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.
TR: The New York Times recently noted that female comics are pushing boundaries and taste in the field of comedy. Does that resonate with you? Or do you feel its still an all-boys' club in some ways?
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.