Wanda Sykes has joined the late-night talk-show fold with her new series The Wanda Sykes Show, which airs every Saturday night at 11 PM ET on Fox. This Saturday is the second of seven consecutive original episodes and Sykes recently held a conference call to discuss what's coming up on her show. Here's what she had to say.
I just wanted to ask you, you have the opportunity to get any guest you want on your show. Which guest do you not want on the show?
Wanda Sykes: Not want? Honestly, it's not like we've been able to just get any guest. We've just been lucky to get like Sade, who I really, really wanted. After having her on the show, I can't really rule anyone out or say that someone I'm looking forward or don't want to talk to. It's okay, but if they're funny, if they have a point of view, then I'm fine.
Would you ever have Chelsea Handler on the show?
Wanda Sykes: Yes, sure. Funny.
And have a debate?
Wanda Sykes: I don't know what we would debate about, but, yes, I like Chelsea. I think she's funny. I have a good friend over there working on her show too.
Being intelligent and beautiful and extremely talented, you're are looked up by all the young talent. What's your advice for people, especially 18-35 trying to get into the business?
Wanda Sykes: First to be a smooth talker like you, gee. I would say just to stick with it. If you really love what you're doing and you're passionate about it, then I say you just have to keep doing it. Don't think that there's only one path to get to where you want to go. Whenever you get an opportunity to perform, you should do it, well, as long as you can keep your clothes on.
You've made a living, a great living off of observation. What grade would you give President Obama at this point in his administration compared to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush?
Wanda Sykes: Compared to Bush, he gets an A+. Compared to Clinton, I would say a C+.
Including yourself, who do you think would be a great replacement for Oprah?
Wanda Sykes: For Oprah, oh, Lord. I think you would just need another little Oprah clone and don't think that she doesn't have one. I think the clone has been doing the last three seasons to be honest with you.
How about the Simon situation with American Idol?
Wanda Sykes: I think it's a contract move, I think. I don't really see him leaving. I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong, but it's just won't be Idol, I don't think without Simon.
So I watched you the other night on Bill Maher. You were wonderful and I was wondering if you could fine tune those comments about conservatives and what you were saying, the points you were making.
Wanda Sykes: The point I was making, well, first of all, I was just so happy to be on HBO and be able to say whatever I wanted to say. That just shot out of there. But the point I was making is that obviously we're not talking about the majority of the country because we elected Barack Obama. But I believe that there's this faction out there, just extreme right and they just can't get over the point of having a black president. There's some real racism that is, I think, behind that movement. It was horrific when you saw the signs with the white face, the Joker and then compare him to Hitler, call him a Nazi and now he's a socialist. They're just trying to come up with anything where they can get away with calling him a name without being overtly racist. To me, just the utter disrespect, shouting out, "You lie," in Congress, lot of that, I think, is driven by racism and the fact that they just can't stand having a black president. I don't know if you've ever seen that documentary that Nancy Pelosi's daughter did covering the election, but that segment, it exists and they're loud. And that's why they have these Tea Baggers and guys like Limbaugh and Beck and all and they feed off of that. That's their audience and it's scary. You show up at the town hall meeting with a gun, what the hell.
I think that fellow that showed up with a gun was black, but that's besides the point.
Wanda Sykes: No, no, that black guy showed up after he saw the other white guy showing up with a gun. No, no, no, no, there were white guys out there straight up.
So Bill Maher is going to be on your show coming up. I was wondering if you could talk about some of the upcoming guests on The Wanda Sykes Show.
Wanda Sykes: This week we have Ray Romano, Cheryl Hines, Eddie Izzard, Colin Quinn. I'm going to have a one on one with Roland Martin. We have Suze Orman, Roseanne. Who else? I think Wesley Snipes is going to come through. I'm going to ask him to help me with my taxes. We're still filling up the board.
How's it going with Keith, your partner in crime there? Is it Keith Roberts-
Wanda Sykes: Robinson, yes.
Are you having a good time still with Keith?
Wanda Sykes: I love Keith. He's one of my closest, pretty much my best friend, known him forever. Really, it's just trying to find more time for us to have our moments. It really is crazy how the time just flies by and we fill up the show and then it's like, wow, I didn't really get to spend the amount of time and material that we wanted to do. But eventually, we'll work towards that. Maybe we'll throw him on a panel.
