Wanda Sykes, Is 'Sick & Tired'

Host Farai Chideya talks with with comedienne Wanda Sykes about her first HBO standup and release of her DVD, Sick & Tired.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

She's an Emmy winner who's gone from the stage to behind the camera, and now she's sharing her opinions on life and a lot more than that in her first HBO solo special, Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired. Wanda recently took some time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me at our NPR West studios.

Welcome, Wanda.

Ms. WANDA SYKES (Comedian): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: You can't really be more than life or talk about more than life. But what you talk about, whatever it is, is funnier than life and dirtier than life.

MS. SYKES: A little dirtier than life.

CHIDEYA: Yeah.

MS. SYKES: Yeah. The clips that you're going to play, there's probably some words never uttered before on NPR.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, and never will be.

MS. SYKES: People are going to pull over and go, I don't know I had XM. What is this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You cover everything in this from pets to sex to nuclear war. You chose to do this, your first HBO solo special, in Seattle. Why Seattle?

MS. SYKES: When I was on a tour, I had played like over 32 cities and my first time in Seattle I was just blown away. These people were going nuts and they were just so appreciative and smart. And I said then, I said when I'm, you know, ready to shoot this special I'm coming back here because the crowd was - they were just that great.

CHIDEYA: You know there's not any black people in Seattle.

MS. SYKES: You know we imported some.

CHIDEYA: I'm just joking.

MS. SYKES: Of course, we bust some men. Actually, my favorite author, she was living there at the time. Well, now she's passed, but Octavia Butler. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: Oh, Octavia Butler. I love Octavia Butler.

MS. SYKES: Yeah. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: Let's hear a little bit of your humor.

MS. SYKES: Okay.

CHIDEYA: You have a whole rift about how men are not dogs.

MS. SYKES: Right.

CHIDEYA: Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of TV show “Sick and Tired”)

MS. SYKES: So I thought I don't have kids, but I have a dog. I have a dog. He's name is Riley. I mean I love dogs and I hate when women compare men to dogs. We got to stop doing that, ladies. You know, men are dogs. Men are dogs. We got to stop it. Men are not dogs. Uh-uh. Dogs are loyal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: You have a lot more to say about the human species. Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of TV show “Sick and Tired”)

MS. SYKES: I'm for gay marriage. But I don't like that I have to say that. Because to me it's like it shouldn't even be debated. It shouldn't be in the court systems.

(Soundbite of applause)

MS. SYKES: The government shouldn't be involved in this because it's very simple. If you don't believe in same-sex marriage, then don't marry somebody of the same sex.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHIDEYA: And then, you know, you go on to just riff on men and riff on women. What is the connection between your kind of more political humor and your humor about sex and relationships? Is it really all the same thing or…

MS. SYKES: Well, I think it all comes from the same place, and that's reality and just trying to be as honest as I can.

CHIDEYA: You have a moment where you talk about Fox, which dropped a show of yours. How tough was that for you? I mean because you have done everything and been everywhere and still are everywhere, you know, on stage and on screen. Do you take it personally when you have a project that you are doing that…

Ms. SYKES: No.

CHIDEYA: You're not going to do that.

MS. SYKES: You know what? It hurts like that. I mean you put so much into it. You know, I really worked hard on that show. And then I was working with some friends who, you know, they were also writing on the show. So, yeah, you take it hard. It hurts.

But I also understand the business. You know, all I could do is my best. The rest of it is out of my hands. I can't - I don't have any control over my time slot. I don't have any control over how much they spend on marketing and promotion. You know, but it's now airing on TV One. They're showing the reruns of Wanda At Large, which is really cool. I'm getting, like, this new audience now.

CHIDEYA: Yeah.

MS. SYKES: People are like, I really like that show. That was a great show.

CHIDEYA: When did you know that you could be a comedian?

MS. SYKES: Well, I really can't pinpoint the one moment when I said I want to be a comic. I just remember hating my job when - I was working at National Security Agency at that time.

CHIDEYA: Doing what?

MS. SYKES: I was a contracting specialist. So basically, you know, just bought stuff. I shopped all day. Basically, you know, well, instead of…

CHIDEYA: That's where your joke on personal shoppers came from.

