Sykes, Wanda 1964- (Wanda Sykes Hall, Wanda Sykes-Hall)
Sykes, Wanda 1964- (Wanda Sykes Hall, Wanda Sykes-Hall)
Born March 7, 1964, in Portsmouth, VA; father, in the military; mother, in banking; married David Hall (in pharmaceutical sales), 1991 (divorced, 1998). Education: Hampton University, B.S., marketing.
Agent—William Morris Agency, One William Morris Place, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist—PMK/HBH Public Relations, 700 San Vicente Blvd., Suite G910, West Hollywood, CA 90069 (some sources cite 8500 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Beverly Hills, CA 90211).
Actress, comedienne, and writer. Worked as a stand-up comic and performed at various venues and in competitions, including performing on the Cotton T-Shirt Tour. Provided voice work for advertisements. National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Laurel, MD, procurement officer, 1986-92. Affiliated with the Keep a Child Alive Foundation and involved in various events for charities.
Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Emmy Award nomination, outstanding writing for a variety or music program, 1998, Emmy Award, outstanding writing for a variety or music program, 1999, and Emmy Award nominations, outstanding writing for a variety, music, or comedy program, 2000 and 2001, all with others, all for The Chris Rock Show; American Comedy Award, funniest female stand-up comic, 2001; Emmy awards (with others), outstanding studio show—weekly, 2002, 2004, and 2005, all for Inside the NFL; Teen Choice Award nomination, choice comedian, 2003; Teen Choice Award nominations, choice TV actress—comedy and choice TV breakout star—female, both 2003, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a series, comedy or musical, International Press Academy, 2004, and BET Comedy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, Black Entertainment Teleivsion, 2004, all for Wanda at Large; named one of the one hundred greatest stand-ups of all time, Comedy Central, 2004; named one of the twenty-five funniest people in America, Entertainment Weekly, 2004; named to the Comedy Impact List, Variety, 2005; BET Comedy Award, outstanding supporting actress in a theatrical film, 2005, and Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actress, 2006, both for Monster-in-Law; Image Award nominations, outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2005 and 2006, both for Curb Your Enthusiasm; People's Choice Award nominations, favorite funny female star, 2005 and 2008; Gracie Award, Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television, 2007; Emmy Award nomination (with others), outstanding variety, music, or comedy special, 2007, for Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired; and Annie Award nomination, best voice acting in an animated feature production, International Animated Film Society, 2007, for Over the Hedge.
Television Appearances; Series:
Various characters, The Chris Rock Show, HBO, 1997-2000.
Various characters, The Downer Channel, NBC, 2001.
Wanda, Curb Your Enthusiasm (also known as Curb and Larry David), HBO, 2001-2005.
Host, Premium Blend (also known as Comedy Central's "Premium Blend"), Comedy Central, 2002-2003.
Herself, Inside the NFL, HBO, beginning 2002.
Wanda Mildred Hawkins, Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
Herself, Wanda Does It, Comedy Central, 2004.
Correspondent, Costas Now, HBO, beginning 2005.
Barbara Jean (Barb), The New Adventures of Old Christine (also known as Old Christine), CBS, 2006—.
Voice of Granny May, The Amazing Colossal Adventures of Wordgirl (animated), PBS, 2006—.
Voice of Bessy the cow, Back at the Barnyard (animated; also known as Barnyard), Nickelodeon, 2007—.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Herself, 100 Sexiest Artists (also known as The Greatest: 100 Sexiest Artists and VH1's "100 Sexiest Artists"), VH1, 2002.
Herself, Heroes of Comedy: Women on Top, Comedy Central, 2003.
(In archive footage) Herself, 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time (also known as Comedy Central Presents: "100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time"), Comedy Central, 2004.
Herself, Girls Who Do: Comedy (also known as Dawn French's "Girls Who Do: Comedy"), BBC, 2006.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Herself, Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Drew Carey, Comedy Central, 1998.
Comedy Rx: Comics Come Home 5, Comedy Central, 1999.
Herself, Well, Shut Ma' Mouth! The Powerful History of Black Humor, syndicated, 2002.
(In archive footage) Herself, The Award Show Awards Show, Trio, 2003.
Herself, Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied, Comedy Central, 2003.
100% NYC: A Concert Celebrating the Tribeca Film Festival, MTV and VH1, 2003.
The Sixth Annual Sears Soul Train Christmas Starfest, UPN, 2003.
