Lesbian and black, Sykes is Trump’s polar opposite. Her extended lampooning could verge on the predictable and crass except Sykes delivers it with a shocked ‘can you believe this?’ attitude that is a clever trademark of her comedic style. The theatre audience are obviously big fans, or they just need a cathartic laugh and cheer about the president’s ongoing antics.
“Stormy Daniels got paid to shut up,” she says. “If I fucked Trump, I’d be taking that to the grave.”
Like her or don’t, the 54-year-old has earned a place on the comedy stage. She writes her own material and was part of the team that won an Emmy for the Chris Rock Show in 1999. She struts the stage in white sneakers and pant suit and the Trump-baiting continues, from a long joke about the toilet paper on his shoe to speculation on the Obamas discussing his TV antics from their couch at home.
She’s abrasive and angry and clownish by turns. Her technique is to take an idea and exaggerate it to the furthest edge. The Trump set veers into more general satire about politics, and feminist comment, observing the groundswell of black and ethic women in government. “There are all these beautiful women and then these old white men in government – it’s like the cast of Cocoon.”
There’s a lot about racism, including a series of jokes about black people being discriminated against in strange ways, for example, they don’t get prescribed painkillers like white people.
“It’s 2019, you need a black friend,” she exhorts the audience.
“We’re different but we’re equal,” she asserts, to rousing applause.
She’s angry about the southern states where the American flag is still iconic in spite of the heritage of slavery and black suffering. Interesting fact, when Sykes was featured in an episode of Finding your Roots, she was discovered to be a rarity for not coming from a slave heritage.
Today, she is married to a French woman and has two white children and the second half of her show segues into more personal material about unsexy sleep apnoea and being black in a house full of white people. There’s an odd element of racial stereotyping about the French, cheese, the accent and so on, and some ‘us and them’ Cold War speak about Russia, though Sykes herself was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “People used to laugh at a sexist joke or racist joke. Now, it’s like that’s just not funny anymore. There’s been a shifting in the norm.”
Though stand-up is Sykes’ wheelhouse, she has acted in shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and New Adventures of Old Christine with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as well as voicing for films like Ice Age.
Her experience in performance means she knows how to work a room and she also loops plenty of pop culture through her material, especially reality TV, with a feminist dig at The Bachelor and pointed and funny racist criticism of Naked and Afraid, for the producers’ choice to cast a black homeless man to survive in the jungle.
In 2004, Entertainment Weekly named Sykes one of the 25 funniest people. She continues to work at staying relevant and abrasively critical, especially for a crowd like the New York audience that is ready and needing to laugh away painful and ridiculous aspects of contemporary life and culture.
Wanda Sykes: Not Normal is available on Netflix from May 21, 2019