Wanda Sykes Curated

American actress, comedian, and writer

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This profile has been added by users(CURATED) : Users who follow Wanda Sykes have come together to curate all possible video, text and audio interview to showcase Wanda Sykes's journey, experiences, achievements, advice, opinion in one place to inspire upcoming comedians. All content is sourced via different platforms and have been given due credit.

  • Do you think comics should get a pass because they deal in irony and language and things like this?

    I don’t think a comic could get a pass in that particular situation. Saying it in anger and also in a televised game or whatever... But comics can pretty much say what they want to say when they’re on stage and performing and doing their material. You can pretty much say just about anything. Because that’s the nature of what we do. But that’s where comedy can get in trouble. I mean, look at Michael Richards. Even though he was technically working, he’s on stage, he still couldn’t get away with that because it wasn’t part of his act; he just went off with the n-words. I think if a comic goes off and it’s not part of the act, then you’re still held to the same standard.

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  • Have there been a difference in crowds since you came out?

    I think the gay community, they just let me know that they’re there. You know, they might be a little more vocal and say, “Hey”, you know, “We love you. We’re here.” But that’s about it. My audiences are pretty diverse. Age, race, sexual orientation, they’re all over the place.

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  • Established comics like yourself, who put in the work and perform, now see Charlie Sheen just selling out places. You’re right, people want to see a train wreck, but do you resent it a little bit?

    No. If people have the money to go see him, they’re curious. I think that’s great. I mean, I’m not saying that’s great but it’s good for the economy. If people have that kind of money that’s a sign that things are turning around if Charlie Sheen is selling out places without really an act. I wouldn’t put him as a comedian. I mean, to me, you can ask Lady Gaga the same question, is she upset about it?

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  • And when did you first feel like you belonged, or fit in, in the show biz world?

    Um, I think after, like, a season or so on The Chris Rock Show. Because that was like one of the rare opportunities where we did everything. Not only did we get to write our pieces but we produced them and also did the editing, you know, went in with the editor to cut it. So it was just like a great... It was like going to college. It was wonderful. It was such a learning experience. And when I left there I just felt like I was equipped to do whatever I wanted to do in this business.

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  • Your first big break was with Chris Rock or was there something before that?

    I would say yes. I would say my first big break, as far as to get into TV and everything, that was definitely Chris Rock, opening for him in New York at Caroline’s. And shortly after that he got his show on HBO, The Chris Rock Show, and I got hired to write on his show. And that’s when everything kind of, you know, took off for me.

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  • Who did you come up with in stand-up when you were starting out?

    I started in DC. It was a really hot place for comedy. Dave Chappelle was hitting the clubs the same time I was hitting the clubs in DC. Who else came out of that group? You know, Martin Lawrence was like just before us. Patton Oswalt, he was in DC and Baltimore. So it was a lot of people coming through there. A lot of good comics.

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  • What would you say was your big break?

    I would say that would be the Chris Rock Show when I started writing on that show. I opened for Chris when he was preparing to do Bring the Pain. He was working at Caroline’s. Then when he got his own show, I got a call to submit some writing samples. I got the job and I can't even put a value on what I learned from working with him. I still credit him and the exposure I got on his show for my big break. But I just credit him. I don't write him a check or anything.

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  • What advice do you have for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

    You better be very passionate about it, because there's a lot of rejection before you get to the good stuff. It's something that you just have to love and be tenacious about and hang in there. If you don't love it, and are only getting into it because you want to be famous, you're going to be crushed. You've got to do it because you love it.

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  • Have you ever considered taking a dramatic role?

    Oh, thank you. What I love about comedy is that there's room to have those dramatic scenes. As long as it's real, there can still be something funny in a tragic situation. But while I won’t say never, right now I enjoy being funny, and that's where I'm comfortable, so I think I'm going to stay with the funny.

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  • What was it like working with Kevin Smith?