Performer, Comedy Central's "Bar Mitzvah Bash!," Comedy Central, 2004.
Herself, Earth to America, TBS, 2005.
Herself, New Year's Eve with Carson Daly, NBC, 2005.
Herself, Richard Pryor: The Funniest Man Dead or Alive, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
NBC's "New Year's Eve with Carson Daly, Presented by Chevy," NBC, 2005.
Herself, Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired, HBO, 2006.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Herself, American Comedy Awards Viewer's Choice, Comedy Central, 2001.
The 15th Annual American Comedy Awards, Comedy Central, 2001.
The Kennedy Center: Mark Twain Prize—Celebrating Whoopi Goldberg, PBS, 2001.
Cohost, The 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Fox, 2003.
The oracle, MTV: Reloaded (short), featured in The 2003 MTV Movie Awards, MTV, 2003.
Presenter, Comedy Central Presents: The Commies (also known as Comedy Central's "First Annual Commie Awards" and The Commies), Comedy Central, 2003.
Herself, The Teen Choice Awards 2003, Fox, 2003.
Herself, The Third Annual BET Awards, Black Entertainment Television, 2003.
Spike TV Presents "GQ Men of the Year Awards 2003," Spike TV, 2003.
The 34th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2003.
Herself, BET Comedy Awards, Black Entertainment Television, 2004.
VH1 Big in 04 (also known as Big in 2004, VH1 Big in 2004, and VH1 Big in '04 Awards), VH1, 2004.
Herself, The Second Annual BET Comedy Awards (also known as 2005 BET Comedy Awards), Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
(As Wanda Sykes-Hall) Herself, "Wanda Sykes-Hall," Comedy Central Presents, Comedy Central, 1998.
(As Wanda Sykes-Hall) Voice of herself, "Walk for Hunger," Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (animated), Comedy Central, 1999.
(As Wanda Sykes-Hall) Voice of herself, "You're Belinda," Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (animated), Comedy Central, 1999.
Herself, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 1999, 2003 (multiple episodes), 2005, 2007.
Christine Watson, "Drew and the King," The Drew Carey Show, ABC, 2001.
Christine Watson, "Eat Drink Drew Woman," The Drew Carey Show, ABC, 2001.
Christine Watson, "Mr. Laffoon's Wild Ride," The Drew Carey Show, ABC, 2001.
Herself, The Daily Show (also known as A Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Global Edition, Jon Stewart, Ha-Daily Show, and I satira tou Jon Stewart), Comedy Central, 2001, 2003, 2005.
Herself, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, multiple appearances, beginning 2001.
Herself, Comic Remix, Comedy Central, 2002.
Voice of Wanda, Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002.
Voice of Gladys Murphy, Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002, 2003.
Herself, "The Best of Chappelle's Show: Volume 2 Mixtape, " Chappelle's Show (also known as Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes), Comedy Central, 2003.
Herself, MAD TV (also known as Mad TV and MADtv), Fox, 2003.
Herself, The Sharon Osbourne Show (also known as Sharon), syndicated, 2003.
Guest cohost, Good Day Live, syndicated, 2003.
Shorties Watchin' Shorties (animated), Comedy Central, 2003.
Herself, "Tournament 2, Game 1," Celebrity Poker Showdown, Bravo, 2004.
Herself, Tavis Smiley, PBS, 2004.
Herself, Jimmy Kimmel Live! (also known as The Jimmy Kimmel Project), ABC, 2004, 2006.
Herself, Last Call with Carson Daly, NBC, 2004, 2006.
Host, "Monster-in-Law," HBO First Look, HBO, 2005.
Herself, The Early Show, CBS, 2005.
Herself, 106 & Park Top 10 Live (also known as 106 & Park), Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
Herself, The View, ABC, 2005, 2007.
Herself, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (also known as The Late Late Show), CBS, 2005, 2007, 2008.
Cricket, "Buy, Buy Baby," Will & Grace, NBC, 2006.
Herself, "Movers, Shakers and Playmakers," That's What I'm Talking About, TV Land, 2006.
Herself, "Over the Hedge: Off the Strip & Onto the Screen," HBO First Look, HBO, 2006.
Voice of Bernice, "You May Now Kiss the … Uh … Guy Who Receives," Family Guy (animated; also known as Padre de familia and Padre del familia), Fox, 2006.
Herself, The Megan Mullally Show, syndicated, 2006.
