Wonderful Wanda

Sykes might be a jack-of-all-stages, but she’s returning to her stand-up roots

Since coming up in the mid-’90s, Wanda Sykes has ranged far and wide. She’s been on TV and in movies, was an Emmy-nominated television writer, a talk-show host, a Crank Yankers puppet and, recently, played Miss Hannigan in a run of Annie. Really, doesn’t everyone want to terrorize Depression-era orphans just once in their career?

Yet the constant has always been stand-up. In 2009, she scored an HBO special with I’ma Be Me. After Fox canceled The Wanda Sykes Show last year, the comedian went back on the road with an eye on putting together another hour. She appears March 11-12 at The Mirage’s Terry Fator Theater.

“It usually takes about two years once I start touring to put together a special,” she says. “I’m doing new stuff. There will be things from I’ma Be Me, but the same topics. I still have kids, I’m still married.”

Sykes didn’t start doing stand-up until her late 20s, a relatively late start. “Late bloomer” is a motif that seems to come up again and again. Sykes didn’t “come out” until she was 44 (she divorced husband Dave Hall in 1998), when she did it in 2008 here at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada during a Stand Out for Equality Rally against California’s Proposition 8.

She first tried theater at the end of last year in Annie. “It was my first time doing theater,” she says. “Musical theater on top of that. It was great, because it was the best of both worlds. It had all the aspects of doing stand-up as far as being in front of a live audience. There was no cut and no edit. Then I get to work with a cast, which was great.”

In 2009 Sykes tried her hand with an unlikely new challenge: talk-show innovator. The Wanda Sykes Show tried to break out of the talk show mold with panel discussions—something she picked up on watching shows from oversees with her French wife, Alex. The experiment didn’t last, and the show wasn’t renewed. “They found a formula, and it works. They stick with it. It’s so funny when you say, ‘Hey, I want to do something different.’ You start out that way and you end up in the same box as everyone else. You do a monologue, you sit down, you do a desk piece, you bring on your guest and here’s your band,” she says.

Those panels, by the by, were hosted in front of a bar, and all the guests had cocktails. What may not have played for a national audience fits right in for Vegas dates. “I love to gamble and drink all night, so it’s great for me.”

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This fish-out-of-water thriller is not an especially memorable film, but Liam Neeson’s performance as Dr. Martin Harris makes it entertaining. After a car accident, Martin awakens with enough memory intact to retrace his steps back to his hotel. But Martin’s wife (January Jones) doesn’t recognize him and an imposter (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place. The solution to Unknown’s mystery is excessively contrived and yet underdeveloped.



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