An Interview with Wanda Sykes
By Tara Harris
June 21, 2007
In Evan Almighty, Steve Carell plays Evan Baxter, newly elected to Congress, who leaves Buffalo behind and shepherds his family to suburban northern Virginia. Once there, his life gets turned upside-down when God (Morgan Freeman) appears and mysteriously commands him to build an ark. Sykes plays Evan’s administrative assistant, who confronts his unorthodox transformation to a Holy man, which has befuddled his family, who just can't decide whether Evan is having an extraordinary mid-life crisis or is truly onto something of Biblical proportions.
According to her press notes, Sykes has been called “one of the funniest stand up comics” by her peers and ranks among Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Funniest People in America. Her smart-witted stand-up has sent her career in many different areas.
She was last seen co-starring with Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman in the romantic comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend and in the New Line feature Monster-in-Law, opposite Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, and was recently heard in the animated features Over the Hedge, for DreamWorks, and Barnyard, for Paramount Pictures. She also recently guest starred on The New Adventures of Old Christine and on NBC’s Will & Grace. She was seen on Comedy Central’s Wanda Does It, where she tried various non-showbiz jobs. Her first book, titled “Yeah, I Said It” and published by Simon & Schuster, hit bookstores in September 2004. “Yeah, I Said It” is a hilarious collection of essays touching on life, family and current events.
In fall 2003 she was seen on Fox’s Wanda at Large, which she wrote and produced and in which she starred. She also starred in a one-hour Comedy Central special titled Wanda Sykes: Tongue Untied. In addition, she was recently seen on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and heard on Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers as the voice of Gladys Murphy.
Sykes was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and raised in Maryland. She graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Hampton University. Her stand-up career began at a Coors Light super talent showcase in Washington, D.C., where she performed for the first time in front of a live audience.
She spent five years as part of HBO’s critically acclaimed The Chris Rock Show. As a performer and writer on the show, she was nominated for three Primetime Emmys and, in 1999, won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program. In 2001, she won the American Comedy Award for Outstanding Female Stand-Up Comic. She won two more Emmys—one in 2002 and one in 2004—for her work on Inside the NFL. In 2003, Sykes earned a Comedy Central Commie Award for Funniest TV Actress. Other writing credits include the MTV 1999 Music Video Awards, the MTV Movie Awards, the 74th Annual Academy Awards®, The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show and Wanda at Large.
She has also appeared in the feature films Clerks II, Pootie Tang, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and Down to Earth.
In speaking to blackfilm.com in regards to her role opposite Steve Carell, Sykes talked about her character and playing opposite Steve Carell.
Did you censor yourself?
Wanda Sykes: No. We weren't even told this film was supposed to be in a clean-cut direction. Censorship would have stifled me. Well, I did want to say "ass," but they told me to say "butt" instead. But butt's not funny!
How did you improvise your role?
Wanda Sykes: In the scene when Evan first goes to Congress, I was in a room looking at a blank TV screen and I had to improvise my wisecracks. It was funny but frustrating, because I felt like I was working in the dark.
If you were on an ark, what would you need to have most?
Wanda Sykes: A flat-screen television, air conditioning... Will it be a hybrid? Oh, I'd need two bars...that's a big ark, you know! As for animals on the ark, nah - I don't need critters.
In real life if you had a boss like Evan Baxter, would you support him?
Wanda Sykes: No. I'm bailing. I am so out of there!
On playing an assistant in the film:
Wanda Sykes: I enjoy playing these roles of the wisecracking underling. These types of characters are loved by the audience because they have someone who tells it like it is.
Do you prefer doing film or TV?
Wanda Sykes: TV is fast. It's the closest thing to doing stand-up. I get the quick response performing in front of a live audience, and that's appealing to me.
What do you do on your spare time?
Wanda Sykes: I've been traveling to Paris and Brazil, and doing some snowboarding.
EVAN ALMIGHTY opens on June 22, 2007