For Wanda Sykes, ‘Funny Always Wins’

The comic, who headlines a show in D.C. this weekend, gets serious about being a woman in comedy.


WS: I just got back from Australia. I was over there for two weeks. All of my shows were sold out, you know, so I can’t really bitch much about, “Oh it’s so hard for women,” because there is an audience. I think funny always wins.

TR: Recently you learned about your white ancestor Elizabeth Banks, your paternal ninth great-grandmother, on the PBS show Finding Your Roots. What was the experience like?

WS: That was mind-blowing to sit there with Dr. Gates … Then when he got to Elizabeth Banks [who was white] and I read her crime … and it blew my mind. She’s free, but she’s still an indentured servant; then to have sex with a slave and have a baby. It was just crazy. I’m like, man, what kind of life did she have?

Then it continued. That wasn’t the only [baby] she had; there were other ones. I was just … wow. I thought, at least now I found out where my love for white women comes from.

TR: Speaking of which, do you think you’ve lost some of your black following since coming out as a lesbian?

WS: I don’t think so. I haven’t noticed anything. If anything, I’ve gained some because there’s a large African-American LGBT community. If I did lose some, they left quietly and respectfully.

TR: Recently you spoke out against comic Tracy Morgan for making homophobic and hateful jokes in one of his acts. Do you believe that as a community we’ll ever get over our homophobia?

WS: I think we’re making some advances. At least people are talking about it. The NAACP at the national convention created a panel with Julian Bond and I, and we discussed homophobia in the black community, which was great. This was the first time they’ve done that, especially at the national convention. I think we have a ways to go, but at least [there’s been] some progress.

TR: You’ve done so much in your career over the last 20 years. Do you have a bucket list?

WS: It’s funny; I always had one goal, and that was to be a real funny stand-up comic, and that’s pretty much what I’m doing. And everything else is kind of like gravy — TV, movies. I’ve even tried musical theater. I played in Annie in a local production, which was a lot of fun. I’m blessed and very happy doing what I’m doing.

Abdul Ali writes about culture for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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