    He was a lot of fun to work with. I met Kevin when he and [producer] Norman Lear, who I'm a big fan of, were working together on a project. They were doing public service announcements to get people to vote. They asked me to do one of them that Kevin was directing, so that was the first time that I actually worked with Kevin. Then, when he was doing Clerks II, he called me and said, ’I've got a small part. Would you come aboard and just play with us for a day?’ I said, ’Sure!’ since I loved the original. And after reading the script, I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

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  • What was it like to explode into a superstar?

    Oh, definitely. I still go wherever I want to go and do whatever I want to do. People’ I hate to use the word ’fans,’ are very respectful. It's not like I'm some pop idol or big movie star. I'm very approachable, and I love the people who enjoy me, because they react like they've run into a friend. Usually, it's like, ’Hey, Wanda! How ya’ doing?’

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  • What do you think it is that makes you so funny as a comedienne?

    I knew I was outspoken when I was a kid because whenever my parents had company coming over, they would pay me to leave. ’Go see your grandmother. Get out of here.’ That was my first paying gig. But it really wasn't until junior high school, around my peers. They would laugh and always tell me that I was funny. I was like the unofficial class clown. So, yeah, back then, I knew that I had something, a certain wit.

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  • What interested you in your latest role as Stella the Skunk?

    Well, I started this process about three years ago, so I've had quite a few successes since then. But three years ago, my agent called me and says, ’[producer] Jeffrey Katzenberg and some people at Dreamworks want to meet because they’re about to do a new animated movie and they want to talk to you about being in it.’

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  • Why is it that when an audience comes away from Monster-in-Law, the most memorable thing about it is you?

    Wow! I'm not going to say that I stole anything. I guess you could say that they provided an environment for me to be comfortable in so that I was to carve out a little space that wasn't being used. It just kinda worked out.

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  • Have you had the acting career that you always desired to have?

    Well, I never really desired to have an acting career. I just wanted to be one of the funniest comedians out there and wanted to make a living traveling all over, and film and TV is a bonus, really. I mean, come on, I got to go to Hawaii to shoot a movie with Amy (Schumer). But to me, I take it seriously, though; I also just love doing it. I love stand-up.

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  • Do you feel you have a greater responsibility now to speak on political and social issues?

    I talk about what interests me and what I find funny and what I like to talk about. I watch politics, I follow what’s happening in the world. I like to talk about social issues and I like to talk about my family and personal issues. To me, I’m not going out of the way to say, “Oh, I need 10 minutes on Trump, I need something on gun control.” That’s not how I write, it’s not planned. It’s what happened. And that’s the kind of comedy I like. There’s room for all types of comedy; there’s physical humor and there’s some comics who are not political at all and that’s fine. But for me, if I walked out onto a stage and didn’t say anything about this craziness that’s happening, it’d be like the elephant in the room. I think when I go on stage people are waiting for it. Like, “Oh, OK, when is she going to get there?”

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  • How were you writing your material before cell phones?

    I always had a notebook and always wrote things down in my notebook. I have boxes and boxes of notebooks where I used to write my stuff down. Now it goes in the phone, but I still like to write by hand.

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  • Who do you test your material out on?

    Pretty much the audience. My wife can see when something happens, and if I write it down or she sees something in my phone she’s like, “Oh boy, that’s a joke for you now.” Or something happens and she’ll say, “Oh, you should write that down! That was funny!”

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  • What is one thing you want people to take away from Oh Well?

    I hope they take away that I haven’t lost hope. That I still believe that people are good and that we’ll get through this, so I hope they walk away with that. Like, I’m not saying, “Hey, it’s the end of the world.”

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  • What was your reaction during one of your first shows in the late ’80s when the audience booed you?