Herself, "The Ark, the Animals, and ‘Evan Almighty,’" HBO First Look, HBO, 2007.
Herself, "Evan Allmaechtig," Das Grosse RTL Special zum Film, RTL, 2007.
(In archive footage) Herself, Corazon de …, Television Espanola (TVE, Spain), 2007.
Herself, Entertainment Tonight (also known as Entertainment This Week, E.T., ET Weekend, and This Week in Entertainment), syndicated, 2007, 2008.
Appeared in other programs, including HBO Comedy Showcase, HBO; and Stand-Up Spotlight, VH1.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Wanda Mildred Hawkins, Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
Appeared as Wanda Hawkins in the unaired pilot for Wanda at Large, Fox.
Television Work; Series:
Consultant, The Chris Rock Show, HBO, 1997.
Co-producer, The Chris Rock Show, HBO, 1998-99.
Producer, Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
Executive producer and creator of series concept, Wanda Does It, Comedy Central, 2004.
Television Work; Specials:
Producer, Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied, Comedy Central, 2003.
Executive producer, Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired, HBO, 2006.
Television Consultant; Awards Presentations:
(As Wanda Sykes Hall) Creative consultant, The 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, MTV, 1997.
(As Wanda Sykes Hall) The 1998 MTV Movie Awards, MTV, 1998.
The 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, MTV, 1999.
Tomorrow Night, Circus King Films, 1998.
Chantal, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (also known as Klumps, The Klumps, The Nutty Professor II, Nutty II: The Klumps, Boelcsek koevere 2—A Klump csalad, Den galna professorn 2—Klumps, El professor chiflado II, El professor chiflado II: La familia Klump, Familie Klumps und der verrueckte Professor, La famiglia del professore matto, La famille foldingue, Nigaud de professeur II: Les Klumps, Nutty Professor II: Familien Klump, O professor aloprado 2—A familia Klump, O professor chanfrado 2, and Paehkaehullu professori 2: Klumpit), Universal, 2000.
Biggie Shorty, Pootie Tang (also known as Pootie Tang in Sine Your Pitty on the Runny Kine), Paramount, 2001.
Wanda, Down to Earth (also known as I Was Made to Love Her and Einmal Himmel und zurueck), Paramount, 2001.
Ruby, Monster-in-Law (also known as Das Schwiegermonster), New Line Cinema, 2005.
Carla Dunkirk, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (also known as My Super Ex and Super Ex), Twentieth Century-Fox, 2006.
Linda, CondomNation (short film), BabL Films, 2006.
Voice of Bessy the cow, Barnyard (animated; also known as Barnyard: The Original Party Animals and Der Tierisch verrueckte Bauernhof), Paramount, 2006.
Voice of Innoko, Brother Bear 2 (animated), Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2006.
Voice of Sister Moon, The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (animated), Universal, 2006.
Voice of Stella the skunk, Hammy's Boomerang Adventure (animated short), Paramount Home Entertainment, 2006.
Voice of Stella the skunk, Over the Hedge (animated), Paramount, 2006.
Wife, Clerks II (also known as Clerks 2, Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin', and The Passion of the Clerks), The Weinstein Company/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2006.
(Uncredited) Doctor, License to Wed, Warner Bros., 2007.
Rita, Evan Almighty (also known as Bruce Almighty 2, Bruce: The Second Coming, and The Passion of the Ark), Universal, 2007.
Some sources cite appearances in other films.
Appeared in radio programs.
Herself, Best of Chris Rock: Volume 2 (also known as Best of the Chris Rock Show), HBO, 2001.
(Uncredited; in archive footage) Carla Dunkirk, The Making of "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (short), 2006.
Herself, Back to the Well: Clerks II (also known as Back to the Well: Making Clerks II), The Weinstein Company/Genius Products, 2006.
Herself, The Cast of "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (short), 2006.
Herself, Meet the Cast of "Over the Hedge" (short), Blue Collar Productions, 2006.
Herself, Train Wreck! (short), The Weinstein Company/Genius Products, 2006.
Herself, Evan Almighty: The Almighty Green Set (short), Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2007.
Herself, Evan Almighty: Animals on Set Two by Two (short), Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2007.
Herself, Evan Almighty: The Ark-Itects of Noah's Ark (short), Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2007.
Herself, Evan Almighty: Becoming Noah (short), Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2007.
