Wanda Sykes on why she couldn't avoid the 'orange elephant in the room' for new special
Despite its title, Wanda Sykes‘ latest stand-up special upholds the hilarious norms of the Emmy-winning comedian, who continues to pull no punches whether she’s getting candid about politics, racism, parenting, or the darkest topic of all: The Bachelor.
Ahead of Not Normal premiering Tuesday on Netflix, EW chatted with Sykes about how this special was especially stressful, not avoiding the “orange elephant in the room,” and giving a performance credit to a certain body part.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I really enjoyed the special so I’m glad to chat with you about it.
WANDA SYKES: It would be an awkward conversation if you didn’t [laughs].
With the world and political landscape so different from when you last put together a set, what was the process like this time?
This was weird, because after the election, it got really tense doing stand-up. The audience is just so polarized, either you love everything about Trump or you hate everything about Trump. For me, a comic who talks about what’s happening in the world, I either had to talk about it or, when I didn’t, it felt like I wasn’t addressing the orange elephant in the room. And I really shied away from doing stand-up. It was really stressful, but then I said, “Just hit it head on,” because things just got so crazy and, to me, it wasn’t even about Trump, it was more about us and our reaction to it. Because it’s not normal. Once I was able to hit from that approach, it just developed pretty quickly and I was having a lot of fun with it. Also, I open the show with, if you came to see me and you voted for Trump, you’re just a bad decision maker. [Laughs] You just don’t get it.
I’ve interviewed a lot of comedians who have made the decision to just completely stay away from politics in their comedy, but did you feel that considering your brand of comedy that just wasn’t possible for you?
Absolutely. If I said I was going to stick with family and not talk about politics, I could actually hear people in the audience going, “Come on, Wanda, talk about Trump!” I can understand people wanting it because they come to see me for a reason — and there’s a reason why people don’t come to see me. It’s what I want to talk about. It would feel like I was making an effort not to talk about it if I didn’t.
Besides politics, were there any other topics you. knew you had to hit?
The rest is about what else is not normal in my life. Like as we’re talking I just came out of a hot flash [laughs]. So it’s just everything that’s happening with me.
One of your funnier bits is about how you don’t think The Bachelor should exist in this more female-empowered environment, which brings up the crucial question: But what about The Bachelorette? Can we still at least keep that?
Would The Bachelorette be allowed? It does flip it. I don’t know if that is like a double standard-type situation. I guess I’m okay with that. It’s like, “What about black people who don’t have white friends?” You know, I’m okay with that.
How has stand-up changed in the years since you got started?
There are just so many opportunities now. Before, you had to sit and wait for a Comedy Central or HBO special, that was the crème de la crème, you made it then. And there’s just so many more outlets where you can do a special, and people started shooting their own specials. It’s just crazy how many different ways you can get your material out to the viewers. NOw audiences can watch it when they want. It’s no longer appointment TV. You’re available all the time and that’s exciting.
A highlight of the special is the way you give a performance and writing credit to “Esther Roll,” which is what you’ve named a specific part of your torso…
I’m so happy you caught that. I was like, “Esther is all over this thing. She is having a blast. This is like Esther’s Coachella.” I wanted to be super comfortable on stage and I didn’t want to make myself look like something that I’m not, so I just let Esther out there. We were watching it and I was like, “I should give Esther a credit.” It’s like my Marvel post-credit scene.
Wanda Sykes: Not Normal begins streaming Tuesday on Netflix.
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