Wanda Sykes Interview
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Wanda Sykes began her standup career in 1987 when she entered a Washington D.C. area talent competition. Although she lost, she discovered a passion for comedy. Wanda Sykes continued to hone her talents at local venues while working as a procurement officer at the National Security Agency (NSA). In 1992, she left the NSA and moved to New York. Her first big break came when opening for Chris Rock at Caroline's Comedy Club. In 1997, she joined the writing team on The Chris Rock Show. The writing team was nominated for four Emmys, one of which they won in 1999. Since that time, she has appeared in such films as Pootie Tang and on hit TV shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2003, she starred in her own short-lived Fox network sitcom, Wanda at Large. The same year, Sykes appeared in an hour-long Comedy Central special, Tongue Untied. That network also ranked her #70 on its list of the 100 greatest all-time standups. She served as a correspondent for HBO's Inside the NFL, hosted Comedy Central's popular show Premium Blend, and voices a recurring character named Gladys on Comedy Central's puppet show Crank Yankers. She had a short-lived show on Comedy Central called Wanda Does It, where she tries out various careers. She frequently winds up choosing what career she will try out after scolding someone in an over-the-top fashion who does the particular job. In addition to her film and television work, Sykes is also an author. She wrote Yeah, I Said It, a book of humorous observations on various topics, published in September 2004. In 2006, she landed a recurring role on the sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine; she became a series regular in the second season. She also provided voices for the 2006 animated films Over the Hedge, Barnyard and Brother Bear 2. She had a part in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Sykes' first HBO Comedy Special, titled "Wanda Sykes: Sick & Tired", premiered at 10:00 PM EST on October 14th, 2006.
In the April 2007 issue of OUT Magazine, Michael Musto implied Sykes is a closeted lesbian in the article "The Glass Closet." Wanda Sykes has not responded to the article, and the issue never came up during our interview.
Wanda Sykes' latest movie, "Evan Almighty" is a movie that its studio, Universal Pictures, hopes the Christian right, especially will come out in droves to see.
Will they flood theaters opening weekend?
Recently, Wild About Movies sat with Wanda Sykes in Los Angeles, where she talked not only about "Evan Almighty," but also Paris Hilton.
Wild About Movies: I take it 90% of what you had to say in this movie was improv. Being a clean cut family film, did you have to censor yourself as you were riffing there or were you aware of the audience when you were doing this?
Wanda Sykes: I would say you're right. In the nineties – that's about right as far as ad libs. And as far as to censor, there are some things that just wouldn't work, you know. I guess it just felt like – OK well put it this way, we weren't told that 'Hey, this is a PG. This is going to be a clean movie, so no cursing.' We weren't getting – at least I wasn't getting that direction, which I'm happy he didn't give it to me because it probably would have stifled me. But you just could feel it. You're standing here in this big ark, and you know, all these animals so, you know, you just had that – it just felt right. But as far as – there was a couple of incidents when I wanted to say 'ass' and Tom was like, 'Oh that's so funny but you can't say ass. Try butt.' And I was like 'Nah, butt's not funny man.' And he's like 'No, it will, just say butt. Just give me one butt' and I'm like 'No, I'm going to do butt because that's the one you'll use and then we'll be fighting at the premiere so let's – I'll just try another line.' So yeah, there was quite a bit of that.
Wild About Movies: It seems like there's some things in this movie where they just put you alone in a room and said 'OK read that.' Is that kind of an accurate way to describe how it happened?
Wanda Sykes: Yes, that's very accurate. There was, like the scene where I'm looking at the – when he goes to Congress I think, his first time and I'm just looking at the TV screen and I'm kind of just making comments as far as what's going on. First, I'm just looking at a blank screen – there's nothing going on. And they hadn't even shot that scene yet so I didn't even have anything to even go on. Tom was just 'OK, he's going to have this thing and he's going to look something like the guy from Fleetwood Mac' and blah blah blah and I'm like 'Alright' so it was a lot of that and at times funny but frustrating 'cause I felt like I was working in the dark. You know, I'm like 'Man, can I at least see the scene first and I'm sure I can come up with stuff that's better' and he's like 'No, no, it'll be fine.' Those were the days that I would call my agent and go, 'You know what? We really didn't get a good deal on this movie. I mean it sounded good at first. But trust me, they're getting' every penny out of me.' (laughs). 'They're making up stuff. They're making up stuff! It isn't even in the script. You should see it!'
Wild About Movies: How distressed are you about the Paris Hilton situation?