Herself, Evan Almighty: The Building of Noah's Ark (short), Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2007.
Herself, Evan Almighty: Training the Animals (short), Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2007.
Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied, Comedy Central, 2003.
Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired, HBO, 2006.
Teleplays; with Others; Awards Presentations:
(Special material) The 74th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 2002.
(With others) The Chris Rock Show, HBO, episodes beginning 1997.
(With others) The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show, syndicated, episodes 1997-98.
(As Wanda Sykes-Hall) "Wanda Sykes-Hall," Comedy Central Presents, Comedy Central, 1998.
(With others) The Downer Channel, NBC, episodes in 2001.
(With others) Premium Blend (also known as Comedy Central's "Premium Blend"), Comedy Central, 2002-2003.
"Clowns to the Left of Me," Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
(With others) Wanda Does It, Comedy Central, episodes in 2004.
Teleplays; with Others; Pilots:
Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
Writings for Videos; with Others:
Best of Chris Rock: Volume 2 (also known as Best of the Chris Rock Show), HBO, 2001.
Yeah, I Said It, Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Songs; with Others:
"No Sex," 1999, song also featured in the Chris Rock album Bigger & Blacker, DreamWorks, 1999, and in television productions.
Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 2003, pp. 23-24; October 22, 2004, p. 104; July 14, 2006, p. 33.
Time Out New York, March 20, 2003, p. 200.
TV Guide, March 22, 2003, pp. 50-51.
Washington Post, September 28, 2003, pp. N1, N10; May 19, 2006, pp. 49, 52.
Wanda Sykes,http://www.wandasykes.com, May 23, 2008.
Comedian and actress
Born March 7, 1964, in Portsmouth, VA; married, 1992 (divorced, 1998). Education: Attended community college for two years; Hampton University, B.S., 1986.
Addresses: Office—c/o The New Adventures of Old Christine, Warner Bros. Television Production, 4000 Warner Blvd., Bldg. 136, Ste. 127, Burbank, CA 91522.
Employed at National Security Agency, c. 1986–91; began working as a stand-up comedian, 1987; launched acting career on television show The Chris Rock Show, 1997; made film debut in Tomorrow Night, 1998; published Yeah, I Said It, 2004. Television appearances include: The Chris Rock Show, 1997–2000; Inside the NFL, HBO, 2000–; Curb Your Enthusiasm, 2000–05; The Drew Carey Show, ABC, 2001; Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002; Wanda at Large, FOX, 2003–04; Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied (special), Comedy Central, 2003; Wanda Does It, Comedy Central, 2004; The New Adventures of Old Christine, CBS, 2006–; Barnyard, 2007. Television work includes: writer, The Chris Rock Show, 1997–2000; writer and producer, Wanda at Large, FOX, 2003–04. Film appearances include: Tomorrow Night, 1998; Nutty Professor, 2000; Down to Earth, 2001; Pootie Tang, 2001; Monster-In-Law, 2005; Clerks II, 2006; My Super Ex-Girlfriend, 2006; The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, 2006; Over the Hedge, 2006; Hammy's Boomerang Adventure, 2006; Barnyard, 2006; Brother Bear 2, 2006; Evan Almighty, 2007.
Awards: Emmy Award (with others) for outstanding writing in a variety, music, or comedy special, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, for The Chris Rock Show, 1999; American Comedy Award for funniest female stand-up comedian, 2001; BET Comedy Award for outstanding supporting actress in a theatrical film, Black Entertainment Television, for Monster-in-Law, 2005.
After Wanda Sykes established herself as a popular stand-up comic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she built on her success to become a television and film star. While she had two television series of her own—Wanda at Large and Wanda Does It—Sykes was better known for her work on other shows, including Inside the NFL and The New Adventures of Old Christine. By the early 2000s, Sykes was also building a strong film acting career both as a live performer and a voice artist for such hit animated features as Over the Hedge and Barnyard.
Sykes was born in 1964 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Her father served as a colonel in the U.S. Army father while her mother was a bank manager. She raised in Portsmouth and near Fort Meade, Maryland. From her earliest childhood, Sykes was outspoken. Her parents would send her to her grandmother's when there were visitors at their home because she might say something unsuitable. They even paid her to be quiet on occasion. Sykes attended Arundel High School, where she continued to be an outspoken comic type and took theater classes.
