In Hollywood, it's one thing for an up-and-coming comedian to dog on minor celebrities. It's quite another, however, to draw the ire of Bill Cosby or to razz Ray Charles. Wanda Sykes got a chilly reception from Cosby at last year's Emmys when she asked him why his show was such a success. His now-infamous reply to the jive-talking comic: "We spoke English!" And when she recently appeared on Celebrity Poker Showdown, Sykes told Charles that his competitor Travis Tritt was actually African-American crooner Charlie Pride. "Hey, he was alive and kicking when I made that joke," she says of her dig on the late blues legend.
For Sykes, the bigger they are, the harder they've fallen for her. Her gig on HBO's tepid Inside the NFL came after Sykes mercilessly dogged host Bob Costas at a wrap party. "After the producers sobered up," says Sykes, "they called me and asked me if I wanted to do the show." She was cementing her status as the Queen of Smack.
Sykes was a wisecracking contract specialist for the National Security Agency before she got her big break at a Washington, D.C., comedy showcase. She worked the circuit until The Chris Rock Show called. Writing for Rock led to the Inside gig, Emmy nominations, numerous appearances on HBO and Comedy Central, and then her own Wanda at Large sitcom. The show was canceled partly because of its Friday time slot, according to Sykes. "Who the hell watches TV on Friday night? I didn't even watch my damn show," she says, smacking even herself. "I need a nice brunch show. That's when my audience is waking up or just getting home."
Her next venture into television will be I Can Do That on Comedy Central, where Sykes will combine comedy with DIY tasks like car repair or cable installation. Later this fall, she'll release her book, Yeah, I Said It. Writing the book has benefited her stand-up routine. "I've got hours of material now," she says.
Stand-up, for Sykes, has always been a get-out-of-jail-free card, just in case the plasticity and mediocrity of Hollywood become unbearable. "It gives me that security to go, 'Kiss my ass, I ain't doin' that. This sucks,' " she says. "If it all went away tomorrow and I'm at the Houston Improv next week -- hey, I'm happy."
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At her best one on one and unscripted (and probably too comfortable with strangers), Sykes is a no-brainer choice for a talk show host. But the mistress of multitasking doesn't seem ready to settle into one gig.
"Maybe later down the road," she says. "But I can't sit there and talk to actors or singers and tell them I like their shitty movies or songs. I just can't do it." Can Sykes picture a visiting Julia Roberts going pale as she kicks back in her chair, eyebrow up, and informs her in her trademark "you suck" style that her latest movie is just plain crap?
"Well, maybe if I could wrap it up sweetly in a nice little package, like, 'Oh, well, I see that people are really into this bullshit,' " she says. "But who would want to come on my show if I did that?" Judging by the way Hollywood has hailed the Queen of Smack so far, they'd be lining up.
The smack starts 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, June 25; and 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, June 26. The Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit www.improv.com. $25 to $27.