American comedian Wanda Sykes has developed something of a habit for making bold, newsworthy pronouncements in recent years.
In November 2008, she publicly came out as a lesbian while at a Proposition 8 rally in Las Vegas, and in September 2011, she dropped another bombshell, revealing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and had elected to have a double mastectomy to fight off the disease.
Speaking from her home in Los Angeles ahead of her first Australian trip, Sykes told the Star Observer that the first announcement brought far more perks than the second.
“Being a lesbian, all the LGBT causes usually have a party or parade involved — that’s fun. Breast cancer events are all about walking and running,” she joked.
“They don’t have the Breast Cancer Mardi Gras! ‘Please welcome the breast cancer awareness strippers’ — you never hear that.”
Recognisable to Australian viewers for her cameo appearances in TV shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and films like Evan Almighty and Monster-in-Law, Sykes acknowledged she might have to fill Melbourne audiences in on the details of her thoroughly modern family life, which make up much of the material in her show.
“I have twins, a boy and a girl. They’re white, my wife is French and white. You got the whole lesbian thing going on, you got different cultures going on, plus I’m 47 so I’m starting late in life with kids.
“Mainly my show is about asking the question: how did I get here? What the hell happened?
“I was a single woman running around free living the life, and now I’m in this. I’m suddenly more concerned about the nanny’s schedule than the network schedules.”
Sykes will leave her wife and children behind when she visits Australia (“I heard you guys have a dingo problem,” she deadpanned), thereby giving her a break from trying to master French.
The Sykes household is trilingual, with two-year-old twins Lucas and Olivia raised to speak French, English and Spanish — in that order.
“[The French] are so snobbish when it comes to their language. So many words sound alike. Take ‘vous’. You’ve got vous, vuh, vah. It’s the same fucking word!
“It’s just you have to get on your tippy-toes when you say it one time and tilt your head to the side when you say it another.
“I can only try to speak French when I’ve been drinking. After three or four glasses of wine, I’m ‘parlez vous’ all over the place.”
Sykes also takes a look at the political climate during her stand-up shows, taking particularly sharp aim at the motley crew jostling to run as the Republican candidate in the 2012 US presidential election.
“It’s really sad that in this country a large segment of people are going to vote for one of these jackasses. Everyone who’s running on the Republican ticket are just nuts. It’s really scary what they’re putting out there, particularly for an African American gay woman,” she sighed.
And this is where Sykes’ comedy has blossomed in recent years. Pre-2008, she pulled her punches when it came to issues of sexual politics. Sykes would offer support for gay rights, while also trotting out hollow jokes about the differences between men and women in heterosexual relationships.
Post-coming out, though, her stand-up routines have developed a passion and edge to match her razor-sharp wit.
“Coming out has been so liberating, and it has opened me up in terms of material. I have nothing to hide on stage, so I think my material is even funnier now,” she said.
“The funny thing is, I don’t do a lot of material about gay people. I just talk about my life.
“Straight people can relate to stories about being married with kids, and I think sometimes it doesn’t dawn on them until later that we’re of the same sex.
“Really, we all go through the same shit. Different sex, same problems.”
INFO: Wanda Sykes, Melbourne Town Hall, March 28 – April 22. www.comedyfestival.com.au