Though Sykes was set to enter the University of Maryland after graduation, she backed out before attending and went to community college for two years instead. She then went to Hampton University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1986. After completing her degree, she began working for the National Security Agency (NSA) at a desk job, purchasing equipment like spy devices for the government agency. Sykes was not particularly happy, but was unsure of her direction in life until she entered a talent contest on a lark.
Sykes took part in the Coors Light Super Talent showcase in Washington, D.C. and did a five-minute stand-up routine she had written at her desk at work. Though Sykes did not win, she began cultivating her stand-up comedy routines. At the time, Sykes' thinking was simple. She told Jet's Scotty Ballard, "I started doing stand-up in 1987. I figured the worst that could happen would be that I was wrong. If I tried it and it didn't work out, at least I walk away saying, 'It was something I wanted to try and it didn't work out, but at least I tried.'"
She kept her day job at the NSA for five years while working at comedy clubs around Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. Sykes learned what being a comic really meant, including what happens when a joke bombs and how to deal with it. Once Sykes was able to tour as a comedian and support herself, she quit her government job and focused on stand-up full time. In 1992, she moved to New Jersey and began performing in New York City on a regular basis. Over the years, Sykes developed an on-stage persona of a know-it-all, no-nonsense woman who does not take grief from anyone or put up with any stupid situation. She became close friends with other comics, including Chris Rock.
By 1995, Sykes was opening for Rock, by then a major star. Sykes' work and friendship with Rock led to another phase of her career a few years later. She was hired to be on the writing staff for and a performer on The Chris Rock Show. The program aired from 1997 to 2000, and led to an Emmy Award for Sykes and the rest of the writers in 1999. During the run of The Chris Rock Show, Sykes also began her film acting career. She made her film debut in 1998's Tomorrow Night.
Sykes' career also developed in another way as The Chris Rock Show reached the end of its run. A lifelong football fan, she was hired as a field correspondent for HBO's Inside the NFL, hosted by Bob Costas, in 2000. She kept the role of informed comic relief for many years, contributing her own unique segments to the show. Sykes landed the gig by crashing a wrap party for Inside the NFL and impressing Costas and the producers with her quick wit and heady insults.
After the end of The Chris Rock Show, Sykes continued her stand-up and acting careers. She appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm from 2000 to 2005, then had a memorable turn on The Drew Carey Show in 2001 as a love interest for the titular character. Sykes provided a voice, Gladys Murphy, for the hit Comedy Central crank call puppet show, Crank Yankers, in 2002. She also continued her film career, appearing in 2000's Nutty Professor and both Down to Earth and Pootie Tang in 2001. Sykes played a sarcastic maid in Earth and a hooker, Biggie Shorty, in Pootie Tang.
In 2003, Sykes finally got her own television series. She served as a writer, producer, and performer on Wanda at Large, which originally had a six-episode run on FOX that spring, was picked up for a full run starting in the fall, and was canceled by 2004. In the show, Sykes played Wanda Hawkins, a divorced, unsuccessful stand-up comedian who is hired to be a correspondent on a Washington, D.C.-based political talk show. Sykes' character proceeds to challenge the panel through her reported segments on controversial topics like reparations and gun control. She also has to deal with her friends and home life, aspects of the character expanded especially when the show began its full run in the fall of 2003. Sykes admitted the character was close to her heart. She told Judith S. Gillies of the Washington Post, "Wanda Hawkins is basically me personified. We have the same attitude, the same point of view … pointing out hypocrisies in the way we see the world, but the difference is I'm not always on."
While FOX believed in the show, critics saw its promise squandered and audiences were even less interested. During its original six-episode run, Wanda at Large averaged 12.2 million viewers. During its fall run, it had about a third of that amount at most. Though it was not a success, Sykes' ability to transition from comic to actress was praised by her co-stars. One of them, Phil Morris, told Teresa Wiltz of the Washington Post "Wanda is supremely comfortable, even in this medium. She does not lose herself. She's absorbed this medium as well as any other comic I've work with. She's thinking funny all the time."
While Wanda at Large was not a success, Sykes took its cancellation in stride. She told the Chicago Sun-Times' Jae-Ha Kim, "I was a little upset that FOX didn't give Wanda at Large a chance. I wish they would've tried it on a different night and given it a little longer to catch on…. Things happen and you deal with it. It's not a catastrophe. Everyone loses their job at one time or another."
