Wanda Sykes

TV fans know Wanda Sykes from her deadpan role as Barb on the late, great sitcom “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” But the always calm funny lady cut her teeth doing stand-up – in fact, she was chosen as the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in May 2009, becoming both the first black woman and openly gay person to get the honor. At the dinner, she famously dissed Rush Limbaugh, who had said he hoped President Obama failed, spitting back, “I hope his kidneys fail.” Sykes talked to Miami.com about her show at 8 p.m. March 4 at the Fillmore Miami Beach, part of the annual South Beach Comedy Festival
What can we expect from your show? Who are you gonna skewer?
Oh, good lord. When’s the show – in March? It depends on who’s acting up that week. I try to keep the show current, so I’m sure I’ll spend some time with whoever the dummy of the week is. And there will be a lot of new stuff and some things from “I’ma Be Me,” but updated, you know, because I still have the kids, they’re still alive, which is great and I’m proud of that.
Was stand-up your first love career-wise?
Yeah, stand-up was my first love, and still is. I always enjoyed comedy as a kid, but I didn’t pursue it. I did what most people do – go to college, get your degree, find a good job, and that just wasn’t satisfying for me. I was bored and I just knew there was something else I was supposed to do. And I heard about a talent show on the radio stations in D.C., and comedy was a category, so I wrote some jokes, went down and auditioned and got on the show. I didn’t win, but everything just kind of made sense to me.
“The New Adventures of Old Christine” was one of the funniest sitcoms on TV. What happened with that?
Uh, Charlie Sheen wanted two million dollars, basically. Charlie Sheen drank and snorted – I shouldn’t say snorted because I don’t know what the guy does – but they had to get the money from somewhere, so we were a casualty of “Two and a Half Men.” At least that’s my theory.
Were you good friends with Julia Louis-Dreyfus? You two had great chemistry.
Yeah, we became really good friends and we still keep in touch, via text or phone or whatever. We still keep tabs on each other. And last week, I hung out with Hamish [Linklater], the actor who played [Christine’s brother] Matthew.
About your talk show – how did you feel about its prospects going in, and what do you think doomed it?
I knew what I was getting into – it was network TV, and Fox kept saying they wanted it to be out-there, do what you wanna do, we know these things take time, we’ll stick with it, blah blah blah. And I’m like, all right. And basically they didn’t stick with what they said. And it was as soon as I felt like, “Oh, OK, we’ve found our groove” – because really, the first year, you’re just trying to figure it out, and try things. Toward the end it was kind of making sense, or at least I had an idea of what to do if we did get picked up. We didn’t, but like I said, it was network TV, so I wasn’t all that shocked. It was more like, “Ahh, they got me again.”
You come off as so in-control and calm, cool and collected. Do you really feel that way inside?
Umm, I have good people around me – I’ll put it that way. And they help. They really keep me calm. And also I know that if I don’t come off that way, everything else falls apart. And also, it’s TV, it’s entertainment – it’s not like you’re in the front line somewhere like Afghanistan or anything. What’s the worst that can happen? [laughs] I’m not afraid of the worst that could happen. You get canceled – OK, big deal, all right. People could boo. So what – I can boo, too – who cares? It’s more like that. I really don’t have the fear of what could go wrong. And I don’t read reviews or critiques or whatever.
How did you land the White House gig, and what was the experience like?
I guess they just picked me. They just offered it to me. My publicist called, and I was like, “Yeah, sure! I’d love to do it for this President.” And at that time, my wife was six months pregnant, so the closer the date came to do it, the more I was hoping, you know, we gotta get these babies out of here so I can go out on the road and practice my set. So once the babies were healthy and everybody was home, I really kicked it into gear and hit the clubs to work out my material. Even up until the night before, I was trying stuff. I went to a club in D.C. – The Improv – and that’s when I thought, OK I got this.
Did you get to meet President Obama?
Yes! He was just incredibly charming. And the First Lady also. They’re just real people, and they have this ability to connect with you on a one-on-one, even though they’re surrounded by thousands of other people who are waiting for their attention, too. So it was just an incredible, incredible experience.
Did he say anything about your comment about Rush Limbaugh – “I hope his kidneys fail”?
Not really. Afterward, he just shook my hand and said “Great job,” and that was about it.
How was your experience in the musical “Annie”?
I loved it. I loved it. It was great, because like I said, my first love is doing stand-up, so it was like the best of both worlds. I’m live in front of an audience, but I got to work with actors, so it was really cool.
And you sang?
I guess you could call it singing. I did something lyrical, I don’t know. There was music playing, and I guess I did sing. I don’t have to be Mary J. Blige or anything.
You’ve been active in gay-rights issues. Do you feel that’s part of your responsibility as a celebrity?
Umm, I speak out for women, and I speak out for African-Americans, and it’s part of who I am. So yeah, I guess it is my responsibility. But the thing is, if I wasn’t a celebrity, I’d still be doing the same thing – but nobody would care. I happen to have an audience, which makes it easier. And more effective.


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