Wanda Sykes is busy being everything else. Is she still a funny stand-up?

Wanda Sykes

On the eve of a live recording of her first stand-up comedy special in a minute with shows February 3 and 4 at the Kimmel Cultural Campus, one question arises: is Wanda Sykes still funny doing stand-up?

That’s not an insult, but rather more so of a curious comment due to her own work load within the last ten years.  The sharp-tongued Sykes has brought her unique vocal tones to animated films and television shows such as Ice Age: Collision Course, Rio, and HBO’s Animals, BoJack Horseman and the new Scooby-Doo follow-up Velma. She’s known for roles on The New Adventures of Old Christine, Black-ish, the Netflix sitcom The Upshaws, for playing a hyper-real version of herself on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and in March, acts as co-writer, show-runner and performer on the short running Hulu series, History of the World Part 2 with Mel Brooks. Along with having co-hosted 2022 Oscars with Amy Schumer and Regina Hall, Sykes acted as the lead newsreader for The Daily Show where she tackled President Biden’s documents debacle and Trump gaffes.

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“I think directors want me for that familiar voice of mine,” Sykes told me several years ago during an interview from Los Angeles. “But I’m definitely acting, putting a different spin to every character I tackle.”

Along with once-upon-a-time writing for The Chris Rock Show and the recent iteration of the Roseanne show (which she quit after Barr’s racist comments), Sykes was once named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the 25 funniest people in the United States.

That’s all well and good, but when it comes to stand-up comedy, is Wanda Sykes still strong?

The comedian and actor has tackled the stand-up form every so often – 2006’s Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired, 2009’s Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me, 2016’s What Happened… Ms. Sykes?, and 2019’s Wanda Sykes: Not Normal  so it seems as if, every four years or so she checks in: like a Presidential candidacy. Quiet about where she lives, Sykes, wife Alex Niedbalski and their fraternal twins, daughter Olivia Lou and son Lucas Claude split their time between LA and Media, PA.

During Sykes’ Not Normal 2019 stand-up special, the comedian talked about race “because of the makeup of my family. Look. I’m married to a white French woman, and we have two white kids. And now white supremacy is on the rise. And I’m living with a house full of white people.”

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In regard to using her kids as comedic material, Sykes once told Esquire Magazine that her children know what mom’s day job is. “They know what I do. But I don’t think they know about the stand-up bits or that they are in the stand-up. They don’t know that yet! But it’s funny because now they’re used to people yelling my name if we’re out or having someone just come up. I try to avoid that. It doesn’t scare them, but they are like, “Why do these people know you?” So now my son does this thing around the house where he’ll just shout, “Wanda Sykes! Wanda Sykes! Wanda Sykes!” It is fucking annoying.”

During her most recent stand-up special, Not Normal, Sykes also spoke out about having to get a double mastectomy after having been diagnosed with breast cancer, going through menopause, dealing with hot flashes being afraid of growing a beard. “When people say, “Wanda, you know, would it kill you to be a little more ladylike?” I go, yes.”

Talking to NPR’s Terry Gross (“Fresh Air”) about the last decades of stand-up comedy and performing and writing through Bill Clinton’s administration, Barack Obama’s administration and Donald Trump’s administration, Sykes admitted that the Trump years were rough.

“Oh, it’s totally different. It’s much harder, actually. And you would think, oh, boy, there’s so much to make fun of. But really, I can’t write anything funnier or more ridiculous than what Trump actually says. What he says, it sounds like a joke. So, it’s basically – you’re just repeating what he says. It’s like doing a parody of a parody.”

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On the evolution of change and growth in her stand-up comedy, Sykes told Esquire, that she “still has the same sensibilities and the same cadence” as in the past. “I’m still me. But it has become way more honest. When you get older you’re like “Eh, what do I have to lose? Whatever.” That’s where it is now. So it has changed in the sense that I’m not worried about stepping on people’s toes.”

Considering that we have had a Biden, “WAP,” a pandemic, immigration issues, Don’t Say Gay, police shootings, abortion rights and the SCOTUS, and a Will Smith – Chris Rock slap that she stood mere feet from when hosting the Academy Awards since her last stand-up comedy special, here’s hoping that Wanda Sykes loves stand up and is prepared to step on some toes.

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is an award-winning journalist who, along with working for the Philadelphia Weekly, writes regularly for Variety, Jazz Times, Flood and Wax Poetics, and hosts and co-produces his own SoundCloud-charting radio show, Theater in the Round for Pacifica National Public Radio station WPPM 106.5 FM and WPPM.org.

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