She's hard to watch, is a doody-head, and you can smell her B.O. through a television screen. Syke! Okay, now that we've got all the third graders' attention, let's talk some Wanda Sykes. She looks as cuddly as a koala bear but has a dry, sarcastic comedic timing that snaps like a turtle. Or a shark. Or, hell, even a female murderess.
You've certainly seen Sykes everywhere -- from Curb Your Enthusiasm, to Evan Almighty, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and in her specials like Wanda At Large and Wanda Does It.
We caught up with Sykes right before her appearance this Friday at the Fillmore Miami Beach for the South Beach Comedy Festival. She chatted about the term "that's so gay," how she met her partner, and why girls who hang out on street corners aren't necessarily hookers.
New Times: One of the funniest and most underappreciated movies you've been in is Pootie Tang -- [Wanda girlishly giggles]. What inspired your character Biggie Shortie? Should we assume that a girl who dresses fancy and stands on the street corner near some whores is a hooker?
Wanda Sykes: That whole movie was from the mind of Louis C.K. Louie came up with the character Pootie Tang -- that was his whole crazy world. He wrote the movie and came to me and was 'listen, this is what I want you to play, you're not a hooker, you're not a prostitute, you just like to hang out with them and kind of dress like them, but you're more of a party promoter type person' and I was like 'oh, okay, this will be fun'. And yeah, I just went with it.
How did all the writers on the Chris Rock Show initially respond to a ridiculous character like Pootie Tang who speaks nothing but nonsensical jibberish that everyone around him magically understands?
For Louis, it kind of came out of disdain for rock stars that were so cool. He was like 'some of these guys are so cool, it's kind of like they have their own language.' He wanted Lance [Crouther], a fellow writer and one of my best friends, to play Pootie Tang because he had a ponytail and kind of the look [Sykes begins to laugh again] so...Louis asked him and he was like 'oooh...okay, alright?'
But that's kind of what we did over at the Chris Rock Show. We went with weird things, and helped each other out, and we ended up in a lot of each other's bits. We all really clicked, especially Lance who helped me with Wanda at Large and Wanda Does It, we did those together and we some Inside the NFL stuff together. But, yeah, Chris created a very nurturing environment. I mean, of course there was competition because you want your bit on, but if there was something funny, we all stood behind it.
Do you enjoy or dislike hitting the road nowadays for stand-up tours?
I've always enjoyed touring but before the travel would be annoying, like you want to be in your own bed and you get sick of going through airports. But, honestly now, and it's so funny because my wife travels a lot for work too, so when we get to pack the bags we get real happy, we're getting away, getting a hotel, getting to sleep in as long as we want to, and watch whatever shows we want to watch. So, yeah, I look forward to it now.
How did you meet your wife?
We met on Fire Island in New York. We were on the same fiery and I saw her and something just spoke to me. But I didn't see her again until a couple of days later, I was with a friend who knew a friend she was with and they ran into each other then introduced us. And we just clicked.
You came out mid-career. Were you actively dating other women before that time?
I knew like in second or third grade [that she was gay], but you put that away and do what you're supposed to do. So, I did live a straight life for a long time. But, I had been dating women way before I came out publicly.
What's a typical day like for you?
Well now, with the kids, I get up much earlier and take care of them. I mean, I'm always writing, even if it's in my head. I'm always coming up with new material. But now I'm more focused on my stand-up, because I'm preparing to go back on the road. When I have free time, Alex and I will go out and grab some food or go out with one of my friends to go bowling or something, maybe get some drinks. And we have dogs, so we're always out, walking the dogs. I mean, I'm pretty laid back. Not a lot of drama or action going on over here.
Your life sounds pretty laid back. With all the fuss over same-sex marriages, do you think there's a difference between two women being married as opposed to a man and a woman being married?
Nah, it's all the same shit. It's the same problems. In every relationship there's always one person that thinks you're having enough sex and there's always the other person who'd like to have a lot more sex. And that's basically what all marriages boil down to - one always thinks you should be fucking a whole lot more.
You're involved with the Think Before You Speak Campaign which, through public service announcements urges people to stop using the word "gay" as a synonym for the words like "bad", "weak", or "stupid". Are there any other popular sayings that drive you nuts?
Well, you know, I had to start policing myself actually.I can't remember the last time I used it but the term that "something's so retarded," it'd be that one. I have a lot of friends who are school teachers who deal with physically and mentally challenged students and they actually asked me to stop using that term, and I was like, 'you know, you're right' so I stopped saying it.
Anything bugging you nowadays?
You know, with the kids I'm not as on top of things as I used to be. Like, before I would have the news on all day and read two of three papers and now it's like I turn on the TV and I'm like 'what the hell happened in Egypt?' I miss so much. And I'm sure if I paid attention, there'd be a whole lot I'd be pissed off about, but right now I have no idea. I mean, is Obama still president?
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What's your take on racial profiling?
Everyone does it and it's wrong and I understand it, but it's still wrong. I mean, just because there's a type of people that has done some evil shit, blown up some stuff, you kind of go 'alright, okay?' but it's wrong to identify a whole group as evil people who blow up things. I mean, I do it. When I see hillbillies I run the other way. I mean, I'm sure there's nice hillbillies but they scare the shit out of me. So, we're all guilty of it. To me, if my car broke down and a hillbilly pulled up and somebody who appeared to be of Muslim faith pulled up, I'm getting in the car with the terrorist.
See Wanda Sykes at the South Beach Comedy Festival this Friday at 8 p.m. at the Filmore (1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach). Tickets cost $61.45 to $83.25. Visit southbeachcomedyfestival.com.