There was an urban legend going around my high school that Wanda Sykes was an alumni. Actually the rumor was Wanda Sykes and PM Dawn went there. Way back in the 90’s we didn’t have the same Internet available to you kids today so we had no way of knowing if this was true or not, or maybe we were too lazy to find out. Wikipedia has since confirmed this but can you ever really trust the Webz?
Hi Wanda how are you?
I’m good, how are you Jenn?
I’m great! I was just watching your last HBO special and I freaked out when the phone rang because I knew that was you calling and I didn’t want you to know I was watching you. I had to turn it off really fast. It was embarrassing.
Oh no, you were just doing your research.
I do want to start off with something a little strange. I grew up in Maryland and this weird urban legend in my high school was that you also went to our high school. Did you go to Arundel High School?
Yeah! Arundel, go Wildcats. I was in the band and everything.
Amazing. Now I can confirm this on Facebook so all of the alumni will know. So, you’re on tour now. How did you manage to put this together? You’re so busy. Is it all new material?
Yeah, it’s all new material and I’m always touring but not this heavily. I kicked off the tour in September and I’m out every weekend until December. I’m doing this because I’m trying to get it all tight so I can hopefully do an HBO special next year. I have all of this new material. I need to get out the bugs.
As someone who is recognizable I find it interesting that you work out material at some place like The Strathmore. You probably don’t really get to go to an open mic, nor do you want to I would imagine.
I still hit the clubs but not as often, actually Bill Cosby said this once, he was asked how does he come up with all this new material doesn’t he have to try it out and at the clubs and he said “No, I know what’s funny by now. I know what’s gonna work and not gonna work.” I thought it was ridiculous, like you think it’s ridiculous what I just said because it’s like “That’s crazy you go to the clubs then when you get a big show you do it,” but now he’s right. I see it, especially when you don’t have as much time to hit the clubs. I now have a body of work where I know I’m gonna give you a good show. You’re gonna have fun. I have a solid show and I know, kinda know what’s gonna work and not work and even if I try something and it doesn’t work I have enough stuff that does work to get me out of it.
It’s almost nice having those moments where no one is laughing. I read somewhere once that one of the many reasons Dave Chappelle decided to take a break was he realized one night while doing stand up the audience wasn’t laughing with him anymore they were laughing at him because he’s Dave Chappelle. Do you ever worry that people are laughing because you’re Wanda Sykes and not at what you are saying.
Not necessarily that, sometimes I worry that…now my stand up, a lot of it is coming from my family situation and my kids. I’m just being honest. That’s what’s taking up most of my time. That’s what my life is now. Before the wife and the kids I was all about what’s going on in the world because I had all this free time to look and to see what’s happening and be on top of everything. Today I haven’t even turned on the news yet. The kids are here and I’m present. That’s what I’m doing so that’s where a lot of my comedy is coming from now. That’s the only thing that worries me is like oh boy I’m talking a lot about my family and the kids now. Are people gonna be turned off now? Do they want to hear more political stuff. I find when I go to the political stuff to me it sounds forced like I’m doing it because I think that’s what they want to hear but that’s not where I am right now. So now I’m just doing what feels right for me, what’s honest. Of course I’m aware of…I’m not some dummy. I do try to stay on stop of stuff but it’s not all political. Now it’s more personal. To me the main thing it has to be is funny. That’s my job as a comic to make people laugh.
Some of the best advice I ever got was if you think it’s funny then they’re going to think it’s funny. I also think you have to get to a certain point before you can start to be personal because if they don’t know who you are they might not care about you. I think you have to get to a point where they want to get to know you.
I don’t know, it’s the confidence level too. Okay like doing Last Comic Standing there was one comic Mike Gaffney. I don’t know Mike but all I know is he got on stage and he was talking about being a single father and his kids. We were dying laughing. I don’t know his kids. I don’t know Mike but he told funny story about his kids which was endearing and funny and you wanted to hear more so I think if it’s funny people want to hear it. They’ll take the ride with you.
Are you going to be as involved with Last Comic Standing this season as you were last season?
Yeah, pretty much the biggest part is picking the talent. We pick the hundred comics last season and we’re already scouting and we’ll pick the hundred for the new season, then we turn it over to the judges as far as who’s staying and who’s leaving.
I think a lot of comics are apprehensive about doing something like Last Comic Standing because they aren’t sure what it will do for their career. Is it really a good move for a comic?
I think not only is it good for the comedian it’s good for comedy. I know the comics who participate in the show, they’re sending us emails and we’re getting calls thanking us because for the first time people are coming out to the clubs to see them. They are actually selling tickets and the comedy clubs are happy because people are now coming to see live comedy. The audience remembered what they liked about stand up and now they want to go out and see some live comedy. I think it’s just good for comedy but it definitely helps the comedian. It gets you national exposure and it’s the biggest advertisement you can do for yourself. As a comic I wouldn’t even look at it as “Hey I’m gonna do it so I can get a TV deal,” no you wanna do it so you can put yourself out there and when you work these clubs the audience goes “Oh I remember that guy he was on that show.” Whether you won or not people remember you and they want to see you. As a stand up comic that is our job. Why wouldn’t you want to put yourself out there? Now if you’re not funny that’s another thing. We don’t make the comics look bad.
For people who are submitting, and I believe it is currently open, when submitting for something like this do you look for things specifically? For example should you submit a clean set only?
Yeah, you should submit a set that is appropriate for TV. If you’re working dirty we can’t put you on TV so it has to be appropriate for TV. This season we are also scouting. We’re sending a couple of our producers around the country and they’re hitting the comedy clubs. We’re letting the clubs put together some showcases. We’re also bringing people to New York and LA to do so me showcases there.
Are there any jokes or premises that you feel are so incredibly hack, so done you would never want to hear a joke about that again?
You know what at one point I could pick out a few things but after doing Last Comic I have heard some premises where you’re like “Oh Jesus are they really going to do this?” but it was so funny that you go “I’m glad they did that,” so as long as you have a new take on it. As long as it doesn’t sound like a joke I’ve heard before I’m not going to put any barriers on people because you might have the funniest opinion on that, that I’ve never heard.