Wanda Sykes has long been one of the funniest people in comedy. But this year, she’s also become one of the hardest-working people in all of show business. In addition to her roles on “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Sykes just had her own HBO comedy special, was the headliner at this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner, and throughout all this prepared the newest weekly entry into late-night television, “The Wanda Sykes Show,” which premiered Nov. 7.
But the most shocking thing about her schedule is that none of these things — or even all of them combined — is the thing keeping this veteran funny lady up nights. That would be the twins — Lucas Claude and Olivia Lou — that her wife gave birth to this past April. Bankrate spoke recently to Sykes about comedy, performing and her very busy year.
Bankrate: When you perform, do you find that your comedic style is set or is there still an evolution after all these years?
Wanda Sykes: We keep evolving as comics. You hit a style in your voice, but to say “this is how I do things” doesn’t allow any room for growth. I like to be open to new things. Who knows, there might be some areas where I go, “I didn’t think I would ever go there.” But I have new experiences and things that happened where I go, “OK, I think I can talk about this.”
Bankrate: Can you give me an example of how your style has grown?
Wanda Sykes: Before, it was harder. Now, there’s a little more finesse to it. Before it was: “This is the point I’m gonna make and it’s in your face.” Now it’s more: “Let’s think about it this way.” But then again, we were so angry during the Bush administration that anger was the tone.
Bankrate: How did you prepare for the White House Correspondents’ dinner?
Wanda Sykes: It was pretty funny because at the time, my wife was seven months pregnant, so I was really preoccupied with that. I was going out to the clubs, but also staying close to home and keeping an eye on her. It made me have to really rely on writing sometimes instead of going to the clubs and trying things out.
Bankrate: What kind of jokes were you striving for?
Wanda Sykes: I wanted to stick it to (Obama) and the administration a little bit, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I also wanted to be fair, to give it to Rush Limbaugh and those guys, too.
Bankrate: What did President Obama say to you?
Wanda Sykes: Before the show, he saw me and he said, “Hey, you’re one of my favorites. You gonna go easy on me?” And I said, “No, sir.” He laughed.
Bankrate: Is “The Wanda Sykes Show” designed for an older demographic?
Wanda Sykes: Whoever’s in that 18 to 49 demo. Maybe we’ll be closer to the 49 end, but we’re not doing a show for older people.
Bankrate: You did one episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” this year, and you’re continuing with “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Compare working on Old Christine, which is tightly scripted, with Curb, where there’s lots of room for improv.
Wanda Sykes: I started as a stand-up, so I think I’m pretty adaptable. Curb is more stressful because it is improv. On Old Christine, we have great writers, so it’s all there for you. I enjoy that, too.
Bankrate: You were a writer and performer for years on “The Chris Rock Show” on HBO. How important was that show as a comic incubator?
Wanda Sykes: I give complete credit to Chris and “The Chris Rock Show.” Even for the show I’m doing, my Fox show, I use “The Chris Rock Show” as a model for how I want things done.
Bankrate: Right before the Emmy’s, Neil Patrick Harris was on the cover of New York Magazine, and the headline referenced how weird it was that a gay actor was becoming a mainstream star. As a mainstream star who recently came out, is this even a factor in an actor’s career anymore?
Wanda Sykes: I don’t think it is. It all comes down to how comfortable you are. If you’re comfortable with yourself, then you’ll make other people comfortable. If you feel all weird about it, then people feel like you’ve misled them. That’s when I think it’s a problem.
Bankrate: With everything going on in the economy, has that affected the nature of your stand-up?
Wanda Sykes: I’m much more appreciative, when I do live shows, that the audience is there, and I thank them for that. I know the economy is bad. People are losing jobs and homes, and there are not a lot of people with discretionary income. So if you come out and spend good money to see me, I’m grateful, and I wanna make sure I really give them a good show.