Comedian Wanda Sykes has been making us laugh for years through her various roles on film and television, and now she's bringing her irreverant brand of humor to late-night television with The Wanda Sykes Show, which premieres on Saturday, November 7 at 11 PM ET on Fox. Wanda Sykes recently held a conference call to discuss her new series, and here's what she had to say.
I really liked kind of your alter ego there, Esther Rolle. I'm wondering if we're going to see more Esther in as far as like the questions that you're going to ask your guests, is it going to be real?
Wanda Sykes: Will Esther interview guests?
No, but you know what I'm saying, kind of like from the gut to sort of-
Wanda Sykes: Esther makes cameos of, yes, I have nothing to do with that, she's never booked on the show, she just-
She just barges in?
Wanda Sykes: Yes, she kind of barges in. We're not doing the typical interview with the celebrity, "Hey, tell us about your new movie." We're throwing them in on the panel. When we have the panel discussion and we'll talk about current topics or it could be pop culture or maybe something's bugging somebody that night and we'll have more like a group discussion on the subject.
Kind of like a Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, you're going to do a dissection of the top stories of the day and see what's bugging at everyone?
Wanda Sykes: Collin Quinn, who is a friend, his show made me nervous in a way, because I felt like that nobody liked each other when on that, and I know that crowd, because I hung out with them when I'm in New York doing the comedy show. There's a comics table and we all sit around and basically rip each other apart. My show won't have that energy.
Wanda Sykes: Yes, it'll be more of, I mean, the same intensity as far as opinions, but you'll get why I invited these people to stop by and hang out with me. It's like, I'm not going to have guests on that I'm trying to rush out the door. These are people that I enjoy and want to hang out with and have a drink and get to know a little better.
Who are some of the people that you like that we're going to see?
Wanda Sykes: We'll get Chris Rock, and if I can track down Dave Chappelle, I'll get him to come by, Jane Fonda. Actually the first guest, one of our first panel guest, Mary Lynn Rajskub, I worked with her on the show called the Downer Channel back in the day on NBC. I'm just happy that we both survived that and we're still employed. I'm sure we'll post to that on Saturday night. Yes, of course, there's some politicians I would love to sit down and have a conversation with. And also you mentioned Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, my best friend Keith Robinson, he was a regular on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. Keith is my co-host. We've been friends for over 20 years.
There were a lot of elections last night, and Maine had a big, the gay marriage was up for vote again and it went down, and I wanted to know if you had a comment about that.
Wanda Sykes: It's very disappointing. I know exactly how the community is feeling right now especially in Maine. It's just sad when someone's civil rights can be put up to a vote. That just should never happen. The constitution declares a separation between church and state. And I think that's what it's going to come down to and what we need to uphold and when that happens I think there will be equality for everybody.
There hasn't been a show that I can recall, I could be forgetting one, with a minority host since Arsenio. You're coming on Saturday night, and then Monday, George Lopez is launching a weeknight show. What do you think a minority host brings to a late night program or any program that you're not getting from what basically is a white male fraternity?
Wanda Sykes: I believe all these shows are driven by the host. So Letterman is the only one who could do the Letterman Show. That goes for all of us. Yes, George is minority and so am I, but it's basically not what you're getting from a minority, it's us. George has been at this for 20 plus years and so have I. We're seasoned comedians and I think that's what we're going to bring to it. Dave Letterman, he brings his, I'm from Indiana point of view, and Jay brings his, I'm Italian. I think that's where it is, it's host driven, so it's going to be more our personality and not just, "Oh, here's, now you're finally going to get the voice of a black woman." I mean, yes, I'm a black woman, but I don't speak for all black women.
Could you briefly, I mean as quickly as possible, just describe what the structure of the show will be beyond the panel discussion? I mean, will you go out and do a monologue, will it be entertainment numbers or will it just be people kind of like the Bill Maher thing sitting and discussing what's going on?
Wanda Sykes: We're doing a little bit of everything really. I will do a monologue, but it's not going to be just a string of random jokes. I want it to feel like a live standup performance, so it'll be more concentrated on one area, and I will have a sidekick, Keith Robinson, one of my closest friends. I've known him for over 20 years, very funny. He will be like my co-host. We will have a panel discussion similar to Bill Maher, but it won't be as, I should say, as serious, not as confrontational I guess. You want to feel like these people are on the show for a reason that I enjoy them, we're getting to know each other, it's like mingling I should say. But of course, they will be opinionated, but it's, "Hey, we'll still have our beer summit." We can sit down, have a drink and laugh about it.
Will there be a musical act?
Wanda Sykes: Hey, if ... puts out a new album, yes, there will be a musical act, not every week, but if something comes up and it's like, "Heck man I would love to get this person to perform," then, yes, we will have that.
Could you give us some idea of the topics you're going to cover in your premiere this Saturday and also who exactly the panelists will be for this first episode?
Wanda Sykes: The panelist this week, we will have Mary Lynn Rajskub from 24, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, he's on Brothers but he's a friend of mine, and Phil Keoghan from The Amazing Race, one of my favorite shows. I want to get to know Phil a little bit. I'm tired of just seeing him standing on that mat greeting people from all around the world. I wanted to sit down and have a drink with him.
This kind of a follow up to the minority question, when you were a comic coming up did you aspire to be a late night host or did you see it as just kind of the white old male fraternity and it was kind of a mental road block?
