By Peter Clark
and Mike Halterman
Photos by Roger Erickson
Wanda Sykes has had done it all over the course of her career. As a writer, she won an Emmy Award for The Chris Rock Show. As a stand-up comedian, she has played to sold-out venues across the country and taped many successful HBO specials. As an actress, she is well-known for her appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and now Amazon’s Alpha House. Then, as an LGBT activist, she came out to the world at an anti-Proposition 8 rally. Combine all this together into one person’s life experience and you have one of the funniest, most accomplished, and most revered LGBT celebrities out there today.
Wanda Sykes will be making two stops on her current stand-up comedy tour this month in Florida. This is the first time Wanda has played to Florida crowds since her last tour sold out four years ago. She will be appearing at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Friday, February 27 at 8 p.m. and at Olympia Theater at Gusman Center in Miami on Saturday, February 28 at 8 p.m. Then she will be returning on April 25, for one night only, at Hard Rock Live Orlando. Tickets for all three of these performances can be bought by going directly to Wanda’s website at wandasykes.com, perusing the tour dates, and selecting “tickets.”
Hotspots Publisher Peter Clark and Editor Mike Halterman were both honored to speak with Wanda Sykes in this exclusive interview.
Mike: Welcome back to Florida! What are your favorite things to do when you come down here?
I like to people-watch. That’s fun. I like to sit out at South Beach and look at the people. I also like going to Wilton Manors and just hang out and look at people. I don’t get to do that a lot. In Florida, there’s so much to see, and it’s one of the few places where I feel like I can blend in.
Mike: What can people here in Florida expect from you when they come to see your show?
They can expect to laugh so hard that they pee their pants! I always tell the ladies who are over 45, “Make sure you bring an extra pair, because you’re gonna need ’em!” I just love making people laugh. That’s my calling, and I love to do it, so that’s why I go out and tour and bring people my stand-up.
My show is basically a snapshot of what’s going on in my life and in my world, and how I see it. I talk a lot about my family, and I’m still amazed that…here I am, a black woman married to a white French lady, with white kids. I mean, like, white white kids. Like Frozen, you know? And now I’ve become a minority in my own home! It’s crazy, but I love it. I’m nowhere near as angry as I used to be with my comedy. I’m still complaining a little bit, but I’m sharing what goes on in my world.
Mike: Is there another TV comedy special on the horizon for you?
With the tour I’m on now, I’m pretty sure we’ll eventually shoot the special. I don’t know if I’m going to do it at the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, but this is the material I’m working on right now for my special. Right now I’d say about 80% of my current material will probably make it into the special.
Peter: I’ma Be Me was, for me, one of your benchmark achievements. I love the lines about President Obama. How will you incorporate your opinions on President Obama into your current show?
I think the country is at the point right now where it’s like a relationship, and [Obama] kind of wants to break up with us in a way, but he doesn’t want to be the one to do it. When you get in a relationship, sometimes you feel tired, like you’re ready to move on, but you don’t want to be the bad guy. And all he’s hearing is “No, no, no” and he’s just gonna do whatever he wants to do. And I don’t blame him! Sometimes I feel like that in my house, looking at my wife, who’s all fancy. I bet Obama feels the same way walking around the White House. “Wow, there are a lot of old white people on the walls.” I can relate to that too.
Peter: Do you think President Obama is going to make any more major moves in the last year and change he has left in office?
Well, he’s done a lot of things already. Not just with universal healthcare, but when he granted healthcare to spouses of same-sex couples who work for the federal government, and then he told Eric Holder not to defend DOMA, that right there was the linch pin to energize the marriage equality movement. Now there’s the Dream Act, and immigration…I think whatever he can do with an executive order, he’s going to go for it.
Mike: Staying on politics a little bit, can you tell us what it was like to work on Amazon’s Alpha House with creator Garry Trudeau and the cast?
I love working with Garry. When I got the offer through e-mail from Garry, I got on the phone with him immediately. I’m a fan of his work so I jumped at it. The experience has been great. I love going in and seeing the cast; they’re a lot of fun.
I also love the concept of video on-demand. Last weekend I watched the whole last season of Transparent. I think you get more freedom with Amazon, especially since we’re out of the network process. The people who are doing these shows, they don’t think like the networks. They say, “We’ll shoot these episodes, and then we’ll see what the people think.” At the networks, you live week by week by the ratings, by the numbers. I think there’s more freedom and creativity going on with on-demand services like Amazon and Netflix.
Mike: A reader question: “How has your life changed since coming out?”
It’s been positive. I haven’t had any negative feedback, and I have no regrets at all. At first people were treating me like I was a unicorn. “Oh, my God, a black celebrity who’s out!” But that’s kind of worn off. I get invited to a lot of gay stuff! [laughs] But yeah, it’s been all positive, and as far as my stand-up is concerned, I think it’s very liberating. I can talk about anything now.
Mike: Do you feel any topic is off-limits when it comes to comedy?
My approach is, if you can make it funny, then it’s not off-limits. But there are some topics where I don’t think anyone can make jokes about them funny. Like pedophiles. Ugh. I wouldn’t even try that. But if it’s funny, then I don’t think it’s off-limits.
Peter: You handle political satire brilliantly. What do you think of TV’s changing landscape, what with Jon Stewart stepping down from The Daily Show, and Brian Williams being suspended from NBC Nightly News?
I’m definitely going to miss Jon Stewart; his show is great. But it is kind of sad that we end up getting our news from a comedy show. But then you look back at the comedians who are experts at social commentary, and their jokes came from places of truth, pointing out hypocrisy. And since it’s the truth, it makes it funny.
But as far as news, I don’t even consider CNN or MSNBC to be news. It’s all opinion. And you can’t have a “breaking news” story every five minutes. That’s not breaking news. Breaking news is when you’re watching Wheel of Fortune and they interrupt for some breaking news, because something big happened. Someone died or something blew up or something like that. Now there’s “breaking news” all the time? And I love when they build up this big story and they spend maybe a day and a half on it and then it just goes away. I think, “Whatever happened to that story? Can you give me a follow-up?”
And Brian Williams, he’s a pathological liar. He really has a serious condition. When Walter Cronkite was reading the news, nobody ever jumped on him. Because he was a serious news guy. Now who can we trust?
Mike: To close out, what other projects do you have in the pipeline that are coming up this year?
I’m in the process of recording Ice Age 5. Also, my production company Push It Productions brought back Last Comic Standing to NBC last season and now we’ve produced season nine, which will air in either May or June. We’ve already picked the comic, so I’m excited about that. Alpha House is on Amazon; I don’t know if that will be back yet but I’d love to do it again. And then, finally, more touring!