Wanda Sykes: A reality series, movies, a new book, a tour: This actress keeps busy fitting fun ideas into her schedule

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 14, 2004

While thousands of would-be actors toil away as waiters waiting for their big break, Wanda Sykes is sauteeing veggies in a Chinese restaurant, driving athletes around in a limo and snapping photos of a couple at their wedding.

Of course, it’s all part of her reality Comedy Central series, “Wanda Does It,” in which the sassy comedic actress tackles non-showbiz jobs.

“Wanda Does It” runs weekly at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“I love trying different things, so this show is the perfect way for me to dabble at a little bit of everything,” Sykes says in a phone call from Los Angeles. “It also makes me appreciate how lucky I have it to be doing what I’m doing. I get in front of a camera and I act. Or I get onstage and talk and rant. How many people are lucky enough to be able to do what they love? You try cooking in a boiling hot kitchen every day or taking away someone’s car from them and then you’ll see what hard work really is like.”

And thanks to a repo segment she taped for her show, Sykes is now a licensed repo agent in California. Los Angelinos don’t have to worry about Sykes repossessing their cars.

“The guy [whose car I was repossessing] looked at me and said, ‘Is that you Wanda? Shoot. Why don’t you get back into comedy?’ ” she recalls, laughing. “I think he felt a little sorry for me, thinking my career was over.”

Hardly.

Though her recent series “Wanda at Large” was unceremoniously dumped from Fox’s lineup, she just wrote her first book Yeah, I Said It (Simon and Schuster) and finished filming “Monster-in-Law” with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda. She has two more movies scheduled to be released next year (“The Barnyard” and “In the Pink”). And she’s currently on her “Cotton T-Shirt Tour,” which brings her to the Vic Theatre tonight.

“I’m really happy so many good things are happening and I’m so busy,” says Sykes, 40. “I was a little upset 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. But if that hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t have this new show. Things happen and you deal with it. It’s not a catastrophe. Everyone loses their job at one time or another. I like to stay busy so I don’t mind when there are a lot of things happening at once. If it’s a fun idea, I’ll try to fit it in.”

Life is much different today from the days when she was an unknown actress struggling to carve out a career for herself. During one dry spell, she worked as a telemarketer. But she’d empathize with the annoyed people she’d call and suggest they hang up on her.

These days, she’s fielding calls from Fonda, her “Monster-in-Law” co-star.

“I play her assistant in the movie and I was so starstruck at first I couldn’t talk to her,” she says. “I was on set for a wardrobe fitting before filming started and they said, ‘Oh, Jane’s coming in for her fitting. If you want to hang around for a bit, you can meet her.’ I took off. I was not prepared to meet her.

“When I finally did get up the courage to say hello, I was able to have a decent conversation with her without being so starstruck. She’s such a cool lady. We had a great time and still stay in touch.”

Sykes, whose sharp wit was well-honed writing segments for “The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show” and “The Chris Rock Show,” says she’s always surprised when people remember her bits from years ago. People still praise her segment on Rock’s show in which she accused Bill Clinton of being a racist for having affairs only with white women.

“Oh, it’s funny what sticks with people,” Sykes says, laughing. “I forget about things so it’s really flattering when people like something enough that they remember it and tell you about it. But I hope the family who had their car repossessed forgets all about it. Fast.

© 2014 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

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