BWW EXCLUSIVE: Wanda Sykes Talks GayFest SPRING AT LAST!, CURB, ANNIE, MUPPETS MOVIE & More
Earlier today I spoke to one of America's most beloved comedians - screen, stand-up or otherwise - the Emmy-winning Wanda Sykes about her upcoming appearance headlining Monday's GayFest Spring At Last! Gala to benefit The Harvey Milk School and she shared with me her message of hope to the next generation, what she wishes for in the equal rights movement in the near future, as well as personal stories of herself being bullied and how she remained resilient in the face of adversity. Additionally, she clues us in on what her character arc will involve this season on HBO's CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM - hint: it involves Cheyenne Jackson - when it makes its highly-awaited return in the Summer; plus, we take a look back at her TV specials, various series and film roles and she offers up a glimpse of what we can expect from her in 2011 and beyond. All of this is, of course, in addition to a thorough discussion of her recent essaying of the role of Miss Hannigan in ANNIE in Philadelphia and if she would consider taking on the role in the upcoming James Lapine-directed revival aimed at Broadway. Plus, news about the forthcoming big-screen MUPPET MOVIE - and much more!
Don't miss Wanda, as well as Monday's InDepth InterView participant Michael Urie and (coincidentally) previous participant Lance Horne, all at the Loews Regency Hotel on Monday for the GayFest Spring At Last! Gala to benefit The Harvey Milk School. Ticket information is available here.
You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile
PC: CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM is probably the best comedy on TV. Do you enjoy working with Larry David and the whole unscripted nature of the show?
WS: (Laughs.) Thank you. That's very sweet of you. But, to answer your question: yes. I do, I do.
PC: What's the vibe like on set?
WS: It's a lot of fun - but, it's also very stressful. As you just said, there's no script. So, a day that's usually - oh, I don't know - maybe like four hours; by the time I get home I feel like I've worked a whole twelve-hour day! (Laughs.)
PC: Rosie O'Donnell told me something very similar! You two are his biggest arch-enemies besides Susie, it seems.
WS: Right. Right. I bet! (Laughs.)
PC: Does Larry give you a lot of direction or is he more laissez-faire about it?
WS: Umm... (Pause.) I'd say hands-off. Actually, very hands- off. If anything - if it's like a story point or something he wants to cover - he will give you that piece of information, but usually that's it.
PC: Are you going to be appearing in the new season coming up?
WS: Yes, I did one for the new season. Apparently, half of it is in LA and half of it is in New York this year, and I did one in New York.
PC: Is Cheyenne Jackson appearing with you on the episode?
WS: Yeah, I have a scene with him as the professional trainer guy. It's gonna be good.
PC: Tell me about the production of ANNIE you just did. Do you happen to have any news to announce about taking on the role in the Broadway revival directed by James Lapine?
WS: I have no news about that. But, I did enjoy my time playing Miss Hannigan at the Media Theater. It was such a learning experience because it was my first time doing theatre. The cast was so great to me. And, it was good for me to know that I could actually do seven shows a week and stick to the script! (Laughs.)
PC: I bet!
WS: You know, as a comic, you're usually working by yourself and you think, "Boy, this would be a great place for another joke or another beat right here!" But, you know, I wanted to stay true to the character and the material. It was fun.
PC: What was your favorite part of the experience?
WS: Well, it was fun finding ways to bring my own take to it, but also have the script there to work with, and really acting it and all that. In performance I could find ways within the script and the character to get the little extra kicks I was looking for as a comic. It was really fun, doing that. I loved every minute of the experience.
PC: Was singing a new challenge for you or do you sing in your private life?
WS: Oh, singing is still a new challenge for me! (Laughs.) Luckily, with Miss Hannigan, no one expects her to come out and be Jennifer Hudson, so... it was more about attitude and character than anything else. It was fun to learn the songs. I think I also belted it out a little bit, too, so that was good.
PC: Would you consider doing the role in the Broadway revival?
WS: Yeah, I would definitely consider it. (Pause.) But, is it something I am actively pursuing? No.
PC: Everyone wants that role - Rosie included.
WS: Oh, I'm sure! I'm sure! It's a great part.
PC: What was the first movie musical you remember seeing growing up?
WS: The first one? Wow. (Pause.) I'd say the first one that really stuck with me was GREASE.
PC: Any others?
WS: Definitely THE WIZ, too.
PC: What was your first Broadway show or touring production?
WS: I was living in the Maryland/D.C. area during that time and I remember us all seeing THE WIZ. My parents took me.
PC: That's a great first show. Is it true you will be appearing in THE MUPPETS movie?
WS: Yes. Yes. I have a little cameo in THE MUPPETS.
PC: Did you get to work with Jason Segal?
WS: No, I didn't get to work with him directly.
PC: He supposedly has written a really great script. Did you like your material or did you adlib as well?
WS: Yeah, all my lines were scripted - believe it or not! (Laughs.)
PC: What topics are on the table for the GayFest gala on Monday: Charlie Sheen? Sarah Palin? Lady Gaga?
WS: Oh, wow! We have a whole weekend of craziness to happen. So, we'll see what happens over the weekend and then I'll go from there! Whoever is the dummy over the weekend, we'll start from there.
PC: Tell me why you became involved with GayFest and the Harvey Milk School.
WS: Mainly, I am going to be at the event to talk to the kids and to be supportive and to be someone there who can say, you know, "Hey, I didn't come out until my forties and I am so proud of who I am and that I did it." I also think that it is just so wonderful that they can have a place like The Harvey Milk School where they can go and focus on what school is supposed to be about, you know: learning and growing. They don't have to worry about all the other crap - they can just be themselves. To have an environment where they can do that is so important. For me, personally, it's mostly about being supportive of them.
