Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, April 5, 2012

I know Wanda Sykes as Larry David’s foil in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Wanda, an African America Lesbian, for those who don’t know, has the uncanny knack of popping up whenever Larry’s penchant for politically incorrect behaviour is racially charged. During the course of the show, now in its 9th season, she bears witness to the curmudgeonly Mr David mistaking a professional black man for a valet, suspects him of training a racist dog that attacks only black, and admonishes him for firing a black cable guy. These are just a few of the misdemeanours that Wanda takes issue with, and the sparks fly whenever Wanda and Larry are in the same frame. They have an on-screen chemistry that is pure comedy gold. Wanda’s straight-up, take no bullshit brand of ball busting is also evident in her stand-up persona, although she comes across as a much more genial and endearing presence on stage.

Wanda’s hour-long monologue was one of the hits at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival — she was so popular that she her performance had to be moved to a bigger venue to accommodate the demand for tickets (I saw her at the old Capitol Theatre — a former cinema with a sublime ceiling designed by Walter Burly Griffin). Her popularity is well deserved. Wanda’s wry observations about aging, American politics, and sex kept me chuckling for the duration of her performance, which was beautifully paced, and always engaging. She’s one funny woman.

She began with a few comments about Australia. Just when I thought she was going to launch into a shit eating, ingratiating speech about how she loves this country, she shifted gears to comment on the bad attitude of Australian waiters — “y’all kinda nice in a phoney kinda way,” she says recalling how her request for a mimosa (an orange and champagne cocktail) was met with a response that managed to simultaneously convey compliance and contempt. Yep, that’s Aussie bad attitude for you, which is not to say there aren’t any bad attitude waiters in the States; it’s just that they are not as prevalent as they are in the land of OZ. Speaking of alcohol, Wanda raved about Australian wine, and noted that we drink a shitload of the stuff. She can tell because we don’t let that stuff sit on the shelf for too long – ‘just look at the dates on the bottle,’ she observes.

Once she got past these obligatory local references, she really hit her stride, especially when she turns her caustic wit to American politics. Needless to say, she’s an Obama fan, and takes exception to those who literally denigrate the president’s good name for being un-American. Just look at the names of Republican presidential candidates she suggests: Ron Paul (he has two first names) Newt Gingrich (sounds like some kinda toad) and Mitt Romney (who sounds like a cocktail Don Draper might drink). The trouble with these guys she opines is that nobody wants to fuck them. Speaking of fucking, she tells a few hilarious tales about her sex life. Sex, for someone of Wanda’s vintage, is no simple matter. Gone are the days of being able to bonk spontaneously — for folks in their late 40’s, sex requires significant preparation: Wanda has a bagful of pills and potions that help her get it on. She also has a pre-sex workout routine that helps keeps the cramps at bay. Wanda, you see, is married to a younger woman — that’s a younger French woman with whom she’s had two white children, mind you. Ooh, la, la! Her tales of family life, and the trials of living in a mixed-race household sound like Curb Your Enthusiasm scenarios — the anecdote about her son calling her Mammy was very Larry David.

There’s nothing especially polished about Wanda’s Shtick: she causally wanders from topic to topic without trying too hard to find clever segues between different stories. But what her show lacks in structure is made up by her cool, relaxed, manner and effortless charm. She can bust my balls any day!


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