Photo: Derek Wood
Photo: Derek Wood

Comedy Wonder Woman Wanda Sykes

You’ve heard of Wanda Sykes because she’s probably one of your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian. Sykes isn’t limited to the stage though, gracing TV and the silver screen opposite stars like Don Cheadle, Larry David, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and countless others. Her voice can even be heard in the kids’ movie series Ice Age and in recent episodes of the Netflix hit BoJack Horseman.

Sykes is a veteran of the show business universe, getting her comedy start in the late 90s before joining the writing team of the celebrated, Emmy-winning Chris Rock Show. Since then, the prolific comic has acted in, produced and written everything from pilots and skits to feature films.

With a creative hand in diverse projects, Sykes has always had a soft spot for the art and freedom of standup. On her current Oh Well Tour, she’s tackling the nation’s political atmosphere and social issues, and the ins and outs of her own family life. We got to catch up with this tremendously funny wonder woman before she takes the Strathmore stage on November 3.

On Tap: Comedy specials and standup performances seem like a time for comedians to share their thoughts and feelings about the world with audiences. Is that how you look at it?
Wanda Sykes: I like to give you a snapshot of the lay of the land and what I think is going on with social issues and other things that are important to me. I spend a lot of time with my family, so I talk about that too. I’m trying to do it in a way that we can actually talk about things but have fun with them. I want to do it where we’re having fun and it’s not angry and saying everybody else is f–ked up. You want to point out hypocrisy on both sides.

OT: Your next comedy special will be on Netflix, but you’ve reportedly been critical of their offers in the past. What changed?
WS: I was speaking out more so in support of what Mo’Nique was saying. You have to get an offer you can live with, which is why I went with Epix for my last special. This time around, I was able to make a deal with [Netflix]. It’s great to be on that platform, because they reach so many people worldwide and that’s a great place to further your audience.

OT: You’re one of the most prolific comedians in entertainment, from writing and producing to doing standup. How do you choose what projects you want to do? What’s that process like?
WS: It’s about quality, [whether] it’s saying something or flat-out funny. It has to speak to me, and it has to be something I can make better. You have to tailor your approach to the project. If it’s writing, you have to discuss stories and what you want it to say. You go from there, [and] find out the best ways to service the project.

OT: Do you approach performing onstage differently than in a scripted setting?
WS:
Onstage when you’re doing a live show, it’s total freedom.
Every show I’ve done, there will be [at least] one thing that comes to me onstage. It’s exactly that [freedom], and that’s the beauty of standup.

OT: It feels like more often than not, comedians take flak from anyone and everyone. Has that become more prevalent in your industry? How has comedy changed over the course of your career?
WS:
It’s more eyeballs, but it’s also the access. The thing that drives me nuts the most is the cell phones at the shows – people recording the comics when they’re working stuff out. A lot of bits can get taken out of context when that happens. You’ll [see] someone and think they’re funny, and then you’ll see a clip that’s not and it’s because they’re still working on it. That hurts comedy and now when we’re onstage, we’re thinking about those repercussions.

OT: When President Trump was elected, some people thought that comedians would have a field day since politicians can be easy targets for jokes. Do you think that’s true with him, and will you work him into your standup at Strathmore?
WS: Oh, I’m totally going to talk about him. The thing is, there’s no comedian out there funnier than Trump. It’s hard to do a parody of a parody. You can’t make up the things that he says. For all presidents, there’s always been a nice debate because everyone isn’t for the same things. But you have to be able to go back and forth and talk about it. With this, things go straight to rage on both sides.

Catch Sykes at Strathmore on November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35-$115 and can be purchased at www.strathmore.org.

Learn more about the comedian at www.wandasykes.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @iamwandasykes.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org