She’s one of the funniest women in television and an open advocate for the LGBT community, but when it comes down to it, Wanda Sykes is just a typical mom, raising 3-year-old twins with her wife, Alex — well, unless you count the whole winning-four-Emmys thing. Most famous for her roles on the CBS comedy, “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Sykes made her comedy debut doing standup in her hometown of Washington, D.C., and on Sept. 21, she’ll return to her roots as she performs on the Akron Civic Theatre stage. In 2009, Sykes was chosen as the featured performer at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where she was the first black female and openly LGBT person to perform. akronlife recently caught up with Sykes before she launched her cross-country comedy tour.
When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
I think I always wanted to do something in comedy, probably since high school, I guess. I was taking all of the acting and arts classes and everything, but I didn’t get to do it in college because I didn’t think my parents would pay for a theatrical degree. So it wasn’t until I was out of school and working for the National Security Agency, and I was just bored. I knew there was something else that I should be doing. So then I tried standup and just fell in love with it, and luckily it worked out.
Were you the “class clown” growing up?
Not officially. I never wanted the title because I knew it would get me in trouble at home. My mother would say, “Are you clowning in school?” I did make everyone laugh, but I wasn’t disruptive. I didn’t get in trouble.
Did your family always support your comedy career?
Oh no, no, no, no. When I first said I was going to do standup, they thought I was nuts. And then after a few years, when I said, “Ok, now I want to quit my job and do it full time,” they were like, “Oh my God, what is wrong with this girl?” But all of a sudden, I was starting to get paid, and everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, good job! Great!” If you asked them now, they’d say, “Yeah, we knew it the whole time.”
Who makes you laugh?
Anyone who falls down, it cracks me up. Oh man, I can’t help it, I’ll admit that. If “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is on, I’ll flip through, and a girl falling in a wedding gown — that’s hilarious.
Where do you find inspiration for your material?
Life. Especially now, I have three-year-old twins. They’re a handful, but my comedy is usually grounded in something that really happened.
What is a tougher role: Mother or comedian?
Mother by far. Being a mom, it’s like having hecklers during your whole show.
You’ve served as the voice for several cartoon characters. What’s harder: Doing voiceovers or doing standup?
Standup, by far. With voiceovers, they’ll say, “Cut! OK, let’s do it again,” or “Let’s try it this way.” And with standup, you can’t do a joke and mess up and go, “Hey wait a minute! Let me do it again!”
How much of what you do on-screen is improvisation?
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is totally improv. I don’t even know what’s going on until I get to the set, and then they tell me what the episode is about. But as far as the other shows, like “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” that’s scripted.
How do you get through really hilarious scenes without laughing?
Sometimes you don’t. We’ve all ruined a lot of takes from laughing at each other. I know I crack Larry David up a lot, so when he laughs, it makes me laugh. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus and I, we crack up a lot.
At what point did you feel comfortable coming out to the public?
I guess when I did it. It’s weird because anyone who knew me, they knew I was a lesbian. But it was just during a protest for [Proposition 8], and I was at a rally, and I wasn’t scheduled to speak, but they asked me to come up and say something. And I did, and I just said what I said. And one of my friends said, “Did you know you just came out?” I was like, “Oh really?” I didn’t know, I just said, “Oh ok.” And I didn’t really think anything of it until I got back to the hotel room, and I’m looking at CNN and on the scroll it says, “Comedian Wanda Sykes comes out.” And I’m like, “Oh my goodness, I guess this is a big deal, huh?” But when I did it, I was comfortable with it.
When did you realize you’d made it big?
When I did the White house Correspondents’ Association dinner and performed for the president. I thought, “Oh boy, this is huge.”
/ Writer Leighann McGivern is an editorial intern with akronlife. She is a senior at KSU working on her bachelor’s in journalism.