Hot – and out – comic Wanda Sykes headlines Gay Days Weekend

For nearly a decade, Emmy-winning comedian and actress Wanda Sykes has tickled our collective funny bone on television (writing for The Chris Rock Show and acting in such shows as Wanda at Large, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Will & Grace and The New Adventures of Old Christine) and in the movies (Monster in Law, Pootie Tang, Evan Almighty, and License to Wed). No matter the medium, her calling card is her in-your-face delivery of keen observations on life and love.

Last November, Sykes caught the attention of the LGBT community when she publicly voiced her glee at Barack Obama’s election, and her disappointment that her fellow Californians had passed Proposition 8 denying same-sex marriage equality. (The referendum was upheld by California’s State Supreme Court as Watermark was going to press). Angry, she confirmed what many of us had suspected for some time: She is indeed a lesbian. Sykes also revealed that she had just married her partner in California before Proposition 8 passed. (Based on the court’s ruling, they and 18,000 other couples married in California will retain that legal status.)

Sykes is out and proud, though she doesn’t care to be a poster child. She remains protective of her private life, especially now that she is the mom to two of her own kids. Sykes’s wife, Alex, gave birth to twins in April, just weeks before Sykes caused a media ruckus by dissing Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where Sykes had the honor of being both the first African-American and the first openly gay person to perform at the high-profile affair.

Her next stop is Central Florida, where she’ll perform at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, June 4 before heading over to Orlando as Hard Rock Live’s Gay Days Weekend headliner the following night.

We caught up with Sykes by phone to dish on parenthood, politics, coming out and coming to Florida.

WATERMARK: Congratulations on being a new mom to twins. How did you come up with their names?
WANDA SYKES: Thank you. Well, Alex [my wife] is French, so we wanted something that would work across the waters, I guess. We both just love the name Olivia, and we both just love the name Lou for a girl, so we thought, ‘Let’s just do Olivia Lou.’ And Lucas works for a boy. In France they say it “Loo-kah,” but it’s spelled the same way. And Claude [Lucas’s middle name] is Alex’s mother’s first name, and she’s just been great.

So, I can’t imagine you’re getting much sleep lately co-parenting twins.
Oh, no. I’m totally delirious, so bear with me [laughs].

Did you ever consider being the biological mom?
Oh, no. Actually I had fibroid issues years ago, so I’ve still probably got a few eggs but no uterus.

Maybe we should get off the gynecological talk…
You asked! You asked! That’ll teach you! Oh, and Alex is much better looking too.

You’re coming to perform in Clearwater and also in Orlando over Gay Days Weekend. Have you ever been to Gay Days before?
Nah, I hadn’t even heard about that. I don’t have to do my show from a rollercoaster or anything like that, I hope.  I’ve been to Florida several times, but I haven’t ever done the Disney thing. Oh, wait a minute! I did do something at Epcot  once, some New Year’s thing.

If you were a theme park ride, what would you be?
Really? If I were a theme park ride, I think I’d be anything that makes you throw up; anything that turns your stomach and makes you puke—that’s me!

You grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) for five years before doing stand-up. Did you get to do any eavesdropping?
No, I didn’t. I just bought eavesdropping equipment. I bought all the secure phones and all that. My business was the shopping. I just bought all the stuff that people needed to do all that spy stuff.

Why did you leave the NSA to pursue a career in comedy?
I think I wanted something that was a little more secure, you know, a pension, yeah. That’s why I left the government and went to comedy.

I read that you got your big break with Chris Rock. How did you guys meet?
Oh, it was just doing stand-up in the clubs. When I started comedy in D.C. and also in Baltimore, it was more open mics and ‘bringer’ shows [where performers must ‘bring’ several audience members to the show in order to perform]. Once I moved up to New York that changed.

Do you miss your hometown of D.C.?
Actually, I lived in Maryland but just worked in D.C.  But I love D.C.—great city, great people. I live in L.A. now. I’m still an East Coast person, but L.A. is great; it’s sunny and I work there, so it makes it convenient [laughs] to live there.  You make your home wherever you are.