Wanda Sykes: Oh, I stay up. I lose sleep. I lose sleep over Paris. I'm like 'Oh is she in jail today or is she at home? Oh what's going on with Paris?' It's just so ridiculous how famous she is for absolutely nothing. I mean, she is such a non-celebrity but yet, I mean, people are camped out in front of her house and want to see if she goes to jail or not jail. I mean, she's rich and she's screwin' up just being rich. You know? That's pretty sad when you fuck up rich. You've got to be the biggest idiot in the world if you just can't sit your ass down somewhere and be rich. If I'm a Hilton, I would have been premature. I would have. I would have shot out the womb early. As soon as I found out, 'Wait a minute, I'm rich? I'm outta here!' 'Let me get my life started. I'm rich?!' Man, she's just screwing that up. I just think it's really ridiculous, the whole thing you know. It's sad. We got war and everything goin' on, 'Where's Hilton?' It's crazy.
Wild About Movies: Do you come from a funny family?
Wanda Sykes: My family, they're funny but they have to work small rooms, you know. Like the family reunion, they're really funny. Anybody looking on the outside would be like 'What the hell?' They wouldn't find it funny. My mother, she's a really good impersonator but, it's like people you don't know. So it's like 'This is the lady that sits in the third pew' and she'll do something and I'll go 'Ha ha ha, that's funny.'
Wild About Movies: What do you think about the film's pro environmental message?
Wanda Sykes: I think it's good. It's a good message. I don't think – hopefully it's not too heavy. I mean, you know, we recycled on the set, you know, with all the animals and whatever animals were harmed during the making of the film, we ate them. I didn't care for camel night. But no, it's good. I just hope that we keep moving along on this taking care of the environment, so I hope it's not just a trend, you know.
Wild About Movies: There's a scene in the movie where your character says 'I go to church. Every other week.' What, if anything, is your relationship to church and how do you think religious people are going to respond to the film?
Wanda Sykes: Um, I was brought up in a church and even as an adult I used to go to church all the time. And now, not so much. I don't know. I consider myself more of a spiritual person. And hopefully religious people, they – I'm sure it'll appeal to them because it's a very family friendly movie. I mean there's nothing edgy in here at all, you know. Because a lot of films they go 'Oh it's family friendly' and then, you know, you get there, you sit with your kids and all of a sudden somebody gets shot in the head and you're like 'Hey! What the...?' 'That's not good, what's going on?' you know. But this is very family friendly and, hopefully they'll like it.
Wild About Movies: What was it like working with Steve? Did the two of you try to sort of crack each other up on set when you were doing some of those outrageous takes about 'Who are you? What are you wearing? What has happened to you? In that musical sequence that ends the movie, were you doing the dance, the happy dance with everybody, or did you avoid that intentionally?
Wanda Sykes: There is a moment of me doing the happy dance in there. But I did more of a tango with John Michael Higgins . We did more of a two step. But yeah, I think it was a thing of, you know, probably as a black woman I was like 'I'm not dancing. You always want us to dance. I'm not going to dance.' So I was being all defiant, but the shot that they got us dancing on the ark, I had reason to dance. That was the last shot and we was wrapped on the movie and I was so happy to get out of that suit I'd been wearing for the last two months. It smelled like monkey balls. It was just uughh. Oh I mean we had baboons like this close to us, so trust me – I know what a monkey's balls smell like.
Wild About Movies: Working with Steve...?
Wanda Sykes: Oh yeah, right. Working with Steve. We didn't try – we did. We just cracked each other up. Steve is very funny and the guy, you know, he shows up. He works hard, you know. Me – I would've been complaining the whole time, you know, with the hair and, he had to go through so much, you know, makeup, he had birds all on him and they're poopin' on his head. So he was a real trooper and just got into the spirit of the thing. So, you know, you just had to have fun with it.
Wild About Movies: Will there be anything on the DVD do you think of the two of you carrying on, that didn't get into the movie?
Wanda Sykes: Probably not because I'm pretty sure they want to keep the DVD clean too.
Wild About Movies: Oh so there was non-clean stuff between the filming.
Wanda Sykes: Yeah of course, there was a couple of F bombs and stuff we would do and we'd have fun.
Wild About Movies: Are you back on the road, now that you're new HBO special has aired, and what is your new material about?
Wanda Sykes: I just wrapped up some dates on the road. I was in, what, April and May, I was on the road. I've been travelling a lot, you know, like to Paris and Brazil and I've been just doing new things, you know, like snowboarding. So I talked about more on that, because I was just so sick of talking about, you know, how Bush is screwing up everything. I can't do it any more. I just take Ambien. I'm going to take a nap and just sleep it out man. Wake me up man in '08.