My new best friend Wanda Sykes and I had a short tête-à-tête recently on the phone. Actually, I simply had the privilege of an interview before Ms. Sykes’ appearance at the Akron Civic Theatre (a Knight Arts grantee) on Friday, September 21.
This is an excerpt of the interview, which took place on Wednesday, August 29.
Roger Durbin: You are a writer, a stand up comic, an actress in TV and movies, and have done voiceovers for animated films. Do you have any preferences among all your talents?
Wanda Sykes: Porn, but no one has asked me! [She laughed] It’s stand up comedy. It’s what I love to do, and I got everything else from that start.
RD: I read your father was a military officer and your mother was in banking. Those seem like really conservative professions. How did they take to you switching from government security work to comedy?
WS: At first they said I was nuts. They didn’t like that I quit a solid government job and went into the business. No one else in the family was ever in the business. When I started getting success, they said “Sure, I knew it all the time.”
RD: What made you decide to go on tour? You have quite a long full schedule now through next May.
WS: That’s hard…to say. I always did a few [comedy] dates all the time. But I was feeling a little rusty, you know, so I told my agent “Let’s do it.” 2012 will be the year for stand up comedy.
RD: You take on all the sacred cows — marriage, religion, politics, sex, national security, and on and on. Do you think about the audience and where you are, or just the material itself?
WS: My comedy depends on where I am in life. On what is going on with me. 80 percent of the show is new material. I’ll bring up the election of course and being a mother.
RD: How often do you think you need fresh material? When does that urge come, or is it not an issue?
WS: The urge comes from wherever, depending on what’s going on with me.
RD: How and where do you try out material to see how its’ going?
WS: I hit the comedy clubs, in New York City or wherever, and I’ll do impromptu during a show if it feels right.
RD: What/Who makes you laugh?
WS: People falling down. That really cracks me up. My friends will call and say they took a spill and threw their cell phone into the bushes, and I fall over laughing.
I like the old guys, some dead now — Richard Pryor, [George] Carlin, Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley. I listened to them growing up.
RD: What do you do for fun? Wanda fun?
WS: Hang out with friends; bowling; cooking; a good meal and wine; hiking.
RD: Do you write all your own stuff, or do you get jokes and stories from others?
WS:I still write my own stuff. If I’m working on a [TV] special, like with Logo [channel], I bring in a few people I trust.
Wanda Sykes will perform on Friday, September 21 at 8 p.m. at the Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main St., Akron; 330-535-3179; www.akroncivic.com. Tickets are $45.