A punctual Wanda Sykes called 15 minutes early for her interview and was on the ball immediately. "Was she funny?" "Did she make you laugh?" "Was she as hilarious as she seems?" All of these questions were posed to me by readers after said interview. The truth: Sykes is a down-to-earth mama who does comedy for a living and loves the hell out of life, but when I talked to her -- she was a normal chick trying to get a few words in before her five-year-old twins -- Lucas and Olivia -- hauled off into the nearby pool.
Sykes, 50, is currently preparing to hit the road after a summer hiatus with her family in France where her in-laws reside. Married to her wife Alex since 2008, Sykes has leveraged her fame for the greater good -- fighting for same-sex marriage after her own nuptials were invalidated in California during Proposition 8, education, female empowerment and politics. Even still, everyone needs a minute to regroup and enjoy the family.
"Usually I try to take off during July and August, because the kids are out of school, to spend time with the family. And then September the tour starts back up, so I'm looking forward to getting back out on the road," said Sykes.
A mother has to find her own special time when she can, and Sykes noted that she finds hers while on the road.
"I'm like, "Hey, I don't follow you to school, so don't follow me to work," Sykes said. "Oh no, no, no, no, no. It's my time. I get to sleep; I get to watch whatever the hell I want to watch on TV. It's the best."
What does the funny lady do with her kids when she's not on the road?
"Well, we went to France for a couple weeks -- you know, my wife is French, so we go there, see the in-laws and everything. We had a really nice time," Sykes shared. "And, you know, basically the kids love a swimming pool, so it's just hanging out, the beach -- they have quite the life, I must say."
How does her own upbringing compare to her children's?
"I remember when I was a kid my summers were pretty much running around, riding your bike and then complaining about you were bored. Yeah, not my kids. They are enjoying themselves," she said.
Having accomplished memorable stints on television (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Chris Rock Show, The Wanda Sykes Show, Wanda Does It), film (Evan Almighty, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Rio, Monster-In-Law) stand-up specials (Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired, I'ma Be Me) it might be difficult to choose one genre that "just fits" best, but not for Sykes.
"It's great that I get to do so many things, like film and TV and stand-up, but stand-up is where it all started for me and it's the thing that got me to the TV gigs and the movies and the voiceover work and all. So I keep coming back to stand-up," she said.
As far as hanging up her hat on the proverbial rack and stepping off the stage, Sykes said...not so much.
"My wife asked me if I ever thought I would ever retire from stand-up. And I thought about it, and I was like 'No, because it's my job, it's what I do and I enjoy it.' It's still the most challenging thing for me to do," she said.
Not that working with a team of comedians isn't fun, too.
"I love working with other actors and other people -- you know, stand-up -- it's lonely; it's just you out there and the audience. But it's fun working with other actors, I love doing that, too," she said.
Sykes recalled a time when she was heckled on stage and turned the situation around into something spectacular.
"I was doing a bit and I was talking about how the government, how the Republicans cut the food stamp program and, you know, just how awful that was and some guy yelled out, 'Yeah, but those people have iPhones!' And I'm like, 'What?' And he's like, 'Yeah, they have iPhones.' And I'm like, 'Well...how many calories are in an iPhone?' What the hell does that have to do with what people eat? That just drove me nuts."
What occurred next was priceless.
"So he got up -- because everybody was just laughing at him and I was just yelling at him, telling him how he was an idiot -- so he got up and left," Sykes recalled. "When he was walking out I said, 'Hey! Make sure you don't give him his money back, because he doesn't want a hand out.'"
Sykes said that everything changes when you have children and it's no different if you're a comedian on a very public stage.
"Dramatically. It's changed drastically. I would just say that the topics have changed. Before, I would just talk about what's going on in my life. Here's a snapshot of what's happening to me or around the world, and since the kids it's still the same technique as far as I'm talking about what's happening, but a lot of it is about the kids and the family, because they just take over everything, you know? I don't really have the chance to sit down and go through articles and everything, the kids just take over," she said.
Still, Sykes maintains her grip on reality and the modern world.
"If I'm talking about something current, a current issue or something political, it's because I was able to read it when I was on the plane getting to the gig...a lot of it happens when I'm on the road because when I'm home, you're just mom and that's it. They don't care; they don't care about your job. 'I wanna get in the pool!'"
With such a tremendous repertoire under her belt, it seems that there is nothing this woman cannot do. Except there's something she's been hoping to do for quite some time.
"I would like to do a movie. I would like to do that. Do something that maybe, not that I wrote, but just like a big part," she said.
Would the movie be of funny or serious nature?
"Oh, definitely a comedy. No one wants to see me serious, come on," she said. "I don't think anybody wants to see me do the Condoleezza Rice story."
On the subject of female comics, Sykes had a few thoughts.
"I think female comics have it easier now [than 10 years ago], because there's just more opportunities. There's so many more channels. We have the internet -- you're not dependent on a network," she said. "Now, you can just put yourself out there on YouTube or whatever. So, I guess it's not just women, it's gotten better, I think, for everyone."
Since she brought it up -- how has her life changed since the internet?
"Well, I would say...I like to tweet, but I'm not even on top of that as I should be. It's like I'll get on a Twitter run -- and again, it's usually when I'm out touring and I can focus a little bit more on me, but yeah, I can definitely see where it helps to be on social media," she said. "People love that, they want to feel like they're part of your career and be on top of it. But it also can hurt you, too -- if you say something dumb, it doesn't go away, it's there."
Now that marriage equality is on a stronghold on the United States, Sykes said she thought the next big item on the agenda should be job equality.
"I mean, there's over 30 states you can still lose your job or people can discriminate and not hire you because you're gay, lesbian or transgender. That's huge," she said. "Because if you don't have a job, who wants to marry you anyway?"
Truer words have never been spoken.
Wanda Sykes is currently hitting the road with tour stops across the U.S.
Photos in this story courtesy of Wanda Sykes/Roger Erickson.
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