    That was the second one. The first one I did went great. I almost won the contest; I did really well. So that’s why I stayed with comedy. And then the second time, it didn’t go well. I just bombed (laughs). I think because I was just so confident from the first time that I maybe (got) a little too cocky. Actually, I think it was the first time being on stage and it went great, and then I started going to comedy clubs and I saw how it could actually go really poorly and just go off the rails. I watched comics bomb and then when I went back on stage again I was just really nervous because I realized they don’t have to laugh; they can actually sit here and boo. So, I think that’s what happened the next time I did the competition.

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  • When the fodder is ripe for comedy is it actually harder to write the joke?

    Yeah, it’s hard to top as far as what he does, because it’s just so ridiculous. Like when he does something ridiculous, it’s hard to write something where you would go, “That’s like blah blah blah,” because it’s already ridiculous. It’s hard to do a metaphor. So, really, you just have to talk about it as far as the level that it’s gotten to, and I don’t understand why we’re still putting up with it. Why aren’t we out in the streets, and you know, ready to drag him out of there, out of the White House? Because remember they got upset with Barack Obama when he wore a tan suit? I mean, this is ridiculous, the level that they’re going to.

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  • Are you unfazed by walkouts at this point in your career?

    It cracks me up, really. Like, what were you expecting? What are the crazy ladies’ names? Diamond and whatever? The two African-American women. I forget their names. Diamond and Salt? Silk? (It’s Diamond and Silk, vloggers known for supporting Donald Trump.) It’s like, no, that’s not me.

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  • The first time you were in a comedy club performing, what was your material like?

    Oh, God. It was basically doing an impression of what a stand-up comic does, you know? Like, it was just generic jokes. I think I did a joke about the auto shade. Remember those big sunglass cardboard things. Yeah, you put in your windshield. I was reading it, and it had instructions on the side of it. And I'm like, who really needs instructions for this because, you know, it says to make sure you remove it before starting your car. And I'm like, who needs that? Who needs that? Who's driving around 95 with the, you know, big sunglasses in the window?

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  • How different is it to be onstage when your job is truth-telling and everybody is looking at you?

    Yeah. You know, maybe that's why I love doing standup. Maybe that's it. Maybe that's where I can - I feel I can be free. But then again, there is my mom's voice in the back of my head when I'm onstage, and I know there's a line. I do think about that.

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  • Is being a comic now different than being a comic during the Clinton years or the Obama years?

    Oh, it's totally different. It's much harder, actually. And you would think, oh, boy, there's so much to make fun of. But really, I can't write anything funnier or more ridiculous than what Trump actually says. What he says, it sounds like a joke. So it's basically - you're just repeating what he says. It's like doing a parody of a parody.

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  • Since you started, what has been the biggest change in the comedy world?

    There's more opportunities, definitely, because of social media. I would say social media has really shifted it. And YouTube and being able to post videos. You don't even have to be able to climb the ranks in the comedy clubs anymore. People are getting careers from YouTube and uploading videos. And they're totally different—you can't necessarily be funny on a video and then all of a sudden you're live in a theater. You don't have the tools yet. It's a lot more involved to go from being funny on a little iPhone screen to being live in front of people and being funny. But there's an audience for it, though. For me, and for most comics who are my peers, the cell phone thing is hard. We hate the cell phones, especially when you're out performing. There's this thing we do now where we hand out the phone bags.

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  • Are you very tuned in to the younger generation of comedians today?

    I try! I really do. My production company produced the last two seasons of Last Comic Standing and man, there are some funny, funny people out there. I did some mentoring with them. And Amy Schumer's out there and the Broad City girls. It's really cool seeing all these smart young women out here.

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  • Are you someone who gets very politically involved?

    No. I did a little bit for President Obama on his first term. But I think it's hard for celebrities to do that because I don't want you to judge the candidate, especially someone I believe in, on my last movie. I think sometimes celebrities can hurt a candidate. You don't want people to judge them on your last project.

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  • What inspired you to discuss your health in the context of your stand-up?

