Come­di­enne chats about rais­ing tod­dlers who talk back, help­ing LGBT youth

GA Voice - - Front Page - By DAR­IAN AARON

Wanda Sykes of­ten won­ders how in the hell she got here. From hum­ble be­gin­nings in Portsmouth, Vir­ginia, to the glare of Hol­ly­wood to her most im­por­tant job as a wife of seven years and mother of twin sixyear-olds, the hi­lar­i­ous come­di­enne is in over­drive. Sykes will add At­lanta au­di­ences to her itin­er­ary when her “Wanda Sykes” stand-up tour rolls into Cobb En­ergy Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre on Nov 6.

It’s been a five-year process of writ­ing and per­form­ing new ma­te­rial to help Sykes de­cide what au­di­ences would hear on her lat­est tour and what would end up on the cut­ting-room floor. The con­sum­mate sto­ry­teller, Sykes tells Georgia Voice that her process is al­ways evolv­ing.

“I can get up and do jokes but they kinda stand alone,” says Sykes. “It’s a very long process for me to get to where I feel I have a solid show. But when I fi­nally feel like I have a through line, like, ‘this is a story,’ it feels like there’s a be­gin­ning, mid­dle, and end.”

This is when the magic hap­pens, and Sykes is able to con­nect with au­di­ences with just a mi­cro­phone and with life ex­pe­ri­ences that are both re­lat­able and un­fa­mil­iar. She is, af­ter all, a black mother of two white chil­dren with blonde hair and blue eyes who is on a short list of openly gay en­ter­tain­ers of color in Hol­ly­wood. Her life is ground zero for great ma­te­rial and Sykes doesn’t shy away from it. She de­scribes her new show as “a snap­shot of what’s go­ing on in the world and in my life.”

“The kids are now six, so they’re talk­ing and say­ing all kinds of crazy stuff to hurt my feel­ings (laugh­ing),” says Sykes. “Kids are just bru­tally hon­est. It’s a lot of the fam­ily stuff. And of course it’s an elec­tion year so I share my thoughts on that, but a lot of it is about the fam­ily, that’s what takes up most of my time.”

Ac­tivism in the arts

A tire­less ad­vo­cate for mar­riage equal­ity and LGBT youth, Sykes’ work for le­gal recog­ni­tion and pro­tec­tion of her mar­riage and fam­ily with wife Alex can be traced back pub­licly to the piv­otal mo­ment in 2008 when she came out dur­ing the “Stand Out For Equal­ity Rally” in Las Ve­gas on the heels of the pas­sage of Propo­si­tion 8, the dis­crim­i­na­tory amend­ment that re­voked the right to marry for gay and les­bian cou­ples in Cal­i­for­nia that same year. Fast-for­ward to 2015 and a Supreme Court rul­ing grant­ing equal mar­riage rights to all; Sykes says, “It’s nice to have a mar­riage that is rec­og­nized in all 50 states.”

“You re­ally felt it be­fore. Am I mar­ried in this state or not? Is this my wife now or not? Be­fore you could be in Texas and you could be like ‘tech­ni­cally I’m not mar­ried here (laugh­ing), ac­tu­ally I’m sin­gle here in Texas.’ So it’s nice to be mar­ried le­gally every­where,” says Sykes.

A re­cip­i­ent of the Ac­tivism in the Arts Award dur­ing the Tri­umph Awards cer­e­mony in At­lanta this month, Sykes ac­knowl­edges her com­ing out and the emo­tional fall­out in­volv­ing her par­ents was the cat­a­lyst that led her to de­vote both her time and financial resources to run­away and home­less LGBT youth at Detroit’s Ruth El­lis Cen­ter.

“That work is ex­tremely im­por­tant to me,” says Sykes. “When I had prob­lems with my fam­ily it was all emo­tional, there was no financial bur­den on me. When the peo­ple who are sup­posed to love you un­con­di­tion­ally re­ject you and say hor­ri­ble things, I know how I felt, so I can only imag­ine be­ing a kid and go­ing through that.” Sykes now says her re­la­tion­ship with her par­ents is “great and as it should be.”

“They got ap­proached by a lot of peo­ple and strangers who said they were proud of me and how my com­ing out helped their kids,” says Sykes. “I think they got so much pos­i­tive feed­back that it helped them move for­ward.”

Soul food and the road

The Cobb En­ergy stage isn’t the only thing Sykes is look­ing for­ward to when she touches down in At­lanta. In ad­di­tion to steal­ing a few hours of sleep, she says eat­ing soul food is a must.

“I get to town and I try to get a lit­tle food and re­lax a lit­tle bit be­fore the show,” says Sykes. “Af­ter the show we usu­ally go some place for a nice din­ner. It’s all about eat­ing re­ally on the road (laugh­ing). The last time I was in At­lanta I had lunch at Gus’s Fried Chicken, so I’m look­ing for­ward to hav­ing some more chicken when I get there.”

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