After the cancellation, Sykes' career took off in a number of ways. In 2003, she served as one of many hosts of the Emmys. She also had a one-hour stand-up special on Comedy Central, titled Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied. Skyes launched a secondary career as an author as well. Her book of humorous essays on a variety of relevant topics, Yeah, I Said It, was published in 2004. She told Scotty Ballard of Jet, "I enjoyed doing the book because it made me think about different subjects and how I felt about them. There's a little bit of everything in there, from politics to dieting to race to relationships."
Sykes also continued touring as a stand-up comedian, including a well-received national tour in 2004 and 2005 sponsored by Comedy Central. For the same network, she also hosted a critically praised, limited-run television series, Wanda Does It, in 2004. In this program, she took on many non-acting or show business-related jobs for comic fodder, a combination of reality television and scripted television comedy. For example, Sykes worked as a repo man in California, a job for which she had to get her repossession license. Sykes told the Chicago Sun-Times' Kim, "I love trying different things, so this show is the perfect way for me to dabble at a little bit of everything. It also makes me appreciate how lucky I have it to be doing what I'm doing."
While Entertainment Weekly named her one of the 25 funniest people in North America in 2004, Sykes' film career greatly expanded in the early 2000s. She had a co-starring role in the 2005 film Monster-In-Law, the comeback vehicle for Jane Fonda. Wanda played Fonda's sarcastic assistant and friend, Ruby, and in many critics' eyes, the scenes in which she appeared were the highlight of an otherwise disappointing movie. One reason for Sykes' edgy work in the role was her freedom to ad-lib off the script, a privilege granted by director Robert Luketic who wanted her for the role. In addition, Sykes appeared in 2006's Clerks II and My Super Ex-Girlfriend as well as 2007's Evan Almighty, the follow-up to Bruce Almighty.
Sykes also provided voices for a number of popular feature-length animated films in 2006. She was the voice of Sister Moon in the straight-to-video feature The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, as well as Bessy the cow in Barnyard and Innoko in Brother Bear 2. Sykes also voiced Stella the skunk in the summer hit Over the Hedge as well as its straight-to-video follow-up Hammy's Boomerang Adventure. Sykes noted that playing Stella marked the first time she had to act as a character that was not a version of herself and one that evolved over the course of the film.
Sykes recalled the experience of creating Stella as quite difficult, though she was again allowed to improvise off the script. Regarding the recording of her work on Over the Hedge, Sykes told Robert W. Butler of the Buffalo News, "It's pretty much just you and the microphone. It's the loneliest job I've ever had…. I never saw a complete script—just my own lines. You've got to trust the director, who's talking to you over your headphones."
When Barnyard was adapted for an animated television series in 2007, Sykes continued to voice Bessy. By then, Sykes was already on a hit television show. She played Barb on the CBS situation comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine, which began airing in 2006. Sykes enjoyed only having to act on the show. She told Josh Wolk of Entertainment Weekly, "I learned from my FOX sitcom Wanda at Large that it'll be a while before I try another of my own. It's too much work for the way it gets treated and how much of it is out of your control. Doing The New Adventures of Old Christine is a cakewalk for me. I love the people, and it's nice to walk in, do the show, and leave everything there."
While beginning her comedy career initially was a pay cut from her NSA job, Sykes believed it was worth it in more ways than one. She told Rob Nash of the Austin American-Statesman, "I was doing something I felt passionate about. You don't do comedy for the money. You start off in this business looking for a big paycheck, you're going to be disappointed. And you'll quit. You stick with it and eventually it will pay off."
Yeah, I Said It, Atria (New York City), 2004.
Austin American-Statesman, April 12, 2007, p. 26.
Buffalo News (NY), June 4, 2006, p. G6.
Chicago Sun-Times, October 14, 2004, p. 48.
Entertainment Weekly, July 14, 2006, p. 33.
Houston Chronicle, May 18, 2006, p. 1.
Jet, October 13, 2003, p. 58; November 8, 2004, p. 54.
New York Times, March 26, 2003, p. E8.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 13, 2005, p. C1.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 15, 2004, p. E1.
PR Newswire, April 26, 2004.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 2005, p. 30.
Toronto Sun, May 13, 2005, p. E2.
Washington Post, March 23, 2003, p. Y7; March 26, 2003, p. C1; September 28, 2003, p. N1.
"Wanda Sykes," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0843100/ (May 15, 2007).
