Wanda Sykes: a stand-up mom

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2012 - 2:31 PM

The comedian returns to town for a night of family talk.

Wanda Sykes

Photo: Stephanie Diani, New York times

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Wanda Sykes expected things to change when she and her wife, Alex, became parents of twins Olivia and Lucas three years ago. She just didn't expect the changes to be so all-encompassing.

"Some days I know more about 'Sesame Street' than Wall Street," she said in a phone interview last week. "My life's good, but it doesn't resemble the life I had before. My wife and I go out to dinner and I'm sitting there looking at the clock because I have to get home to relieve the baby sitter. All of a sudden I now have a curfew."

The screen star of CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has never forsaken her stand-up comedy roots. With new, family-drawn material, Sykes, 48, headlines a concert Friday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

The subject of family has come at her in manifold ways. Earlier this year, Harvard scholar and PBS TV host Henry Louis Gates aired a "Finding Your Roots" program in which Sykes traced part of her family heritage to the 17th century, to Elizabeth Banks, a free white woman, and her black lover.

Sykes' roots

A Portsmouth, Va., native, Sykes was born to an Army colonel father and bank worker mother. After graduating from Hampton University, where she was a member of the AKAs, the nation's oldest black sorority, she got a job working for the National Security Agency. Sykes was working to keep the nation safe in the 1980s. She quit that job in the early 1990s and moved to New York to pursue her dream of being a stand-up comic.

"My parents thought I was nuts to leave a good government job to go tell jokes," she said.

"They thought I'd lost it. If you asked them today, they would say, 'Oh, we knew she'd make it.' They won't say that they hoped and prayed a lot."

Sykes famously opened for Chris Rock at his comedy club, and later joined the writing team for "The Chris Rock Show." It was there that she won an Emmy. She has appeared in a string of features, including "Evan Almighty" and "Pootie Tang," as well as on TV, where she had two short-lived eponymous shows.

She has several projects in the works, she said.

Sykes was married for most of the 1990s to record producer Dave "Jam" Hall. She came out in 2008, the year she married Alex and became an activist. President Obama's public support of gay marriage has "validated me," she said.

"To have the president say that he doesn't look at us as second-class citizens and that he wants to correct that, that's huge," she said, adding that she believes that progress on the issue of marriage equality is inexorable. "It's not even an issue with the younger generation."

Political junkie

A political junkie, Sykes made clear that she loves and adores her family. Still, she relishes her time on the road these days.

"I get to catch up on the news," she said.

She has been struck by the tone of the presidential race, especially charges of outright lies.

"I'm looking forward to the debates," she said, adding that it would be difficult for a candidate to tell whoppers there.

Still, her stand-up show will not be heavy on politics.

"Since we're being bombarded by all these ads, people want to come to the show and escape a little," she said. "It's a snapshot of what's going in the world and my life. So people should come see it. It's not an Obama rally or a Romney bashing."

Which gets back to the subject of children.

"The people who have kids -- they never tell you the truth," she said. "They sugarcoat it, or else no one would ever have kids again. There'd just be three people in the world and that's it. I now understand why some animals eat their babies."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

  • WANDA SYKES

    When: 8 p.m. Fri.

    Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $39.75-$59.75. 1-800-982-2787 or www.henne pintheatretrust.org.

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