Wanda Sykes: Not Afraid To Be Funny

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If Wanda Sykes has something on her mind, she’s not afraid to say it.And on Monday afternoon, she was already forming her opinions about the government shutdown, which she’s sure to expand upon during her one-woman comedy show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 5. That is, if she can stay healthy enough to keep her voice, which she was in danger of losing due to a cold.

“Oh, all the craziness going on with the government, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to talk about,” she said. Even though the Emmy-winning comedian (she won in 1999 for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special for her work on the “Chris Rock Show”) was not feeling 100 percent while talking from a phone line in Manhattan, it seemed likely that she delivered the line with a smirk, followed by her trademark deadpan stare.

Outspoken and known for her brash yet commonsense approach to funny, Ms. Sykes does not shy away from giving her opinions, particularly when the topics include politics, female empowerment, motherhood, equality and aging.

“Nothing has affected me,” she said when asked if she’s ever felt backlash for her sassy take on sometimes controversial topics. “At least where it has bothered me,” she said, emphasizing the “me.”

“No.”

Actually, her career has benefited quite nicely from her quick-witted and sharp-tongued edge. The writer, producer, television host, author of “Yeah, I Said It” and comedian is busier than ever. She’s played a version of herself on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s gym co-owning best friend on “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” hosted her own late night talk show, appeared in her own HBO comedy specials and lent her voice and acting talents to a handful of hit films.

Currently, she’s working with Oprah Winfrey and a variety of other female stand-up comedians—including Kym Whitley, Andi Smith, Gloria Bigelow, Marina Franklin, Tracey Ashley, Carmen Lynch and Dominique Witten—on “Herlarious,” which tapes at Harpo Studios in Chicago. True to form, even the most famous talk show host in the world isn’t safe from Ms. Sykes’s ribbing, as evidenced by her remake of Ms. Winfrey’s uplifting “Run On” season 13 theme song from her eponymous daytime show.

In the “59 Reasons Why You Have To (Hold On)” video spoof, which is featured online at oprah.com, Ms. Sykes says that “as always, Oprah has inspired me.” She then sings, “don’t get your panties in a bunch” and “I see angels right here on Earth. And they’re all in my damn way.”

When asked if she was worried about Ms. Winfrey’s reaction to the “Herlarious” “tribute” the comedian quipped, “they’ve ordered a few more.”

“So far I haven’t ruined that relationship yet,” she cracked. But then she got serious, at least for a few minutes. “I’ve been a fan since forever. I remember her when she was a local person [in the Washington, D.C. area, from which Ms. Sykes originally hails]. I’m totally honored to be working with her and her network. She’s the one person, when I see her in real life, I still get tongue-tied. She IS Oprah.”

Ms. Sykes also has a “first-look deal” to develop non-scripted shows for NBC. And right now she’s working with actor and fellow Emmy Award-winner John Goodman and the Pulitzer-Prize winning creator of “Doonesbury,” Garry Trudeau, on his “Alpha House” for Amazon. In the online series, Ms. Sykes plays a senator from Illinois.

But standing on a stage in front of a crowd and making people laugh is where her heart was, is and will always continue to be, she said.

“My stand-up—that’s my first love, where everything started,” she said. “It’s really about doing a show and being as funny as possible.”

Named one of Entertainment Weekly’s “25 Funniest People in America,” Ms. Sykes is committed to a lifetime of comedy. Her advice to aspiring stand-ups: “You can’t read a book or anything to figure this out. You just have to jump in with both feet and do it,” she said. “Until someone tells you to stop. And then you still keep doing it.”

Presently, the comedian is busy balancing motherhood (she and her wife, Alex, have 4-year-old twins Olivia and Lucas) and work. Being a mom is definitely harder than she anticipated, she laughed, but it’s also very rewarding.

“Out of all the things I’ve done, this is the hardest,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be this way—parenthood. People don’t tell you about that. It’s the most challenging,” she paused thoughtfully, “but the best.”

When asked if she has any regrets about her career, or if there’s an opportunity that she feels she’s missed, Ms. Sykes deadpanned, “I think I missed that whole porn window. I got over that. I let it go.”

Even fighting a cold, she made sure that her phone audience of one was entertained and laughing out loud. And she said she’ll bring it on even more when she’s on the stage in Westhampton Beach.

“Yes, I’m funny,” she said. “People have been known to wet their pants. Bring extra underwear.”

Comedian Wanda Sykes will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 5, at 8 p.m. No one under the age of 18 will be admitted. Tickets are $125, $150 and $175. For reservations, call 288-1500, visit whbpac.org or stop by the box office on Main Street.

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