Wanda Sykes has been doing standup comedy since the late 1980s. Known for her sharp, edgy wit, she has become a regular on Comedy Central and HBO as both a writer and a performer. In 2003 she starred in Fox Television's short-lived Wanda at Large, and in 2004 she debuted in Wanda Does It on Comedy Central. A book, a standup tour, and various appearances in film and on television also keep Sykes busy as one of the more popular female comics on the comedy circuit.
Sykes was born on March 7, 1964, in Portsmouth, Virginia. She grew up in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, in the Washington, D.C. area, with her parents and an older brother. Her father was a colonel in the U.S. Army, and her mother was a journalist. Sykes was opinionated and unrestrained even as a child. "I remember in the first grade telling some woman her wig was crooked," she told Newsweek. "I thought I was doing her a favor." She joked her way through school, and as a result her high school yearbook is filled with personal notes from classmates who comment on how comical she was.
After graduating from Arundel High School in 1982, Sykes enrolled at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing in 1986. Fresh out of college she took a job with the National Security Agency, the government's high-tech communications and intelligence-gathering arm, where she eventually served as a contract specialist dealing with the procurement of spy equipment. Initially she dove into the government bureaucracy with her trademark enthusiasm and energy, but her excitement soon gave way to boredom. In 1987 a local radio station staged a talent show, with comedy as one of the categories, and Sykes decided to enter. Armed with a few jokes she had written while sitting at her desk, she walked onto the stage for the first time.
Although she did not win the talent contest, she received plenty of positive feedback and was exhilarated by the experience of performing. "It was great. It was a rush," she told Complex Magazine. "I didn't think about the downside—the rejection. I just got onstage, did it, and fell in love with it. When I finally got into the comedy clubs and found out all the things that could go wrong, that was when the fear hit. I was like, Oh my God. What have I subjected myself to?" Fear of rejection was not enough to dissuade Sykes from pursuing her newfound passion, however. After five years at the National Security Agency, she quit her day job. She moved to New Jersey so she could travel the comedy club circuits around the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas.
Became Writer and Comedian
In 1995 Sykes opened for Chris Rock, who was duly impressed with her sharp and edgy style. As a result, when Rock began production of his own critically acclaimed HBO series, The Chris Rock Show, in 1997, he invited Sykes to join the show as a writer and performer. As a member of the cast and writing team, Sykes received three Primetime Emmy nominations and in 1999 won for "Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special." Sykes honed her skills on The Chris Rock Show for five years, until that show was cancelled in 2002.
During that time she continued to pursue other outlets for her comedy. She was first invited to perform on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2001, and in that year her no-holds-barred standup act earned her the American Comedy Award for "Outstanding Female Stand Up Comic." She also appeared in several television series, including The Drew Carey Show, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, and MADtv. Sykes also had a regular role on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, produced by HBO. She played the part of the sarcastic, sometimes caustic, friend and neighbor of Larry David's television wife. In 2001 Sykes appeared on The Downer Channel, a short-lived sitcom on NBC that was quickly panned by the critics and ignored by viewers, and in 2002 she hosted a 12-episode season of Comedy Central's standup series Premium Blend and starred in a half-hour special "Comedy Central Presents Wanda Sykes." She also has a reoccurring role on Comedy Central's Crank Yankers, in which she provides voice-over crank phone calls for the puppet-based show.
Sykes landed an ongoing gig as a correspondent for HBO's Inside the NFL after an HBO executive witnessed her comical evaluation, or heckling, of sports-caster Bob Costas during an after-production party. "He couldn't avoid hearing me," she told The Washington Post, "I was pretty loud. I'm a Bob Costas fan, but after a half-hour conversation with Bob, you find out Bob knows everything. Every now and then, he should just shrug, mix it up. That would amaze people." As a correspondent, Sykes contributes comedy bits and banter as well as light-hearted, comical player interviews.
Turned to Movies
In 1998 Sykes had a small part in the independent film Tomorrow Night. Her first role in a film by a major studio was Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, released in 2000 and starring Eddie Murphy, and in 2001 she appeared in Down to Earth, starring Chris Rock. In that same year, Sykes also appeared in the comedy Pootie Tang as Pootie's (played by Lance Crouthers) girlfriend Biggie Shorty. Although the film, which was based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, was panned by critics, it did find something of a niche following that earned Sykes expanded recognition.