Wanda Sykes: Honestly, I cannot recall having that. I sound like Dick Cheney now, don't I? When I started doing standup, I had one goal and that was just to be a really funny comic who would be able to get on the road and work and make a good living. Yes, fortunately for me it's gone far beyond that, but that's still really my goal was just to be a funny hard working comic.
So then, how did you decide that you wanted to do the late night show?
Wanda Sykes: Fox had some dirty pictures on me, no, they approached me, maybe like a year ago, and I said, "No," and then they came back maybe like a couple months ago or three months ago, I can't really remember, and pitched the idea again of doing a late night show. I'm a mom now, so it just made sense where now I won't have to be on the road as much doing standup, because that's what I love to do. I'll be able to get that, whatever that need is to perform live by doing this late night show.
What topics will you be discussing this weekend and what's bugging you?
Wanda Sykes: What topics? Well, what's bugging me is that, I guess, that will probably be my monologue. Everybody's picking on the president, it's been only a year since he's been elected and it seems like the man can't do anything right. Everything he does, people find some fault with him. I'll talk about that. The topics on the panel, honestly, we have not narrowed it down. We have probably like six or seven things floating around out there right now, so...
I know your formats different from Ellen's show, but she does share her personal life, and whenever the gay thing comes up, she'll show pictures from her wedding. Is that something you're interested in doing or do you want to keep your personal life personal?
Wanda Sykes: Whenever there's an opportunity and it's funny, then, yes, I'll definitely talk about my personal life. My last standup special for HBO, I think I put it all out there. If I don't talk about it, it's because I don't have a joke for it yet. If it's due to be funny, you'll hear it.
Who are your inspirations as far as for your comedy?
Wanda Sykes: As far as my comedy, it's Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley. I hate making a list, because I always leave someone out. I think growing up, yes, those two.
I was wondering, one of the criticisms about late night TV has not just been the kind of all white guy feeling of the host, but also very much white male writing staffs. Is your writing staff going to have more people variety?
Wanda Sykes: Yes, yes. I have white women, black women, black men, white men. Yes, and hopefully the show does well and we get a bigger budget, I'll even expand it even open it up a little more.
Was that a priority for you or did that sort of just come naturally?
Wanda Sykes: I went with funny. I went with, "Okay, let me look at the material, let me see who's out there and who's available," and I went with funny is what spoke to me.
I was wondering if you have a theory about why it's taken so long to integrate late night TV?
Wanda Sykes: I would love to blame Bush, yes, let's stick that on him, let's blame Bush.
In a perfect world, if you could book whatever combination of guests you could for the panel-
Wanda Sykes: Oh, Lord.
Okay, or give me a couple of examples, you don't have to actually nail them down, but any thoughts as to who you would just absolutely kill to get together?
Wow, that's a good one, maybe- I would pick George Clooney. Well, if they don't have to be alive, then I would go with Moms Mabley, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor. How's that?
Okay, so let's say if we're talking living, George Clooney, and give me another couple.
Wanda Sykes: Condoleezza Rice. I bet you Clooney will loosen her up, huh? Get us some drinks and Conde, oh, boy. Conde, Clooney, and who else should I throw in there, and Michael Strahan. She likes the football player.
Is there anybody that you'd really hope to get on to just total eviscerate?
Wanda Sykes: I would say Glenn Beck, but to me, interviewing Glenn Beck would be like interviewing Forrest Gump, they're not even real people.
You mentioned you'd love to sit down and have a drink with Phil Keoghan. What's the idea about drinking on the set? I loved that, on the clip I saw online, you've got a bar setup.
Wanda Sykes: Yes, come on, I'm not going to work this hard and not be able to drink on one of my shows. This is my second job, so this show I want it to just be just a good time. Hopefully, you guys will feel like you're hanging out at my spot and sitting there with me and my friends. I feel like the viewers, you guys are going to be sitting at home drinking, so we all should be on the same plane, right?
You bet, so what's your drink?
Wanda Sykes: I will probably start out with a little of vodka and club soda, yes. If you spill it, you won't have a problem with the wardrobe, yes. And then there will be the after show drink, if we have a great show, then I'll probably do a couple of shots of Patrón. Actually, you know what, and even if the show doesn't go well, then I'll have more shots of Patrón.
I'm a big fan of your work on Curb Your Enthusiasm specifically. Do you think we can expect Larry David to make an appearance on your show?
Wanda Sykes: Sure. We haven't locked in a date, but yes, I would love to have Larry on.
What's your favorite city to perform in?
Wanda Sykes: I love going back to D.C. It's where it all started and I love that crowd. They're smart, their sole just is like ahead of you, they were sitting on it just waiting for the next line, so I love going back to D.C. Now, if I was from an awful city, then, yes, maybe not, maybe going home would not be fun, but, yes, I just love D.C.
You mentioned that you think Obama is getting too much criticism in his administration, but I think a lot of that criticism is directed specifically towards the gay rights issue. Can you speak specifically on how you feel he's been handling that issue?
Wanda Sykes: I look at it as give the man some time, he hasn't even been in office, he was elected this time last year. I remember banks closing, these long lines, people trying to get their money out of the bank, the economy just in the toilet, the Dow went over what 10,000 last week, so he's doing something right. Bush left a huge mess and people expected him, it's like giving him a spoon and asking him to go fill up the Grand Canyon. I believe that he'll get to the gay rights issue and so I'm just trying to be patient and just give him time.
Tune in to The Wanda Sykes Show when it premieres on Saturday, November 7 at 11 PM ET on Fox.