HitFix Interview: Wanda Sykes of ‘The Wanda Sykes Show’

11.07.09 8 years ago


It’s not just you. Wanda Sykes actually is everywhere.
She plays Barb on CBS’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” She pops up on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” whenever Larry David needs the perfect actress to play Wanda Sykes. She’s the voice of a cow on Nickelodeon’s “Back at the Barnyard.” She’s high on every talk show host’s lists of favorite guests. And she just earned some of the best reviews of her career for the HBO comedy special “Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me,” in which she discussed everything from Barack Obama to parenting to belly fat.
Naturally, what Wanda Sykes really needs is yet another television gig. 
Starting on Saturday, Nov. 7, the versatile comedian (and Emmy-winning writer) will become the latest performer tasked with kick-starting FOX’s late night programming. The creatively titled “The Wanda Sykes Show” will air in the 11 p.m. hour on Saturday nights, a slot where her major mandate will be “Generate more buzz than Spike Feresten.” Somehow we think the “Wanda at Large” star won’t have any trouble with that one.
Certainly Sykes has a flashier set than Feresten’s low-frills digs, with a handsome stage on the CBS Television City lot festooned with a giant “W” (Sykes jokes that she got it at a Mo’Nique yard sale and flipped it) that doubles as a bar.
At a recent event introducing her show (and its set) to a few members of the Los Angeles-based press, HitFix snagged five minutes with Sykes to discuss why, exactly, she though she needed more work and why late night was the place for her.
[Full text of the interview after the break… Oh and if Wanda features the game “Jewish, Canadian or Dead” on an upcoming episode, we want full credit…]
HitFix: So level with me. How many of you are there?
Wanda Sykes: Right? It seems like a lot. But I look at before and I think, ‘Man. I was such a lazy bum. Walking around with one job? Sitting around at home all day playing Wii?’ What was that all about?
HitFix: Are you becoming lax in your attentions to the Wii?
WS: I stink. Let me tell you. I was *the* Guitar Hero. But now? Yeah. I’ve been extremely busy. It’s been fun.
HitFix: Is this just a circumstance where you’re getting these opportunities and you’re grabbing at them?
WS: Yes. Not just opportunities. I’m not just going to take any opportunity. But if it’s a great opportunity, if it’s something that interests me and I’m like ‘Oh, OK,” I would be an idiot not to do it. That’s why I do it. Like this opportunity, it was like little Civil Rights leaders were popping up on my shoulder. You know? Hattie McDaniel was there in my ear like, “Are you going to turn this down? They’re giving you your own show! What’s wrong with you?” So I was like, “OK. Alright. I’ll do it.”
HitFix: So what do you have to do for Hattie?
WS: I think she’s just proud, like “Oh, look at her. She’s got her own show and she’s not sweeping up afterwards.”
HitFix: I dunno. You *do* like to keep busy.
WS: You know what? Actually, let me check the call sheet. I might have to hang lights later on. Who knows?
HitFix: Other than Hattie, why was this the right time and move for you?
WS: Why is this the time for me in late night? I’ll say it fits with where I am right now. It took me three years of on-the-road to do my last special. I did “Sick & Tired” and then right after “Sick & Tired,” I was right back on the road working on another act. But I’m at this place now where it’s like, OK. I’m married. I have two kids. Babies. I don’t have time to get back out on the road.
HitFix: So this is your idea of settling down?
WS: Exactly. This is my idea of settling down.
HitFix: Well done. So are you watching late night shows now?
WS: I am. I watch Jay. I watch Letterman. I flip back and forth between Conan and Letterman, especially the top of the show for those guys. Kimmel. I just want to make sure, I’ll watch a piece of theirs and I go, “OK. I wouldn’t do that. And if I did that, this would be my take on it.” I just want to make sure that I maintain my point-of-view, my sensibility. I don’t want to do what they’re doing. That fits them. I want to make sure that my perspective is out there.
HitFix: So who are you liking in late night?
WS: I appreciate them, what they do. I think Dave’s funny, Jay’s funny. Jay has always been real supportive and good to me. I have a relationship with him and that show and the people over there. They’ve been great to me and I just love Jay’s work ethic. Jay, he’s over there on that show and then he still hits the road. He’s out doing stand-up. So I love that about him.
HitFix: Your sizzle reel has a joke about David Letterman’s recent scandal and I wonder if it concerns you the amount that talk show hosts have started talking about other talk show hosts?
WS: Wow. You know… I would only do that if that talk show host has made news. If I don’t speak on it, it’s like “Oh, OK. You can make fun of everybody else, but you can’t talk about the other comedians?” There is a bond with comics. Will I be doing joke after joke about it? No.
HitFix: It seems like talk show hosts keep making news, with Jay in primetime and Dave’s scandal and Conan’s feud with the mayor of Newark.
WS: I’m not going to get involved with that. I promise you.
HitFix: With your special, it’s like your interactions with the audience fuel your ability to keep pushing jokes to their extremes. How do you hope to play off this smaller audience?
WS: I’m working on it. I really am working on it. We’re trying to figure out a way where, especially during the monologue, I can have my same movement and flow, to be able to deliver the monologue in my stand-up style. But then there are cameras and we’re not shooting this like a stand-up, live show. So it’s trying to find a blend where I can do that.
HitFix: Will you have the ability to course-correct within a monologue if one topic is falling flat?
WS: If I think of it, I’m saying it. That’s why we’re going to have one of our writers next to the prompter person, so that way the writer gets a sense of, “OK. She’s off that. She’s on to something else.” They’ll know if I’m not going to go back to certain jokes and they can catch up.
“The Wanda Sykes Show” premieres on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 11 p.m. ET on FOX.

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