Eventually Fox Television offered Sykes her own sitcom. Wanda at Large, which first aired on March 26, 2003, as a midseason replacement show, cast Sykes as a Washington, D.C.-based comedian who becomes a correspondent and host of a Sunday morning political talk show and subsequently butts heads with her conservative co-host, played by Phil Morris. Sykes served as the show's star, writer, and executive producer. "She has her feet firmly planted in her own ego," Nancy Franklin wrote in The New Yorker, "and you couldn't knock her down, though you might want to.… [She] has an oversized and combative personality: she's not just in the house; she's in your room and she's in your face." Most critics gave a nod to Sykes's comedic strength, and the first episodes showed strong ratings. However, after the summer hiatus, the show returned to the air in the new season with poor ratings, and in early November of 2003, with just 3.8 million viewers, it was cancelled.
At a Glance …
Born on March 7, 1964, in Portsmouth, VA; married 1992 (divorced 1998). Education: Hampton University, BS, marketing, 1986.
Career: National Security Agency, contract specialist, 1986-91; standup comedian, 1987–; television writer and actress, 1997–.
Awards: Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special, 1999; American Comedy Award, Outstanding Female Stand Up Comic, 2001; Comedy Central's Commie Award, Funniest TV Actress, 2004.
Despite the failure of the show, Sykes's career has continued to progress. In 2003 Comedy Central aired a one-hour comedy special "Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied." She also signed a deal with Atria to publish a book. Yeah, I Said It, released in October of 2004, is a collection of humorous commentaries and witticisms on a wide variety of issues, including relationships, transsexuals, vanity license plates, and the death penalty. "Writing a book is one of the great American dreams," Sykes told Essence. "It's right up there with finding your soul mate, or buying a home, or raising nonsociopathic kids." In October 2004, Sykes began her traveling to promote her book with her "Cotton T-Shirt Tour."
Early in 2004 Sykes signed a six-show deal with Comedy Central for the series Wanda Does It, a half-hour show in which Sykes takes on the duties of various service providers. For example, in the pilot, she decides to learn how to fly after suffering through a turbulent flight. In other episodes she becomes a professional repossessor, a prostitute, and a casino employee. Her efforts in front of the small screen earned her Comedy Central's 2004 Commie Award for "Funniest TV Actress."
Sykes, who was divorced in 1998 after a six-year marriage to a pharmaceutical salesman, maintains households on both coasts and continues to juggle a very busy calendar. Along with her standup and book promotion tours, she also has several upcoming movie roles, including Monster-in-Law, starring Jennifer Lopez, and The Barnyard, an animated comedy in which Sykes lends her voice to the character Bessy the Cow. Both films are schedule for release in 2005. "I work all the time, I really do," she told Jet. "But I don't mind, it's fulfilling. I love what I'm doing and I don't think I'd be happy doing it any other way."
Tomorrow Night (independent film), 1998.
Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Universal Studios, 2000.
Down to Earth, Paramount Home Entertainment, 2001.
Pootie Tang, Paramount Home Entertainment, 2001.
Monster-in-Law, New Line Cinema, 2005.
The Barnyard, Paramount Pictures, 2005.
The Chris Rock Show, HBO, 1997-2002.
Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO, 1999.
The Downer Channel, NBC, 2001.
Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002.
Premium Blend, Comedy Central, 2002.
Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
Wanda Does It, Comedy Central 2004.
Yeah, I Said It, Atria, 2004.
Black Issue Book Review, May-June 2003, p. 8.
Daily Variety, August 21, 2002, p. 3; September 22, 2003, p. 1; April 26, 2004, p. 6.
Ebony, October 2003, p. 118.
Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 2003, p. 23; December 19, 2003, p. 62.
Essence, December 2000, p. 60; December 2003, p. 228; October 2004, p. 146.
Jet, October 13, 2003, p. 58-62.
Newsweek, April 7, 2003, p. 62.
New Yorker, May 5, 2003, p. 102.
People Weekly, March 31, 2003, p. 25; April 7, 2003, p. 197.
Publisher's Weekly, August 16, 2004, p. 56.
Washington Post, February 16, 2001, p. 5; August 12, 2003, p. B06; March 26, 2003, p. B05; December 10, 2003, p. B06; February 9, 2004, p. B06.
"Wanda Does It," Comedy Central, www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows/wandadoesit (October 20, 2004).
"Wanda Sykes," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 20, 2004).
Wanda Sykes, www.wandasykes.com (October 20, 2004).