    I'm 52 and my friends, my peers, we're all that age where shit's falling apart. Or if it's not us, it's our parents. So it becomes this huge part of our lives. It is what I'm going through, so I wanted to be honest. That's why I talk about the breast cancer because I want women—and everyone—to stay on top of things and get checked. I know how scary it can be. When I dealt with it I was like, "Oh my God." And I have so many other friends who have gone through it or have suffered a loss. So I want to talk about it so it would encourage the audience to get checked, but also to have a little levity where they can laugh about it and know, "It's a challenge, but I'll get through it."

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  • Do you think your stand-up has changed a lot over the years?

    I would say that there's growth. I still have the same sensibilities and the same cadence. I'm still me. But it has become way more honest. When you get older you're like "Eh, what do I have to lose? Whatever." That's where it is now. So it has changed in the sense that I'm not worried about stepping on people's toes.

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  • Is there a specific project people most recognize you from?

    They come from different places, definitely. There's the Curb Your Enthusiasm fans. The ones who are high, it's usually Pootie Tang. The older ones, they like The New Adventures of Old Christine. But there are some people who've been with me for a long time and they're just straight-up stand-up fans. They'll even recall an old bit and I'll be like, "Wow, you've been there from the beginning!"

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  • Why does it feel right to focus so much of your stand-up on your kids and your family?

    Because that is what takes up the majority of my time right now and my focus. If I did something other than my kids and my family, it wouldn't be authentic. It would be some shit I made up. If I'm telling you what I'm thinking about or what's on my mind or how I really feel about something, the kids and the family are my focal point right now.

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  • What was your process in developing this special, "What Happened… Miss Sykes?"

    It took two years. At least two years. My last special was in '09, I think. After that aired, I went back out and I was touring and doing different dates. But it wasn't until two years ago that I was like, "OK, it's time to focus on the special. Let's start working on new material." So it was about two years of work.

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  • Are there topics that you consider off-limits when you’re performing?

    If you approach something and you’re uncomfortable with it, then you won’t be able to pull it off. If I did a joke with hesitation, or like, “Ooh, I don’t know if I should be saying this,” then the audience isn’t going to laugh. They’re not going to laugh if you’re uncomfortable with it. That’s how I judge it. If I do a joke and it makes me feel weird, then I know I’m not ready to do it.

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  • How do you deal with hecklers?

    That’s usually what I get. And they’re the hardest. The hardest ones are people who are drunk or the ones who really love you and they’re yelling out shit and it’s not anything like a heckle. They’re saying all this great stuff, so it’s hard. They’re like, “I love you!” And you’re like, “You need to shut the fuck up!” [Laughs] And you can’t go after them because then you’re the asshole. That’s when you hope someone in the club or the security guys will go over and say, “Hey, look. You’ve got to keep it down. You’re disrupting the show.” Or there have been a couple times where I’ve had to say something like, “Thanks! I appreciate it, but you’ve got to be quiet now. It’s not Oprah.”

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  • What point does it factor into what roles you choose?

    It’s weird. It’s exactly like Chris said. It seems the more exposure that I get, the more that question comes up. You know, “How does it feel being a black woman? Are there more roles for black women now? Is it harder for black women?” I’m like, I only know my story. Everybody has their own identity. So it’s that weird position, where I don’t want to say, “Hey, I don’t represent black people,” because I don’t want to disconnect. But it’s kind of hard to go, “OK, what are black people going to say about this?” I just did this movie where I was the voice of a skunk and I know that. I know some critic is going to go, “The black woman is playing the skunk, blah, blah, blah.” Oh, God. I mean, come on, guys. It’s a skunk. There’s no race.

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  • Who are some of your other favorite authors?

    I love that she wrote really strong women. The main characters are women who do incredible things, amazing things. But they’re not, like, superheroes. They still have all the problems, the challenges of being female, but they overcome it and do all these incredible things. And I love the diversity in her books, on so many levels. I know they’re considered science fiction and they might be set in another time or place, but they’re real stories. They’re human stories to me. I’m looking at my bookshelf right now and I’ve collected a lot of Octavia Butler’s stuff. And I love Zadie Smith.

