Wanda Sykes co-hosted the Oscars in 2022, but she had no desire to joke about The Slap in her second Netflix comedy special. Because she didn’t have to. Her life, and how it intersects with what’s going on in the rest of the world, provides enough fodder for comedy, right?
The Gist: In addition to co-hosting last year’s Academy Awards, Sykes also continues to light up the small screen with her starring role in Netflix’s The Upshaws and a supporting role on Max’s The Other Two. She also guest-hosted a week of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, and served as a writer and EP on Hulu’s History of the World, Part II.
After releasing specials on Comedy Central, HBO, and Epix, Sykes has arrived now at her sixth solo hour of stand-up, and for it, she turns her attentions to raising teens during a politically-charged pandemic, and how her marriage to a white French woman allows her to see and explain our current political riffs with added perspective.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: At times early in the hour, Sykes’ pacing, both vocally and physically, feel a bit like Chris Rock’s. Which makes sense, considering they worked together in the late 1990s on HBO’s The Chris Rock Show. But that’s where the similarities end.
Memorable Jokes: The title for her hour comes as one of the final tags to a bit about how Sykes “could’ve saved myself a lot of unnecessary dick in my life” if elementary schools had rainbow flags when she was growing up. Instead, Sykes, who says she knew she was gay in the third grade, kept her feelings and sexuality hidden well into adulthood, and when she had sex with men then, it never did anything for her. But the guys seemed to enjoy it, she says. “I’m an entertainer!”
Sykes goes after conservative politicians and protestors for the ridiculousness of banning drag shows and reading hours. “Have you seen Sesame Street? If the kids can handle Snuffleupagus, they can handle RuPaul,” she says. She may not be the first to describe the gross realities of a woman’s public restroom, but in doing so, complete with act-outs, she claps back at anyone worried about trans women trying to do their business in there.
Sykes finds it tough being liberal these days, comparing the Democrats to PBS and the Republicans to the crazy but entertaining TLC network.
But that doesn’t stop her from criticizing U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for comparing taxpayers to children, or from going after conservatives about Critical Race Theory, wondering whether they’re trying to whitewash history because they’re afraid their children will be ashamed of them, specifically.
And Sykes stokes a perhaps brilliant argument about reparations by pointing out the systemic inequalities brought about by family inheritances.
It’s not all so serious. Sykes also finds time to wonder what men would do if they had to endure their own version of menopause, as well as reminding us she hasn’t forgotten about Esther, the name she has given to her fat roll.
Our Take: After starting her hour by giving us her own personal take on dealing with the pandemic (including her experiences with online church services and how she couldn’t be scared of vaccines based on her childhood run-ins with the mosquito man), Sykes shifts her focus back to her French spouse and their 13-year-old twins. It’s this perspective, with Sykes outnumbered by white people in her home 3:1, that allows her to reframe so much of what we’ve been arguing about in recent years.
Especially in one bit where she discovers her wife has gone snooping around into a house under construction next door. Unlike Ahmaud Arbery, killed by a white father-son in Georgia in February 2020, Sykes tells her wife: “They would’ve chased you down and asked if you wanted to see the other two models.” White privilege means Sykes’ wife and kids can do things without consequence that would land Sykes in jail or perhaps even kill her. Sykes calls out the names of other black victims: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor. And she cites Elijah McClain, an autistic kid who died after being choked by police and given ketamine by paramedics, as an example of why if you’re black, “you can’t be weird.” If you’re white? Sykes says you can riot the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 5, 2021.
Somehow it just hits different when Sykes points it all out.
Our Call: STREAM IT. There’s a raw vitality and gravity to this hour that makes me wish Netflix had gone live with Sykes, rather than (or in addition to) Rock. She deserves lots of eyeballs on this hour.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
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