MS. SYKES: Yeah. Instead of shoes I bought, you know, spying equipment and things like that.

CHIDEYA: Uh-oh. Maybe you're still undercover. How are we to know?

MS. SYKES: You know, our government is that screwed up that that possibly could be. I might be on the payroll. You never know. But yeah, and I just know I hated that job and I knew there was something else I was supposed to do. And I was listening to the radio and it was like, hey, comedy contest; and actually it was a talent show but comedy was a category. And I said I'm going to write some jokes. And I did and got on stage and everything just made sense to me.

CHIDEYA: What is it like to be in a world where most of the people who make a living as comedians are white and male?

MS. SYKES: When I first started out, club owners would say well, we'd love to put you on the show tonight but I already have another female comic going on. But then you'll have this, you know, show where it's just 10 white guys. They didn't even get to the black part yet. They just said, you know, I already one female comic. So I'm like what, do you think we're going to talk about the same things like women, we really don't have, you know, our world is that small where all we're going to do is talk about, you know, our periods and men? Come on. And that's how they really viewed it. And it was - it just took me just continue to, you know, stay out there and work on my material and them seeing she, you know, has a wide range of material.

(Soundbite of TV show “Sick and Tired”)

MS. SYKES: Racial profile. I'm trying to stop it, I'm trying to treat everybody the same. Just treat everybody like criminals. That's what I'm doing. That's what you've got to start doing. It's my favorite thing. When I'm at a red light, I wait for like a nice car to pull up beside me with like a well-dressed white guy behind the wheel and I just stare at him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MS. SYKES: And as soon as he looks at me, I lock my door.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: So, yeah. That's…

MS. SYKES: I'm pretty funny, huh?

CHIDEYA: Yeah. You definitely are.

MS. SYKES: I should stay with this.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. I'm going to move along to the production of this.

MS. SYKES: Okay.

CHIDEYA: You turned it around very quickly for DVD.

MS. SYKES: Yes.

CHIDEYA: You know, it's just like from HBO to DVD. Did you feel like that was - you had like four days before YouTube could get it and all of a sudden it would be on the Internet?

MS. SYKES: Exactly. I mean there's so many ways that it gets out. I mean first we just - we're dealing with just the bootleggers. Now there's so many venues out there, ways and mediums where people get your stuff out there. And so I'm like, you know, let's just turn a DVD around.

And plus, I mean, you know, as the people see the special I want them to be able to - that next Tuesday grab the DVD instead of waiting, you know, like a month or two. And then you got to go back out and promote it and, you know, do the whole thing over again.

CHIDEYA: You're doing it all in one in phase smoothly.

MS. SYKES: Exactly. Exactly. And the DVD, there will be an additional - what? -about 12 minutes of footage that, you know, we just didn't have time to put in to the HBO special. So, yeah, a little bonus.

CHIDEYA: When I think about the different types of comedy that you do, again like this political comedy and this personal comedy, it seems that you're very at ease with yourself as a person. Is that true? Or are you someone who - like some comics really create a persona that goes out and tells the jokes.

MS. SYKES: Definitely the persona. I'm shy. I am. I mean if I get around, you know, in a room of a bunch of people especially I - you know, I don't know or - it takes me a while to warm up. I'm - and the real me, I'm not as witty as, you know, as the comic Wanda. The comic, she's had time to work on some things.

CHIDEYA: So the comic can take revenge for all the other times that Wanda was left speechless.

MS. SYKES: Yes. The opinions are definitely mine. But, you know, Wanda Sykes the comedian, she's the better spokesperson (unintelligible). Yeah.

CHIDEYA: I hope that Wanda Sykes the comedian keeps listening to you.

MS. SYKES: Okay.

CHIDEYA: Tell her what to do.

MS. SYKES: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Because it's working.

MS. SYKES: All right. Great. Appreciate it.

CHIDEYA: Thanks a lot, Wanda.

MS. SYKES: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Comedian Wanda Sykes first solo standup for HBO, Sick and Tired, premieres tomorrow.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Thanks for sharing your time with us. We'll be back on Monday. To listen to the show visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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