Irreverent comic Wanda Sykes is a headliner this weekend at the re-opening of the historic Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Sykes was working a day job as a government worker in the city almost 20 years ago when she began her stand-up career.
She recently spoke to The Root with her usual brand of levity about being a woman in comedy, learning about her white ancestor on Finding Your Roots with The Root’s editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and how motherhood has changed her stand-up.
The Root: You’re the opening act at the re-opening of the historic Howard Theatre this weekend. Will this be a kind of homecoming for you?
Wanda Sykes: Definitely. D.C. is where I started doing my stand-up. It’s always been very special to me. I went to Hampton, and Howard is like our rival, but I still have love for D.C.
TR: You left your job as a government worker — working for the National Security Agency — to pursue comedy? Where did you find the audacity to do that?
WS: Just felt that I didn’t belong, like I should be doing something else. Wouldn’t say that I was a bad government employee, but whenever I built up eight hours of leave, I took the day off. I was never like everyone else, who tried to save up their leave; I was trying to get out of there.
TR: Your comedy acts tend to be rather political. Is it risky for an entertainer to be political?
WS: Whatever I talk about is what I’m interested in at the time. Politics are big with me. But right now being a mom is taking up most of my time. I like to joke that I know more about what’s happening on Sesame Street than Wall Street … Right now my act is more family-oriented than it is about politics.
TR: What aspect of your family life have you included in your act?
WS: Little bit of everything — motherhood, being a parent. Just trying to do the right thing and realizing that there really isn’t a handbook. People have their opinions on how to do it, but really, each child is an individual, so it’s on-the-job training.