I want to know since you've been doing the show now for a couple months now, what's the biggest surprise that you've come across in doing the show?
Wanda Sykes: The biggest surprise, I would say what we've been able to do. I really didn't think that we would get away with some of the things that we've gotten away with. I don't mean like being sneaky or whatever. I'm just saying how far that Fox is letting us go. Their concern is more about just don't piss off advertisers. As long as we don't name names or brand names or stuff, then it seems like we have a lot of berth over here for network TV, which is I found somewhat surprising and enjoying it.
I also saw you on Bill Maher and love you on .....that was great to see. You seemed almost a little tired of talking about the gay thing when he wanted to change topics a little bit. I don't know if you were just being on or if that was really real for you. Are you tired of talking about it?
Wanda Sykes: No, not tired of talking about it, no. I think we were talking about Obama and I really didn't get to a joke for Obama. As a comic if I don't end on a joke, I go, darn, okay. So that's probably what you saw was just me not feeling fulfilled that I got my laugh off of Obama.
I'm just wondering given all this talk about Conan O'Brien coming over to Fox, are you on Team Conan or what do you think of his whole situation?
Wanda Sykes: I know there's talk about him coming to Fox. I hope he does. I think that'd be really cool to have him over here. As far as like Team Conan, Team Jay, I didn't pick a side. It's just so funny how, you kind of felt like you had to. Oh, wait a minute, why do I have to pick a side? I like both of these guys. Really, it's a couple of rich guys fighting over a job that they don't have control over. It's the network. So, yes, I stayed out of it, I guess, but I wish them both well.
So I'm wondering, which is harder, getting up and doing stand-up comedy or trying to moderate a group of people when they're talking? Is one more complicated than the other?
Wanda Sykes: Moderate a group of people, yes, that's much harder. To be stand-up, it's just me. I don't have to try to interrupt and tell me to let someone else speak. Hey, give that audience guy a shot. I don't have to do that, but I'm enjoying it, though. I'm enjoying working with the panel. Sometimes I enjoy it too much where I sit back and watch and listen and then I go, oh, wait a minute. This is my show. I need to get in here, but definitely stand-up I think is easier.
So have you mastered some tricks of the trade of cutting people off and getting them involved in the conversation?
Wanda Sykes: Oh, mastered any tricks. Usually because we drink on the show, when I shake my glass a little bit, the clinking of the ice sometimes, people know that, okay, it's like the teacher tapping the ruler on the desk. When I shake that glass, somebody messed up.
I had just two quick questions. One is, when you did you realize that you had a made it as a comedian, you knew you were clicking with the public?
Wanda Sykes: You're asking when I knew that I could make a living at it or when I knew I was at that next level?
Right, when you knew that was going to be your career, that you had reached that level, that the public was just in tuned with you.
Wanda Sykes: It was probably when I did my first tour and Comedy Central sponsored the tour. It was the White Cotton T-Shirt or something like that. It was ridiculous what I named the tour. I was first time headlining theatres and that first night, I think we opened in Chicago and it was packed. The crowd was just great and that's when I said, okay-
About what year?
Wanda Sykes: It was probably, man, maybe five years ago, six year, five, six years.
The other question was has there been a guest on your show that has been totally different on air versus the way they are off screen, like behind the scenes, personality wise or just the way they portray themselves?
Wanda Sykes: I would say Sade and it was basically because we knew nothing about her off screen, other than the music. She rarely does interviews and never seen her do anything outside of perform, so yes, that was the biggest shock.
I was wondering if you would encourage other gay actors, comedians or people in the public eye that come out only after they've become successful.
Wanda Sykes: Oh, to only do it after they become successful?
Do you think that they should wait?
Wanda Sykes: Wow. I think you should do it when it's right for you. If you're feeling spiteful and you want to come out, but you have to hide something, I think that hurts your creativity. So I don't know if-I guess it depends on the person. It has to be about your comfort level and you'll know.
Also, you wrote a book in 2004 before you came out. Do you think there'll be another one in your future that would include notes on your life now as an open lesbian and as a parent.
