many. You are married, you have children, and you are an out lesbian. What stories do you love to tell the most to your audiences? 

Wanda Sykes
Wanda Sykes

WS: The new hour that I am doing is a lot of fun. I talk about my family and talk about being an interracial family. One joke that I am doing talks about how as a black woman, there are things that I am not used to. My wife calls me and tells me I have to stop at the pharmacy and pick up RID because the kids have lice and we have to put all of this stuff in our heads. I’m like’ “no I don’t, that’s you; black people, we don’t do lice. That’s some white stuff right there” (laughs).

You were writing on the new Roseanne reboot and got so much attention for it. What was that experience like?

WS: I know, right?! (Laughs). Listen this is how I feel’ — it’s a show people. It’s a sitcom. It’s a show about a struggling working class family, and I am a fan of the show. When we brought back Last Coming Standing on NBC, my production company Push It Productions actually pushed it. My producing partner and I, Paige Hurwitz and I are Roseanne fans. We actually reached out to her and we got her to leave Hawaii and come be a judge for Last Comic Standing. Paige is also a lesbian, and Roseanne really wanted us girls to succeed. Roseanne has been nothing but nice and funny to us. Her show runner actually did my show, Wanda At Large, so I have a lot of ties to the show. I also don’t think that there is a bigger Laurie Metcalf fan than myself. Of course I want to be a part of the show.

“If you really want to reach out to people who did vote for Trump and have a dialogue with them, this show is a way to do it.”

There is a great deal of attention being made to Roseanne’s privately public political views. Is it hard to separate the actress and creator Roseanne Barr from Roseanne Conner? 

WS: People are not separating Roseanne’s political views from Roseanne Conner. I don’t write anything for Roseanne Barr, I am writing for the show, for the Conner’s. If you really want to reach out to people who did vote for Trump and have a dialogue with them, this show is a way to do it. I mean, if you look at it, the Conner’s are not doing that great in Trump’s America, They are still struggling; they have to share medications, and it does not look like things are getting better. I think that this relates with a lot of people. The bottom line is, I would rather be in the room than out of the room.

Who is making Wanda Sykes laugh right now? 

You are constantly making us laugh on stage and behind the scenes on Roseanne, but who is making Wanda Sykes laugh right now? 

WS: Oh man, there ate so many young comics right now that we work with. I am always looking for the next talent to develop with. I just worked with Chloe Hilliard a couple weeks ago and she is hilarious. Keith Robinson always is hilarious, and to watch what he is doing after having a stroke, what he is doing on stage now is hilarious. He is even funnier! There are a lot of people out there I love watching!

What right now in the America we are in is keeping you inspired? 

WS: The kids; especially the Parkland Florida kids. They give me life, they really do. I just love watching them. They are just so inspiring. They should make us want to do better. We need to be better and we need to do right. Those kids are going to handle it, I’m sure of it.

Tickets Available: thebasie.org/events/wanda-sykes/