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Wanda Sykes | Just Say No to Purple Kitchens

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prof wanda-sykes_75I kind of avoid comedy. That’s why I don’t watch Fox News.

 

The last few years Wanda Sykes has gone through some major life changes. She publicly announced her homosexuality, had twins with her partner, and had a bilateral mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. The rollercoaster of exciting and frightening has in no way hindered her sharp wit and outrageous personality. I spoke with her on a Tuesday morning while she was in New Orleans. Before starting the interview, I was warned that her family was on set and that I might hear screaming children in the background.

prof wanda sykes_500

You’re coming to St. Louis to perform stand-up. You also act in movies, do voice work, and write. Which is more rewarding for you?

My first love was stand-up. It’s where I started; it’s always been my main goal to be a very funny stand-up comic and travel the country and the world. So movies and TV, that’s just icing for me; I’ll always go back to stand-up. It’s the hardest thing to do, too, and I love it. When I’m doing stand-up, I’ve never been canceled in the middle of a show, so that’s great.

When you hear a fellow comedian make a great joke or perform an incredible routine, do you get a twinge of jealousy?

You know what? No. When I hear someone else do a great joke, I laugh like mad. It’s beautiful; I love that. When I’m out on tour like I am now, I don’t watch them. I try to avoid watching stand-up because I don’t want to feel like I can’t do something because I heard somebody else do a joke about something. So yeah, I kind of avoid comedy. That’s why I don’t watch Fox News.

So you feel restricted if you know what topics are being talked about at that moment, or what’s supposedly happening?

Exactly, exactly.

You play yourself on Curb Your Enthusiasm. How much of that character is you? Do you have any leeway with the dialogue?

There’s nothing but leeway with the dialogue because there is no dialogue; it’s just all improv. That’s the thing; it’s so funny that now people think because I’m playing Wanda on Curb Your Enthusiasm that I’m just going around cursing people out. It’s crazy; people come up to me: “Hey! Curse me out!” “Why would I curse you out?” “Come on, just say something to me. Curse me out like you curse Larry out.”

That’s me playing Wanda; that’s not who I am. Larry David just goes, “Here’s the thing, I want to say this…” Or like the Terrorist Attack episode, “This is what happens: You have a connection with some government thing and you warn me there’s a terrorist attack but you tell me not to tell anybody.” So when he starts telling people, yeah, I curse him out for saying that, because that’s the character on the show. But I don’t walk around just cursing people out; I’d be a crazy woman if I did that. When people go, “Hey, my mother’s on the phone; curse her out!” I’m like, “Why would I curse her out? I’m not a nut. What the hell?!” I would love to go around cursing people out for no reason, but that would just be crazy.

When on tour do you ever omit or add certain jokes to keep your routine from feeling stale?

Oh yeah, when I’m tour that’s all I’m doing. It’s just writing, rewriting, I add stuff, get rid of things, so yeah, there’s a lot of that.

I noticed, other than your upcoming stint in Australia, your shows are spread throughout the year. Is this due to the recent increase in family and trying to spend more time with them?

Actually, when I go on the road and I get to do a couple gigs, it’s like a mini vacation for me. When I’m on the road I get to stay in the best hotels, I get the best service; people are waiting on me and asking me if they can get me this or this. When I’m home it’s like, oh yeah, there’s poop on the floor and I can barely even get a Hot Pocket. It’s just crazy, so when I get to go on the road, like I said, it’s like a vacation.

You’ve actively spoken out against Prop 8 in California. A few weeks ago, it was ruled unconstitutional. How big of a win do you consider this?

That was huge. What the beauty of it is is that it’s happening across the country. Like theNew Jerseylegislation, they passed marriage equality, and it was Governor Christy who vetoed it. InCaliforniaI think that people, and especially the government, they see where this is heading. When it goes to the court, they say it’s unconstitutional and they see that. Every appeal toward Prop 8 is conceived to get ruled in our favor because it’s unconstitutional. Eventually it will get to the Supreme Court and then we’ll have it across the country. States are already getting ahead of it, and it’s great. People should not have a right to tell me what I can do. It’s like people voting to tell me what color I should paint my kitchen. “Guess what? You getting a purple kitchen tomorrow. Yep, that’s how we feel. You getting a purple kitchen.”

You recently were diagnosed as being in the early stages of breast cancer. Even though it was stage zero breast cancer, you opted to have a bilateral mastectomy. Was this a hard decision or a no brainer?

No brainer. As soon as I hear cancer… My mother lost three sisters, and two of them to cancer. Also, the oldest sister who’s still alive, my Aunt Emma, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s, and she had a mastectomy and she’s still alive. So I was like, you know what, it’s gotta go; I’m not even gonna run the risk. It’s not like they found a lump, because it was after a breast reduction. So it’s not like they could isolate it. I didn’t even now if it was still in there or where it was. So it was definitely a no brainer and I’m very happy I did it.

Why were you going in for a breast reduction?

Because I had some big-ass titties! They were too damn big. I had these wedges, like digits in my shoulder blades from my bra strap. It was just ridiculous. It was like a weight and pulley system with my bras, it was crazy.

Throughout your career, is there one person you could say was the most fun to work with? Or the easiest to work with?

I would say Jane Fonda. When I did Monster-in-Law, they told me I’d be working with Jennifer Lopez and that I’d be Jane Fonda’s assistant. I was like, wait a minute, I’m doing what? The Jane Fonda? From day one when I met her she was so gracious and just so warm that it was so easy to work with her. You think Jane Fonda, diva, icon, but she was just so cool and we’re friends to this day. We email, she comes over and plays with my kids; she’s a great lady.

Your birthday is tomorrow, so I wanted to wish you a happy birthday. Do you have any plans?

Well, I’m drunk already. I’m gonna ride this into tomorrow, and then I’ll see ya’ll on the next day. | Alex Schreiber

 

Wanda Sykes will be performing at 8 p.m. on March 8 at Peabody Opera House in St. Louis. Tickets are $72, $56.50, $46.50, & $36.50.

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