You’ve been a vocal supporter of President Obama. Did you support him in the primaries as well?
Actually, earlier on I was a Hillary supporter because I didn’t really know a lot about Barack. But it went along and Hillary just kinda got off point. Barack was on point.

Do you feel that President Obama is doing enough for gay rights? Some people have criticized him for not doing enough.
I think just be patient. To me, he hasn’t done anything to speak out against the gay and lesbian community—that’s huge! I think just give it time. We can’t just sit back and wait, and I think we’re doing the right thing by working in our communities, but I think the president has his hands full right now. I mean, do you want to have equality and be broke? I’d rather have the economy working and then get everything together.

What do you think are the most important LGBT issues for President Obama to tackle in his first term?
Right now, it’s DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act, which denies recognition of same-sex marriage at the federal level]—we need to get rid of that. And the military. The work we have cut out for our troops right now, well, we really don’t need to be kicking people out of the military who want to serve the country—it’s ridiculous.

Were you nervous meeting the Obamas at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where you were invited to perform a few weeks ago?
Of course! I mean, I wouldn’t say nervous more than anxious. There was a reception, too, where we got to meet them. There were almost 200 people in the room, and they walked in and everybody mobbed them trying to get their picture taken with them. They shook hands, looked you in the eye, chit-chatted. And even though you look around and see all these other people, you still feel like they’re talking to you. They have that skill where they can do that and give you your minutes when you’re with them.
What was fun for me was to entertain them. Honestly, I didn’t want to take up too much of their time, so in the room I was just like, “Hi, this is so-and-so, and we’re pleased to meet you. This is my wife, Alex, and we’re pleased to meet you.” And then I kinda just left them alone. [Laughs.] I was like one foot away from the first lady, and during the dinner I was like, she’s…she’s…I’m just not gonna bother her. We chatted a little bit.

Michelle Obama has great guns. She looks like she’s about eight feet tall.
Yeah! But I’d say closer to eight four. [Laughs.]

Why do you think some of the mainstream media, particularly FOX News, was so critical of your performance? Have you talked to Rush Limbaugh since you joked at the dinner that you hope he succumbs to kidney failure?
You know what? I’m just not aware of what happened. We had the kids with us in D.C., so after the show I was just happy to go back upstairs and hang with the kids. It was very positive at the party. I was like, ‘Great, this is over with.’ I was just happy to let that go. I was nervous and waiting on the babies, and once the show was over I thought, ‘Now I can be present. I can be back with my family and not have this other thing hanging over my head.’ When I do stuff, I get done with it and move on.

Journalist Chistopher Hitchens criticized you and said “the black dyke got it wrong” after your performance.
Wow! [Laughs] That’s kinda funny. I mean, ignorance is hilarious. To me that ignorance is pretty funny. I’m not even gonna respond to that because it’s so ignorant.

Do you think it’s harder for black men and women to come out of the closet than white gays and lesbians?
There definitely isn’t as much acceptance in the black community. My family is dealing; they love me.

You have a late-night talk show slated for this fall.
Oh, yeah. It’s on FOX on Saturday nights at 11 o’clock. We’re putting it together. That’s where we are right now.

Did you worry about your career after your old sit-com Wanda at Large got canceled after two seasons in 2003?
Good Lord, how far back are you going? [Laughs.] I never had the feeling like my career was over. I’m a stand-up comedian, and I always had that.

What topics will you touch on in your Clearwater and Orlando shows?
[Baby starts crying loudly in background.] It’s a whole lot of what’s going on now. [Comforts baby with sweet-toned, “Yeah, yeah, aw.”]

Do you feel the need to censor yourself in any way now that you have children?
No, no, no, no, no! I’m not ever going to censor myself just because I have children.

What’s next for you after your shows on the road?

I’m working on my HBO special that shoots August 21 and 22 and working on material for that. I’m in a good place for this show. I mean, I’m still me—angry—but I’m in a good place.

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