Originally a writer on HBO’s The Chris Rock Show, the straightforward, multi-talented performer recalls a memorable conversation with Rock prior to her debut stand-up special for Comedy Central. Rock’s advice, coincidentally, is the same pep talk Andrew “Dice” Clay gave him prior to his HBO special, Bring The Pain.
“He said ‘Remember, it’s a special, not a set. You’re not going out there doing a set at a club. Everything has to be special.’ It was good advice.
It changed my mentality and how I approach doing comedy,” says Sykes.
One of Sykes’ most recent television projects, OWN’s Herlarious, features the comedienne and a few other female comics performing sketches and standup. She has also starred in both her own sitcom, Wanda At Large, and hosted a self-titled late night talk show, on FOX.
“It’s about branding. When people see your name, you want them to know what they’re gonna get or what to expect,” says Sykes.
Chuckling throughout the conversation, a cool yet outspoken Sykes, 49, gets excited mentioning her Oct. 12 standup performance in Atlanta during Pride weekend. As with any performance, Sykes has no special formula for preparation. However, she jokes that no twerking would go on.
“My job is to be funny. My standup is a snapshot of everything that’s going on in my life or the country. Whatever is going on is what I’m talking about,” says Sykes.
Never one to turn a blind eye to controversy, Sykes, a GLAAD Award winner who publicly announced being a lesbian in 2008, zooms in on relationships, family, homosexuality and politics in her routines. The former National Security Agency (NSA) procurement specialist was the first open LGBT woman of color to present at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2009.
“It’s just being authentic and being yourself. You get to a point where you are comfortable with who you are. Once you are locked in and say ‘This is who I am,’ you are always evolving. I know who I want to be, who I am and what I strive to become. I take that approach with everything else,” says Sykes.
The Portsmouth, VA native and Hampton University alumnae weighs in on the U.S. government shutdown. Her sister-in-law and close peers are some of the government workers furloughed. Sykes jokes that some government officials should watch Schoolhouse Rock! to understand politics.
“It’s messed up. They’re fighting over something that doesn’t need negotiating. Obamacare is out there. It’s a law. It’s over. Let it go. Move on,” says the former New Adventures of Old Christine and Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star.
Sykes, a self-proclaimed quiet homebody, prefers family time with her wife, Alex, and their twins, Lucas and Olivia. Making more wisecracks about women loving to talk and running out of breath on her exercise bike, the Yeah, I Said It author says red carpets and Hollywood soirees are not as important as close family and friends.
“The biggest misconception is that I’m always funny or when I’m home, I crack everybody up. [Alex] has to make me talk. It’s my favorite time when we’re all together, hanging out or going for walks. That’s the best,” says Sykes.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.