Out and outspoken comedian, actor and award-winning writer, Wanda Sykes, is back on the road doing what she does best: delivering blisteringly funny and socially conscious humor — and sparing no one, including family, the razor sharp wit of her insightful and uncensored observations.
It’s amazing she has time to perform live at all these days, given the amount of TV and film work she’s involved with on shows like “Blackish” and “Last Comic Standing” and films such as “Over the Hedge” and “Monster In Law,” to name a few. But with a recently signed deal with Netflix for a new special to debut in 2019, she’s back on stages getting her comedy chops into finely tuned fighting shape.
We had a long conversation about the state of the world, both inside and outside standup comedy. We also got her views as a behind-the-scenes writer for the ill-fated “Roseanne” revival, but that will have to wait for part two of this interview.
Without further ado, here’s Wanda!
PGN: The last time we saw you perform, it was at the Borgata in Atlantic City during the tail end of the 2016 election, and it was weird because you did some jokes about Hillary and people were laughing and everything was business as usual. But when you did jokes about Trump, a handful of people got really upset, stood up, yelled at you onstage and stormed out. And your reaction was something akin to, “Yeah, goodbye …No refunds!” Is that kind of thing happening a lot at your shows since the election or has it died down?
WS: It was happening at the beginning, in the early part. But I think now everybody sees I was right. As usual, I was just ahead of everybody. I saw where it was heading. So it doesn’t happen as often now.
PGN: It’s a sometimes-hostile time to be a comedian. Are you ever afraid that a Kathy Griffin-like situation will happen where you might have to duck out of the country and perform overseas while the heat in America blows over?
WS: There’s always a fear that’s inherent of doing standup. You don’t know what’s going to happen or how the audience is going to react. As far as having to leave the country, I don’t think about that. But I’m looking forward to leaving the country. I’m booking dates outside the country, but it’s not like I’m being exiled or anything. I love touring and all types of audiences.
PGN: Comedy is always about talking about the elephant in the room. So what is the elephant in Wanda Sykes’ room these days?
WS: The elephant in the room is why I named the tour “Oh Well.” It feels like that is the mood of the country these days. We all see the elephant in the room and it’s like, “Oh, well!” People are outraged, but it’s all social-media outrage. Even our marches. It’s not civil disobedience. It’s organized gatherings and you hear some nice speeches. That’s about it. I am hopeful, but I am in disbelief of how we’re accepting everything that is so not normal right now.
PGN: Do you think that in these uncertain times, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for America and for comedy in general?
WS: I do. I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to squint, you really have to squint to see it. It’s waaay down there. As for comedy, I think comedy will always survive. I think it’s thriving right now because people want to laugh. They need someone to come out and make some jokes and at least try to make sense of everything that is happening and laugh at it. So I’m not worried about comedy.
PGN: I was performing at a comedy club recently and, after the show, an audience member thanked me for not “going political,” which I had conflicting feelings about, because while I’m glad she enjoyed the show, I feel like I should be speaking truth to power. Is it harder to walk that line between being funny and saying something of substance these days?
WS: I’m trying to be true to myself as far as what I like to talk about and what concerns me, because to me that’s comedy. But there are comedians that get up and just talk about personal things, or they can make up stories and fantasies, and that’s fine. There’s a lane for everybody and the comedy that you do. My comedy is speaking truth to power and speaking up for people who don’t have a voice because those are the kinds of comics I grew up with. That was their style: Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dick Gregory and Moms Mabley. I feel like I have to say something. A lot of times I just check out of the news for a couple of days because I’m too busy doing family shit. When I talk about my family, it’s authentic, but it doesn’t feel like I’m avoiding talking about politics. I do also talk about politics, but I’m aware that there are going to be people in the audience that are like, “Oh, no. Not this.” But also there’s a large portion of the audience that comes to the show because they want to hear that, and they will be disappointed if I don’t go there.
Wanda Sykes performs 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside. For more information or tickets, call 215-572-7650 or visit www.wandasykes.com.