“I never left standup,” says Wanda Sykes. “Standup, that’s my day job; it’s what I love.”
And with that, she’s off. Literally. Audiences across the nation will get a chance to see Sykes on tour doing what she does best, including a March 21 stop at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines. The stops are a long way from her Hollywood base and include places she has never been before — like Des Moines, where she says she “has no idea what to expect.”
The multiple award-winner, writer and actor is stretching out, testing her talents on fresh audiences. She’s traveling light with just a stage manager, herself and opener Keith Robinson. The way she speaks of Robinson, too, suggests how much she enjoys taking her act on the road.
“Keith’s a funny, funny man,” she says warmly.
Her friendship with another funny man, Chris Rock, proved a big help early in her career. She was Rock’s opening act at his New York gig in the early 1990s, and after that he took her with him to HBO. There, Sykes proved to be the standout in a writing team that won an Emmy in 1999, which eventually led her to acting. She may be best known for her recurring roles in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” but there’s been a passel of other work. Sports junkies can catch her as a correspondent on “Inside the NFL,” and kids enjoyed her as the voice of “Granny” in a couple of “Ice Age” movies.
Still, her awards also include Funniest Female Standup in America, and these days she’s executive producer for “Last Comic Standing.” Onstage with a microphone, Sykes can use her gifts as a writer as well. She puts together sequences in her HBO special, “I’ma Be Me,” starting seriously, claiming it’s harder to be gay than black — she came out later in life and has since become an activist — but then mine the comparison for laugh after laugh, each bigger than the one before.
Working an audience also helps her develop new material. Sykes has relied on topical humor such as when, at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2009, she stirred up trouble with her choice remarks about Rush Limbaugh. Now, however, she is married, and she and her partner have twins.
Life has changed, and for the better.
“These days the comedy’s more about them,” she laughs. “I mean, there’s still plenty going on in the world, but these days it’s like, I don’t have time. The nap always wins.”
But Sykes hasn’t gone soft by any stretch of the imagination and can’t resist a wisecrack about President Obama, imagining his final days as president.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he just snaps,” she says in vintage Sykes sass. “He just tells ’em all to go to hell.”
Overheard in the Lobby: Starting April 23, AMOS will present Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins at the First Unitarian Church. amosiowa.org for details. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.