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  • At what age did you become aware that you were observing things that other people weren’t—that you had a certain radar?

    It had to be early on, like kindergarten. It wasn’t really that I was funny, but I was saying things that no one else was saying. And because I’m getting punished for it, I guess you’re not supposed to say these things. I was very outspoken. My parents looked at me like a little time bomb. Whenever they had guests come over, they would ship me off to my grandparents because they had no idea what I was going to say. They were always on edge when I was around if there was an outsider in the house. But I would even do it with family. If I heard my parents talking about how one of the relatives borrowed money, and if they came over and they were wearing new clothes, I’d say, “Hey! That’s new! Don’t you owe my dad fifty dollars?” And I knew my parents were thinking it. Someone would come back with pictures of a vacation they’d been on and I’d be like, “Hey! Vacation? Don’t you owe my parents money?”

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  • Has comedy helped you as a mother?

    It’s kept me sane, really. If you can’t laugh at some of this stuff that the kids do then I would lose my mind. I was getting out of the shower and my daughter was walking by, and she looked at me and she walked in and she just patted my belly and was like, “Wow, you have a big, big, big, big belly!” That’s how many bigs she said. Four! You know, usually there’s one or three, but she did four. I was like wow, she really wanted to send that home I don’t wanna say it hurt my feelings, but she saw it bothered me, and then she said “You’re still pretty, though.”

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  • Considering how pervasive politics is right now, do you still exclude most of that material?

    I have to be socially aware; I feel like that’s my job. So I will talk about political stuff, but it’s not preachy. I kinda want to get a gauge of how the audience is enjoying it. If I see that the audience is into it, then I’m like, okay we can go there. But if I see they’re sitting back a little bit like, “Come on, I’m trying to escape the nonsense that’s going on,” then we’ll go in another direction. These days I enjoy talking about me and my family, ’cause in my world that’s what’s very pervasive. (laughs) They take over everything.

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  • What do you do to prepare for your comedy routine?

    I’m constantly preparing. Material hits me, I’m always writing. I go back and listen to my shows and just prepare and put my set together. But the day-of I like to have some downtime. A nice lunch is important for me. Then just relax. Before the show I hang out with Keith a little bit, maybe have a glass of wine, then I’m ready to do the show. Mainly, it’s really the anxiety of waiting. That’s the big thing to deal with. Once I’m onstage I’m good.

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  • Are you a daredevil or risk-taker in other parts of your life?

    Not at all, which is the funny part. My good friend Keith Robinson calls me By the Book Betty. (laughs) To me, in life, if there’s like a rule and I think it’s ridiculous, then, of course, I’ll circumvent that, but also point out how ridiculous the rule is. Other than that, if I go to a concert and my seat in Row G, Seat 12, I’m sitting in Row G, Seat 12. I don’t care if I’m with five other friends, I’m supposed to be in Seat 12, that’s my seat. I tried snowboarding, and that scared the hell out of me.

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  • You’re also an executive producer on the show "Last Comic Standing". What does that job entail?

    The biggest job for me is at the very beginning, where we cast 100 comics. That’s the hardest thing. It means I have to look at thousands of comics. I’m pretty sure I probably saw at least 2,000. Some of ’em were live auditions, some of ’em we watched on YouTube and things like that. It seemed like every day I was watching about 20 comics.

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  • What is the biggest mistake you see comics make?

    Not putting the set together where it flowed. Some comics just jump all over the place. Also, using too many words. When you only have three minutes, you’ve got to hurry up and get to the joke. That’s how the judges are—they’re listening, and if it’s taking a while to get to a big laugh, they were kind of hard on you. And then some comics just spent too much time on one bit. In the finals, Dominique spent a lot of time on eyelashes, and I remember sitting in the control booth going, “How long is this bit? Is she still talking about the eyelashes?”

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