Wanda Sykes is so much more than a US comedy phenomenon. Same Same caught up with the vocal champion for civil and gay rights and out proud lesbian mother of two on her debut Australian tour.
Wanda Sykes is one of the most celebrated and in demand comedians in America. From humbler beginnings in stand up, she was snapped up as a writer for Chris Rock’s show – which she considers her first big break – and quickly rose to be named in the top 25 funniest comedians in America.
She has maintained a bright and successful career in comedy for decades, crossing over from the stand-up stage to television and big release Hollywood films. And then in 2009 there was that invitation to perform at the White House for President Obama.
Check out a clip of Wanda Sykes performance at the White House here.
“I’ve had so many highlights in my career, but when I was asked to perform at the Whitehouse man… I felt like I had made it. It was such an honour and a special moment – wow,” recalls Sykes when we ask about the special invite.
“Initially I was a bit nervous about how my comedy would go down… but then I figured you know, they’ve obviously seen my show and they know what they are in for. So I’m just going to do what I do.”
And that’s what she has always done, fearlessly bringing insightful political, social and daily life observations with both colourful frankness and language, to the stage, screen and the page.
THE OTHER SIDES OF WANDA SYKES
This first lady of comedy is so much more than just a comic phenomenon. Wanda Sykes is also a loud voice for civil and gay rights, a breast cancer survivor, and an out proud lesbian, wife and mother of two children. In 2008 Sykes made the decision to come out publicly when proudly supporting a marriage equality rally regarding Proposition 8, which had just nullified her marriage to her wife. What followed that decision even surprised her.
“Things have been really great since I came out,” she reflects. “I can’t complain at all. I really didn’t think it was going to make a big difference. I mean it wasn’t like I was hiding who I was at any point. I just wasn’t on the front cover of a magazine saying it. But I realised that one point that because I was a known figure, I might make a difference by coming out – to the visibility of some of the issues that were affecting me, my family and America… it was all the motivation I needed.
“I didn’t expect coming out would be such a big deal but it really made a difference, especially to other gay people.”
According to Sykes, the driving force behind her decision to do so much prominent civil and gay rights work, including campaigning for Marriage Equality and addressing homophobia, comes from a deeply personal place.
“I’m gay, I’m black, I’m a woman, I’m a mother and I’m a wife. My life is the biggest influence for why I get involved with things. That’s where my driving force comes from… it’s a personal place.
“I want my life, my wife, my children, my race to be respected, acknowlaged by my country… like all other Americans. It’s easy to be passionate about it when it affects you directly.”
Check out Wanda in the ‘Think Before You Speak’ anti-homophobia campaign.
WANDA’S FIRST VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
Sykes is currently in Australia performing a headlining show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Despite decades as a celebrated comic, this is her first visit to Australia. Understandably it’s a tour she’s both nervous and excited about.
“I’m really lucky that I get to travel a lot and do what I love – comedy – every day. I mostly travel all over the United States, but I’ve also performed quite a bit in Canada… This Australian tour is my first time elsewhere aside from Canada. So that’s really exciting and it’s great that I can be there for the comedy festival.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not really a big fan of flying… I don’t know how it is in Australia but black people aren’t fans of flying,” she jokes. “I know I’ll get a lot of my Aussie material from the flight alone… man that’s a long-ass flight.”
That’s not the only reason that Sykes is a bit nervous. Performing for an audience in another nation is daunting at the best of times, especially when much of your material involves the social and political nuances of your homeland. While Australia may have things in common with America, there are plenty of differences too. And this was where Sykes starts her debut show in Australia, brilliantly and hilariously calling out the similarities and differences between our cultures in her brief experiences of it.
Her first visit is clearly going down well. And a big part of that success is Sykes’ incredible skill as a comedian and experiences as a seasoned performer. The other element that works with her is the way she manages to connect with anyone through comedy that always comes back to fundamental things that we can all relate to – the day to day truths and observations of life, love and family.
“The differences inspire some of my comedy,” she realises. “I may be gay, you may not be… I’m American you’re Australian … but you know, we all want the same things. We all have to deal with the same bullshit as we try to just try and live our lives. I just call it like I see it and really we are all more the same than we are different.”
Catch Wanda Sykes performing until Sunday 8 April at the gorgeous Capitol Theatre in Swanston Street. For full details and tickets click here.