Wanda Sykes talks about being a wife, a mother and a minority in her own home

Ever since she came out in 2008, Wanda Sykes has been a leader in the LGBT community. But the writer, actress and comedian has been involved in Hollywood for much longer than that and has worked with celebrities like Jane Fonda, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Courtney Cox.

When she and her partner, Alex, married, Sykes returned to her stand-up roots where she shared her thoughts on same-sex marriage, politics and motherhood. The couple are parents to 5-year-old twins Olivia and Lucas.

It’s a lot to juggle, especially since Sykes not only tours, but produces Last Comic Standing and stars in Herlarious, an ongoing special on OWN.

The comedian will perform at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday, Feb. 27 and will return to Florida April 25 when she performs at Hard Rock Live in Orlando.

In an interview with Watermark, Sykes discusses her background in comedy, her journey as a comedian and her current tour.

WATERMARK: How did you get your start in comedy?
WANDA SYKES: My first time on stage was in a talent show in 1987 that a local radio station was sponsoring, and one of the categories was comedy. I said I wanted to write some jokes and audition on the show, so they put me on. The first time I was ever in front of a live audience was on this show, and I did quite well. I didn’t win, but I made everyone laugh. Then I said, “Huh, this is it. This is why I’m here. This is what I’m supposed to be doing in life.” The light bulb went on.

I always loved comedy. We watched a lot of comedy in my home, shows like the Smothers Brothers, things like that. My whole family is funny. As I got older, I became a fan of comedians like Joan Rivers, Eddie Murphy and George Carlin.

What do you love most about being a comedian?
It’s making people laugh. I always enjoyed that. Even as a kid in school, I always made my classmates and teachers laugh. I’m lucky to have many outlets [for comedy]. It’s my first love.

I also know you’re actively involved in LGBT rights. How did your fans react after you came out?
My fans have been great. I didn’t see a drop off or anything. In fact, I continued to grow. I always had a nice following from the LGBT community, but I also have my core roots still there, the fans who have known me from the beginning. And each project I do, I pick up a few more fans. I can tell where the audience is from based on what they’re yelling out— if I hear, “Biggie Shorty!” I know they’re from the Pootie Tang fan base. And if I hear, “We love you Wanda!” I know they’re usually gay or lesbian fans.

Do you feel like you’ve made a difference in the LGBT world, especially with your celebrity status?
That’s sort of a jackass thing for me to say (laughing), that I made a difference. But I will say that being out and talking about my wife and kids helps start a dialogue, I guess. People come up and thank me for talking about stuff like that because their child is gay or lesbian. When the conversation is out there, it does help. But I do the same thing for everything else, like being a breast cancer survivor. It’s being authentic. I’m not making an effort; it just is what it is.

How has your experience with breast cancer affected you?
I found out when I went to have a breast reduction. They found the early stages through a pathology procedure. So I guess you could say my big boobs saved my life (laughing). I had a double mastectomy because I had such a strong [cancer] history on my mom’s side of the family—I lost two sisters and some cousins to breast cancer, and a few men to prostate cancer. Something is definitely going on genetically. I decided I wasn’t going to wait around and see what happens. To me, it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. So I had them both removed and started over, and now I’m a 50-year-old woman walking around with 20-year-old boobs.

Sounds like you haven’t slowed down one bit! Tell me a little bit about your current tour. What can fans expect?
A lot of it is based on reality and what’s going on with me. I’m married to a French woman and we have 5-year-old twins. My kids and wife are white, and now I’m a minority in my own home. I truly love my family and it’s the best situation I’ve ever been in, but it’s a way to talk about race and age difference. She’s 10 years younger than me, so I talk about things like how when she gets out of the bed, she jumps right up and gets going, but if I stand up too quickly, I almost faint. I have to cover it up and say something like, “Let’s just lay here a little longer and ease into the day,” because I can’t let her see me pass out.

How did you meet your wife?
We met on Fire Island, N.Y. It was just fate, to be honest with you. I spotted her on the ferry ride to the island. I just looked at her and said to myself, “Interesting. I like this!” It wasn’t until the next day that I was with one of my friends and she was with one of her friends, and they introduced us. We just kind of automatically connected.

How do you juggle family life and professional life?
It’s all about time management. When I have to work and be somewhere, that’s where I am. My wife travels also—she’s a VP in sales. We have a big calendar; we map everything out and stay on schedule. And we take time to be together.

You’ll be in Jacksonville, Clearwater and Miami this month. Is this your first time performing at these cities’ venues?
I get to spend three glorious days in Florida! I performed at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater before, but this will be my first time in Jacksonville, and it’s been years since I’ve visited Miami.

Now that you see gay marriage becoming legal in more states, what do you see for the future of marriage equality?
I see it across the board, at least it’s going to be. Once Proposition 8 was overturned, that was it. The bottom line: it’s unconstitutional to ban it. Once Alabama overturned it [the state’s ban on gay marriage]? Come on, it’s done.

We need to focus now on protection. In over 30 states, you can still get fired for being LGBT. There need to be more anti-discrimination laws because if you can’t get a job, who wants to marry you anyway?

WHO: Wanda Sykes
WHERE: Feb. 26 at Florida Theater in Jacksonville; Feb. 27 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater; Feb. 28 at Olympia Theater at Gusman Center in Miami
TICKETS: TicketMaster.com

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