Surely one of those highs was performing at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2009, a first for an African-American woman and an openly LGBT performer. That kind of high-profile gig is a lot of pressure even for the most seasoned of comics: While the whole world is watching, you have to walk the line between being funny and not being controversial. But Sykes, who ended up making headlines for a relatively tame but still “controversial” jab at Rush Limbaugh at the event, said she had too much going on in her life at the time to be too concerned.
“It’s a big gig,” she said. “There’s all kinds of celebrities there. Luckily, I didn’t have much time to think about it as far as what am I going to do and what people will think because my wife was nine-months’ pregnant. So I was waiting around for her to have the babies. After the babies were born, I hit the clubs and got my material together. The next thing I knew it was the day of the event. So I figured they invited me and I was going to show up and be me. That’s what I do.”
President Barack Obama was in attendance at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner and, three years later, he made history when he publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage.
Coincidence? We don’t think so, but Sykes is neither helping us connect those historical dots nor allowing us to give her even the smallest piece of credit for it.
“I’m not going to take any credit for it,” she said about the president’s evolving views on gay marriage. “I think just being there was enough. I was there and my wife was with me and I introduced her to him and the First Lady. I’m sure he has a lot of gay and lesbian families in his circle.”
When the politically savvy comedian was asked what Obama’s support of gay marriage will mean for his political career and legacy as the president, she said she hoped it wouldn’t hurt him.
“I go back and forth on this,” she said. “I know that some people say it’s a political move but I don’t see how this could help him politically, especially with all the things people say about him: that’s he’s socialist, elitist and not even believing he was born here. For his critics, this is like the missing piece of the puzzle. This is what they have been looking for to say, ‘See? He’s the antichrist!’ The people who were going to vote for him will probably vote for him anyway. I hope it doesn’t hurt him but I’m very proud that he did it.”
The last time Sykes appeared in the Philadelphia area, it was to make her live theater debut in a production of “Annie” at Media Theater in late 2010. She said she might be tempted to take to a theater stage again if the right role came her way.
“I had a great time doing it and if the opportunity comes up again I might try it,” she said. “But that was perfect. Miss Hannigan was a great role for me and I’m friends with the theater owner. I felt like I was in a good environment to give it a shot. I don’t know if I would fare well on Broadway or a stage where it was a long run on a show. As a comic, after doing my material over and over again, you get bored. I have to keep changing it. I think that’s the same thing doing a stage play. I couldn’t see myself doing that for three months night after night. I would go nuts.”
The last couple of years haven’t gone by without some troubles for Sykes. She has seen a few of her TV projects — her talk show “The Wanda Sykes Show” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” a sitcom in which she had a supporting role — cancelled. She also had her cameo in the film “The Muppets” relegated to the cutting-room floor. But all that seemed like small potatoes in 2011, when she revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and elected to have a bilateral mastectomy. She said she will be talking about that particular experience when she performs June 15-16 at the Borgata.
“I touch on it a little bit,” she said. “I’m not doing a big cancer show because there aren’t a lot of jokes in that. But I do speak on it because, luckily for me, I detected it early. I was diagnosed at stage zero. I speak on it to put awareness out there. I tend to talk about whatever is going on in my life or what I’ve been through.”
When asked if her recent marriage and having children is going to take the edge off her razor-sharp and often-profane brand of comedy, Sykes gave an emphatic “no.”
“I think it’s given me more material,” she said. “I can’t believe how kids can change your life. I knew it was going to be difficult but I had no idea it was going to be this difficult. That’s the thing: People who have kids don’t tell you everything because they want you to join their little group, and if they told you the truth you wouldn’t want to go through it. They’re great and I’m enjoying being a mother but, man, I had no idea it was this involved.”
Wanda Sykes performs June 15-16 at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa Music Box, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City, N.J. For more information or tickets, visit www.wandasykes.com or call 609-317-1000.