Wanda Sykes: That book damn near killed me and I found out ....friends, they're were like you wrote your own book? I was like yes. Nobody writes their book. You get somebody to write the book for you and you go through and make---I was like oh, man. I think that's the only way I could've have done it was to do it myself. Eventually, yes, there probably will be another one, but I don't see it any time soon.
What's it like working with Fox again and are you having fun keeping the censors on their toes?
Wanda Sykes: I am having fun keeping the censors on their toes. I really am enjoying that and she's a lovely lady, too, but so far, so good. We're really getting along, but we do try to push her. As far as being back on Fox, it is weird. It's weird, but there's a new leadership and they've been very supportive. It's been good. It's been a good experience so far.
Now who would your dream panel of guests be and why?
Wanda Sykes: Dream panel of guests, mmmm. It's hard. I know I mentioned Sade so many times already, but I'm serious. After having her on the show, it doesn't matter honestly. It doesn't matter.
Wanda, now that you're coming to the second half of your first year doing this show, any thoughts about mixing up the format a little bit, doing the show live as opposed to live on tape? What's your thoughts about shaking things up even more?
Wanda Sykes: That is so funny because I was walking into the office with one of my executive producers, Eddie October, and we were talking about the format and what we could do to make it a little more exciting and he said, "Maybe we should go live." So, yes, we're talking about it, shaking things up a little bit,....up the format. So yes, to answer you question, yes, we are thinking about things.
Wanda, you're coming in with this show at the same time we're seeing a lot more diversity in late night television, Lopez Tonight on TBS, Monique's Show on BET. Of course, we had Comics Unlimited for a while. But this is the first time since Arsenio Hall that we really had a huge flowering of diversity with people of color hosting shows in late night. What do you make of it?
Wanda Sykes: I guess you can say, is it the Obama effect? Is it that? Or I'm thinking that George, Monique and myself, we've been doing this-I think all of us have been doing this over 20 years. So I think it's also some seasoned comedians who have now come into their own. But, yes, definitely there's more diversity out there. I think it's also the number of channels. George, myself and Monique, Monique I think did Showtime specials. George and I, we've both been on, have a relationship with HBO, so I think that also attributes to it, too.
Are you learning anything from what they're doing with their show that you're applying to your show?
Wanda Sykes: Honestly, I watched George a little bit and Monique also. And then I just don't have time. I really don't have time to watch the other shows. And with George and Monique, from what I've seen, we're doing totally different things. They're more of a straight up talk show and I'm doing more comedy bits. Usually the other shows that we try to keep an eye on is just to make sure we're not doing some of the same bits. But other than that, yes, I'm a fan, but I just really haven't had time to watch the shows.
One of the things that I hear you talking a lot about in your stand-up, as well as on your show is race. I'm wondering how much you think Obama being in the White House has changed the way we talk about race in this country.
Wanda Sykes: I think it definitely has opened up the line for open communication to talk about race. That's a great starting point where you can just go, hey, we have a black president and then....from there. So, yes, I definitely think Obama has helped. Now about how honest we talk about it, we still need some work done, because you have people going, hey, we elected a black president. Everything is fine. It's like, no, no, no, that was not the cure-all.
Has it changed the way that you joke about race?
Wanda Sykes: I won't say change the way I joke about it. It's just definitely has given me some new material, but no, it hasn't changed.
Now is Obama somebody you're trying to book for the show?
Wanda Sykes: The president has an open door. I would love to have the president on, sure.
And what is the top question that you would want to ask him?
Wanda Sykes: It would be to just come on, just straight up, what is the problem? What is the problem? No, really, you're the president. There's things that you can do right now if you wanted to. What's the problem and why are you being so darn fair? The Democrats won. Just push the agenda forward and who cares? Be more like Bush.
And is there any question around race that you would want to know from him?
Wanda Sykes: Not really, I can't think of anything off the top of my head. I know he doesn't want to acknowledge it or he doesn't honestly feel that way, but he thinks that, I think he said that he thinks that all the noise and what people are saying about him stems from being a bad economy. And he doesn't want to credit any of it towards race or racism. I think I would call him on that.
You can watch The Wanda Sykes Show on Saturday nights at 11 PM ET on Fox.