Whenever Wanda Sykes opens her mouth, you can't help but laugh. Her delivery mixed with her signature sharp-tongued wit and darting looks are what has kept her in the public eye for the past 18 years.
This 50-year-old comedian has a lot on her mind, all of which she will tell Long Islanders about when she gets behind the mic at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury Saturday.
Where does your sass come from?
It used to annoy me when people would say, "Oooh, you're sassy!" Then I heard someone refer to Tina Fey as sassy, so it doesn't annoy me as much. At first I thought it was reserved for black women -- we're sassy while white women are funny and smart. The truth is, it's just who I am. It's not something I turn on. It just comes out that way. It's effective in getting your point across, but it's not contrived.
What shaped your humor growing up?
My family is funny, and we watched a lot of comedy in the house. I grew up with Moms Mabley, the Smothers Brothers and Flip Wilson. You hear a certain rhythm and it makes you laugh. It was kind of like training.
How would you compare Wanda on stage to Wanda offstage?
On stage is a heightened version of who I am. Sometimes offstage when I'm hanging with my friends and the wine is flowing, I can turn it on then, too. When I'm on stage I'm aware that I'm there to do a show and I want people to have a great time.
You publicly came out as gay in 2008. What kind of impact did that have on your comedy?
I think it gave my comedy a boost and made it fresher. I felt like I could say whatever I wanted to say. I'm not on stage trying to switch pronouns. It definitely opened things up for me.
What kind of effect did it have on your audience?
I didn't see a decline in the audience who had been with me from the start. The gay crowd has always been there, they are just more vocal. They will yell out, "Love you, Wanda!" or "Thank you, Wanda!" at the top of the show. My audience has been growing at a nice steady pace.
You first took the stage in 1987 at a talent showcase. What made you take that leap?
I didn't know what else to do. I was bored at my job at the National Security Agency. I said, "This cannot be my life!" I felt like I was supposed to be doing something else. When I heard about this talent show and comedy was one of the categories, I thought I'd give it a shot. I had a great set. I didn't win, but it all made sense to me.
What was your material like then as opposed to now?
Back then it was all about jokes and nothing personal. I did a piece on the Autoshade, which you'd put in your windshield to block the sun when you parked. I pointed out how ridiculous it was that there were instructions on the side saying in bold letters: "DO NOT DRIVE WHILE USING THE AUTOSHADE." I was like, "Who the hell needed that?"
You just turned 50. Did it change your perspective?
I'm trying to get healthier because I realized that I'm half a century old. I've cut back on eating, and I walk or bike every day. If I drink, I have wine and lay off the hard liquor. Your body lets you know you are 50. It's like, "Damn, that didn't used to hurt when I made that move."
What do you talk about in your stand-up show?
My comedy is a snapshot of what's going on in my life. I'm married to a white French woman and I have two really, really white kids. I wake up and it's like, "How did all these white people get in my house?" I feel like the help.
How do you explain the chemistry between you and Larry David on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"?
He likes to be abused and loves women yelling at him. That's just his thing, but it's well-deserved.
Do you think there will be another season of "Curb"?
I have no idea, but I hope so because I love that show and I miss doing it.
You did "The Wanda Sykes Show" from 2009 to 2010. What do you make of the late-night TV scene?
The late-night thing is a beast that only white men can handle. Late-night TV has kind of like turned into that show "Naked and Afraid." You're never going to see any black people on there.
Looking back at your show, would you have done anything differently?
I would have hired a few different people, but we made the best of it. At the same time, I was doing "The New Adventures of Old Christine," which was crazy. If you do your own show, you should not have any other job at all. It was a good opportunity, and we had some laughs.
You worked with Chris Rock on multiple projects. What bond do you share?
He's a friend who I both admire and love. My first writing gig was for him. We share similar sensibilities. He's easy to talk with because we are on the same page.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m., Saturday, NYCB Theatre at Westbury
INFO $52-$74, 1-800-745-3000, livenation.com