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September 7, 2012

Evenings Out

The personal is political

Wanda Sykes brings humor to the campaign season

Wanda Sykes named her last HBO special I’ma Be Me for a reason. In recent years, the 48-year-old comedian, actress and marriage equality activist has shifted the focus of her stand-up from politics and current events to her personal life.

“It’s more about the family,” she says. “It’s about being a mom. Cause that’s what’s real. That’s what’s kind of taken over my life.”

Not that she’s going to stop talking about politics anytime soon, in the context of how her family is affected. In 2008, Sykes publicly came out as gay and announced she and her lover had legally married in California; they are currently raising two children. Since President Obama went on record in support of marriage equality this past May, Sykes has publicly stressed the importance of his re-election.

“[My kids] are three,” she says, “and I really hope that this president gets another term, because by then, they’ll really understand what that means. To see a black president, and to see the most powerful man in the world saying that he believes our family is legitimate, that’s huge.”

Responding to indignation among conservatives over the use of the word “hate” to describe anti-equality sentiment, Sykes says, “Well, it came from something, you know? If it’s not love for everyone and equality for all, then what’s the opposite, but hate?”

However, having spoken so openly about her family life, as well as her recent battle with cancer, she says she mostly feels supported by the public.

“If people pass me on the street or whatever, they say, ‘How’s the kids,’ or, ‘How are you feeling’—you know, they feel like they really know me, because I do talk about what’s real and what’s going on in my life.”

This simple, use-what-you-know approach has propelled Sykes’ career to places she never imagined. In 2009, she was the first African-American woman and the first openly gay person to be the featured comic at the White House correspondents’ dinner. “That was the highlight of my career so far,” she says.

“But it’s not like I’m ready to go, ‘Okay, well, if I did that, it’s over, I’m ready to quit.’ And it’s also not, ‘Hey, okay, now I have to top that.’ ”

Her motivation has always been simply to be a good stand-up comic. She says, “TV, movies and all, has been like gravy. I think that’s why I always go back to doing stand-up. I enjoy it, I love it, and it’s still challenging. I’m always trying to find that next killer joke.”

Of course, nothing is sacred in the pursuit of that joke. Talking about raising her kids under a black president, she says, “I’m looking forward, some part of me, to telling them, ‘Look, you’re white—you’re gonna have to work a little harder to get ahead.’ ”

Wanda Sykes is performing at the Akron Civic Theater on Friday, September 21. For tickets or more information, go to or call 330-2532488.




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