PC: Do you have a message of hope for them, like the It Gets Better campaign?
WS: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. There is so much hope. It really does get better - that's what life is. You know, one day something bad might happen, but - as Annie says - there's always tomorrow!
PC: Bringing perfect coincidental syllogism to this conversation!
WS: (Big Laugh.)
PC: Did you experience any bullying or harassment growing up?
WS: I did; when I moved to a new school. I was in third grade. There was this girl that just didn't like me for some reason - she didn't know me, but she just didn't like me; there was something about me that she just knew she didn't like. I was new.
PC: What happened?
WS: Everyday at lunch she would just grab me and rip my clothes or something else. She'd always say she was gonna kill me. Or, she'd say she was gonna ring my neck or whatever. She was much bigger than me.
PC: What did you do?
WS: Well, that went on for like four or five days and, then, my mother was like, "What are you doing at recess? What is going on?" So, I told my mom and she went to school with me the next day and she spoke to the principal. The other girl's mother was called to school and our two mothers spoke. Then, they called us down to the office. Basically, they said, "What don't you like about her? What's going on?" And, after that, we ended up becoming the best of friends, believe it or not - it was crazy.
PC: I adored your show WANDA DOES IT. The bordello skit at the Bunny Ranch is something I will never forget.
WS: Aww, I loved that! That was my favorite episode.
PC: What a costume! The old-time prostitute.
WS: Yeah! I was going as Miss Kitty from GUNSMOKE.
PC: Who are your comedy icons?
WS: Jackie "Moms" Mabley.
PC: So hilarious - so ahead of her time.
WS: I love her. I agree. I would just love to tell her story somehow. (Pause.) I am always thinking about her and thinking about how I could do that.
PC: Like how Fosse did LENNY as a pseudo-documentary?
WS: Yeah, yeah. That would be really interesting. Something like that. I don't know what the best way to do it would be yet.
PC: Who else?
WS: Well, of course, Richard Pryor. George Carlin. (Pause.) Then, I like to stop with the people who are dead because when I start going into the people who are alive I always forget somebody! (Laughs.)
PC: Breaking that rule: what do you think of Kathy Griffin, who just did this column last week?
WS: Oh, yeah, she's doing Broadway right now. Good for her! I love that Kathy does what she does. She's funny and she's found her own little niche in the universe. Good for her. I am happy for her. I watch her show and I think she's hilarious.
PC: Rosie O'Donnell told me that your I'MA BE ME is one of her favorite stand-up specials. I have to agree.
WS: Oh, man. That's so sweet. I love Rosie. She's great.
PC: Both your specials are just on fire. Every joke kills. Were they edited down a lot or are they pretty much as they were live?
WS: Oh, no, no, no. I'MA BE ME is, pretty much, what you see is what you got. They may have taken different camera angles and things but it's pretty much it. I was supposed to be going for an hour and I ended up doing, I think, like, ninety minutes and HBO just gave me that extra time.
PC: That's unheard of! What did they say?
WS: They were like, "Look, we don't want to chop this up - it's too good. We'll just get you more time." And, I was like, "All right! Cool!" So, I think, in the end, it turned out being eighty, eighty-five minutes or something when it aired.
PC: Do you always try out new material at all your shows or do you prefer to try out full shows to edit down from?
WS: You have to build it. I'm on the road now and I am doing new material but I am also incorporating a few things from I'MA BE ME. You know, people love Esther and the Viagra stuff, so I kept that in there. (Laughs.)
PC: How could you not?
WS: It basically comes down to when you try new things and feel like, "Oh, man, that's a keeper!" Then, you build on that and go from there.
PC: When is your next special?
WS: In probably the next year I will have a new special. You'll see.
PC: What's coming up?
WS: I'm back on the road! Go to my website and you can get the tour dates.
PC: You have some movies coming out: RIO?
WS: RIO? (Pause.) Yes, yes, yes. I am in RIO! I was afraid I might have been cut out, but I'm not.
WS: Wow is right!
PC: What were your favorite films of last year?
WS: I liked THE KING'S SPEECH. I didn't get to see BLACK SWAN yet - I'm saving that one. Remember, I have two little kids - twins - so, it's kinda hard to get out to do anything.
PC: What do you do for fun? What do you do to relax?
WS: Well, I sleep! Then, I sleep! (Pause.) Then, I sleep! (Laughs.) But, my wife and I try to take little trips and try to get one or two nights away within the month. We love just going away for a night and relaxing and enjoying each other's company. And sleeping! (Laughs.)
PC: How is the French-training going with the twins?
WS: The French is going great - for them! For me? Not so much! (Laughs.)
PC: You can't quite pick it up satisfactorily?
WS: Not, not yet. I get too frustrated.
PC: Watching French movies can help, I found.
WS: Oh, yeah. It does. I'm trying, but it's frustrating.
PC: Tell me a story about Elaine Stritch on the set of MONSTER IN LAW.
WS: She was just funny! Great to work with. Funny. You know, it's so funny you bring her up because everyone would seem a little intimidated when she got to set because she is just this bigger-than-life character. She was so great.
PC: What's on your iPod?
WS: What is on my iPod? Oh, Lord. (Pause. Sighs. Checks iPod.) Oh, man. Actually, right now, Alex messed with my iPod and filled it up with all these bizarre French songs - Za Zee and who knows what else. (Laughs.)
PC: What have you been listening to on your own?
PC: I hope we get a new TV series from you soon.
WS: (Laughs.) You're too sweet. I'm workin' on it, kid, I'm workin' on it!
PC: All my best to you on Monday with this fantastic event! This was fabulous.
WS: Yes, it was wonderful. Thank you so much. Bye bye.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro