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Wanda Sykes' New Comedy Special: 'What Happened Ms. Sykes?'


How about some comic relief from all the politics? We're going to talk here to comedian Wanda Sykes. She's won Emmy awards. She's hosted her own talk show. When she performed at the White House Correspondents' Dinner back in 2009, she was the first black woman and first openly gay comic to do that. And she poked fun at President Obama. Well, now in her new comedy special called "What Happened... Ms. Sykes?" that's out tomorrow on Epix, the comedian takes aim at someone in her inner circle - her wife.


WANDA SYKES: I like to cook. I have a passion for cooking - right? - and I do most of the cooking in the house. I do because, you know, my wife's cooking - eh.


SYKES: No, I'm just - it's like her food - it tastes like necessity.


SYKES: You know what I'm talking about? Yeah, you have her food, and you like, you got to eat.


GREENE: So one question I had for Wanda Sykes, does the comedy that involves her wife and kids make things at home, well, kind of awkward?

SYKES: No. Well, you know what? I guess I should ask them, huh?

GREENE: If you're ever realizing that right now, I'm a little worried.

SYKES: (Laughter) Well, maybe I should be worried. You know, maybe there's a reason why I'm sitting here in LA talking to you and they are all in France right now. Hmm, interesting.

GREENE: Well, here's something you might not know about her, I mean, who would have thought one of the most recognizable names in comedy first started her career in a government job with top secret security clearance?

Wanda Sykes, you grew up in Maryland.


GREENE: And one of your first jobs was at the National Security Agency...


GREENE: ...As a contractor.

SYKES: A contracting specialist.

GREENE: Contracting specialist. This is a job that has made some people famous recently.

SYKES: You're right.

GREENE: I'm thinking Edward Snowden. I mean, I'm wondering, like, when you're - I mean, did you ever take anything home with you that you shouldn't have?

SYKES: (Laughter) See - no, I did not. I worked with people like Edward Snowden. Well, not people who took stuff home.

GREENE: Right.

SYKES: But these people, you know, they're dedicated, hardworking people and they do a great job. And he - I don't know, I have a little mixed emotions. And I just get angry.

GREENE: Who are you angry at?

SYKES: More so Snowden. You know, you don't - you're not supposed to snitch. He's a snitch, yeah. It's not like the government is listening on, you know, the Kardashians' conversation or, you know...

GREENE: Although that would be great to hear, maybe.

SYKES: (Laughter).

GREENE: But you - I mean, it sounds - I mean, you're a little torn. I guess I wonder do you ever bring this up in your comedy? Like, is this Edward Snowden and your time at the NSA, is that good fodder?

SYKES: No, because I get to a point where I can't find the comedy. So if I can't find the joke, then I can't talk about it.

GREENE: I couldn't help but notice as I was watching your special that at this moment that does feel so polarized, you said essentially that you standing on stage as a black woman, as a gay woman and successful in being a comic was really symbolic in some way, which was kind of going against the grain of the harshness of what we've been hearing in this campaign.

SYKES: Yeah. There is a lot of power in just me talking to that audience. If you could see - I mean, my audience is very diverse. To me, it looks like the America that I hope that we could be. And the election that's going on now, seems like people want to take that all away and go backwards. Like, you know, remember when things were really good and remember when it was all about just a man and a woman? And remember when we could tell women what to do with their bodies? Remember when it was hard for minorities to vote?

You know, it's like - seems like people want to - they want to go backwards. And that's really sad because I appreciate all the progress that we've made. It has personally affected my life.

GREENE: So I first met you at President Obama's first White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington in 2009.


SYKES: This is - this is truly an honor to be here.

GREENE: And I remember you telling me and my wife as we were talking to you that you were - you were pretty nervous. Like, this was a huge stage.

SYKES: I had no idea what I was walking into, no idea, no idea.


SYKES: Even the media - you know, you guys have been very favorable towards the president. You know, it's funny to me that they've never caught you smoking, but they somehow always catch you with your shirt off.


SYKES: The world is watching. And it's like the biggest corporate gig that you could do.


GREENE: Do you do a lot of corporate gigs? Like, what is it, like, bank holiday parties, or what is...

SYKES: Yeah. And it's a bunch of guys in suits, and they really don't want you to do your jokes. They want you to talk about Charlie in accounting.

GREENE: Seriously?

SYKES: Yeah, yeah. The worst one - this wasn't even a corporate gig. It was a bar mitzvah, and the check was just ridiculous. I said if I say no to this, it almost feels like a sin.


GREENE: I'm sorry. I'm - go on, go on...

SYKES: I can't believe I'm telling you this.

GREENE: No, I love it...

SYKES: I can't believe I'm telling you this.

GREENE: ...I love it. Please, go on.

SYKES: It was theme night. I mean, it was a theme, and it was a Vegas theme.

GREENE: A Vegas-themed bar mitzvah?

SYKES: It was the gaudiest, over-the-top - and I'm like, oh, my God, this - I mean, they had showgirls and...

GREENE: I can't even...

SYKES: ...Big fuzzy dice. And I think my opening joke was I understand, you know, the Jewish tradition, this is when a boy officially becomes a man. And what do you do, dad? What lesson do you give him. You buy him a black woman.

GREENE: Oh, my God...

SYKES: This is great.

GREENE: (Laughter) Oh, my God.


GREENE: Oh, wow. Yeah, how did that - how did that land in the room?

SYKES: I already had the check. It's fine.

GREENE: It landed that well, huh?

SYKES: (Laughter) No, they loved it. They all fell out laughing.

GREENE: Oh, my. Wanda Sykes, it has been a real pleasure. And best of luck with the special. And...

SYKES: Thank you.

GREENE: ...Hope we get to talk again sometime.

SYKES: I appreciate it. Thanks, David.


GREENE: That was comedian Wanda Sykes. Her new comedy special is called "What Happened... Ms. Sykes?" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.