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The Interview: Comedienne Wanda Sykes is Coming to Cincinnati

This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of UNiTE Cincinnati magazine, the local LGBT publication owned by The River City News.

When Wanda Sykes walked on stage in Washington, DC to record her HBO special in 2009, she had a message: I’ma Be Me.

Six years later, Wanda Sykes is still gonna be Wanda Sykes. “The same way how I’ma Be Me is a snapshot of what’s going on, my sensibility is still what I do. I talk about what I know, what affects me,” Sykes told UNiTE Cincinnati. In 2009, she riffed on race in the age of Obama, her marriage to wife Alex Niedbalski the year before, and her two children, Olivia and Lucas.

The jokes ranged from her newfound comfort in purchasing watermelon in public now that America has a black president (“I no longer have to grow them in my closet under my weed lamp!”), to the belief that being gay is harder than being black (She joked about her mom not having to say, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Mary J. Blige!”).

The show received two Emmy nominations.

Though her kids and the Obama administration are older, when Sykes takes the stage at the Arnoff Center in downtown Cincinnati on December 11, expect to hear fresh jokes about those topics. “So, the kids are older now and they’re talking and they’re saying things to crush me,” she laughed. “My daughter called me fat the other day.

“I think she caught on that it kind of hurt my feelings a little bit because she tried to buy it back. ‘You’re still pretty’, she told me. I could sit her down and have a conversation but I’m ready for her to go to school and say something to a fat kid and get punched in the face!”

Also new: Her marriage is recognized nationwide.

“It means I can no longer cheat in Texas,” Sykes said. “I wasn’t married in Texas, Alabama… I never took advantage of that, it was just nice to know. Now I’m bonafide married.”

In Cincinnati, she’ll be a short drive from Rowan County, Kentucky where County Clerk Kim Davis made a national spectacle of herself in refusing to abide by the new recognition of same-sex marriages.

“When she came out of jail and they played Eye Of The Tiger, I was just through. I was like, are you kidding me? She’s like a hero, lauded as this civil rights leader like she’s supposed to be Rosa Parks of the right wing conservatives,” Sykes said. “I’m like, that’s just ridiculous. She was trying to stop gay people from getting married legally, and I’m like, she’s not Rosa Parks. She’s the bus driver!”

Other hot button issues of local interest include Ohio’s consideration of legalized marijuana. “Weed should be decriminalized. It’s not going away. I don’t see it any different than alcohol. I mean, it’s crazy. How many casualties are caused by alcohol? Now, it won’t help our productivity none,” Sykes laughed. “It will be good for 24-hour pizza delivery. If we want our productivity up, we should really look at cocaine.”

Sykes has not had to worry about her own productivity. At 51, her star continues to rise with appearances on Amazon’s Alpha House where, continuing with the DC-theme, she played a United States senator, and she recently began filming a guest spot on Showtime’s House Of Lies.

In addition to touring, she continues to explore other TV opportunities. “My production company, we have several projects on the pilot stage right now,” Sykes said.

Meanwhile, fans of her run-ins with Larry David on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm will be saddened to know that Sykes doesn’t think the show will return for a ninth season. “That’s not looking good. I loved doing Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry was so much fun to work with. The show was just so different and I miss yelling at him.”

Another famous role – that of gyrating, bee-bopping corner dweller Biggie Shorty in the 2001 comedy Pootie Tang – has gained a cult following along with the film that flopped when released but found traction when released to video. Sykes said that her young children have not seen the performance. “Oh God, no. They’ll never listen to me again!”

“So many people come up to me, they love that movie. It’s funny. When it came out, it kind of tanked. Then it found its other life.”

Sykes has also found another life since coming out, or at least a more honest one. Since coming out, her family and gay issues have become an important part of her stories on stage; in 2010, she was honored with an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAF), and in 2015, received the Activism in the Arts award at the Triumph Awards.

Since coming out, the biggest change has been her family life. “I mean like my immediate family,” Sykes said. “I think my coming out, my family had a hard time. I think after coming out so many people have approached my family, my parents and said such positive things. It really helped my daughter or my son, and helped me deal with it. I think that helped them move forward. It wasn’t like they had some secrets and now we have a great relationship. Everything is good. They have a great relationship with the kids.”

This year, Sykes and family will be celebrating the holidays stateside. They alternate years in the U.S. and in Niedbalski’s native France.

“I’ll hopefully have the family come over looking forward to being up all night putting together expensive toys,” Sykes said.

On  December 11, Wanda Sykes will be bringing a Christmas present to Cincinnati: her bold, topical comedy.

And you can bet on this: On stage at the Aronoff, Wanda Sykes will be Wanda Sykes.

Wanda Sykes performs Friday, December 11, at 8 p.m. at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in Cincinnati. For tickets and other info, click here.

Written by Michael Monks, publisher of UNiTE Cincinnati, and editor & publisher of The River City News