News Column

Wanda Sykes is no stranger to being a pioneer

May 2, 2013


May 02--AS A GAY African-American woman in the world of comedy, Wanda Sykes is no stranger to being a pioneer. Her gift for speaking her mind and sounding genuine have helped make her a winning ambassador in uncharted territory.

The 49-year-old stand-up funnywoman and actress was employed for five years as a procurement officer with the National Security Agency. While there, she started moonlighting as a comedian. Her big break came when she was hired in 1997 to write on HBO's "The Chris Rock Show," which earned her an Emmy two years later.

In front of the camera, Sykes gained a reputation for her outstanding ability to hold her own against high-strung characters, whether in the CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine" opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus or as herself in HBO's improvisational comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm," often popping up just when Larry David needs to hear from a voice of reason. Her HBO comedy special, "I'ma Be Me," was nominated for two Emmy awards in 2010. Her newest project is the upcoming film "The Hot Flashes" with Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Camryn Manheim and Virginia Madsen.

A frequent visitor to the Bay Area, Sykes has never performed her live stand-up show in Marin. With her May 11 performance at the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael, that's about to change. The IJ caught up with Sykes by phone from her home in Los Angeles.

Q: You

worked at the NSA as you were starting out in comedy -- how did your sense humor go over there?

A: Actually, quite well. I really enjoyed my coworkers. They all said "You're so funny" and "It makes the day go faster." I was a hit over at NSA and they totally understood why I wanted to leave and do comedy. They were all very supportive.

Q: What was it like writing for the "The Chris Rock Show?"

A: It was great. It was groundbreaking and, to me, it was like entertainment college. We got to do everything -- we wrote our pieces, cast them, produced them, we were in on the editing so it was like everything you need to know to put a show together. It's like TV 101, you know. It was an incredible experience.

Q: You've worked opposite comedy icons Larry David and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. What do you think makes you such an excellent foil and reality check for the mercurial characters they play?

A: I think it's just my personality, who I am. If I see something dumb or hypocrisy or whatever, I'm quick to point it out. I've always been like that since I was a kid so it's an easy role for me to fall into.

Wanda Sykes in a still image from her HBO comedy special 'I'ma Be Me.' HBO


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