Review: Wanda Sykes in “What Happened…Ms. Sykes?” on EPIX

Before she ever started stand-up comedy, Wanda Sykes worked as a contractor for the NSA and hyphenated her last name to include her husband’s surname. Now she’s married to a French woman and raising two white children.

So Sykes literally sets about answering the question posed by the title of her new stand-up special for EPIX, What Happened…Ms. Sykes? “I’m trying to figure it out,” she says. “Like how the fuck did I get here?!”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m the happiest I’m ever been,” Sykes tells the audience at The Ace Hotel’s theater in Los Angeles.

But it’s not what she had imagined for herself, and the adjustment process makes for plenty of comedy. Such as walking around her house to see the walls full of photos of white people. “This must be how the Obamas feel,” Sykes quips. Or how she puts thought and time into her cooking, while her French wife, well, doesn’t.

Raising white children who sometimes front French accents presents additional difficulties, such as when her daughter, Olivia, calls her Mammy instead of Mommy. “Oooooh, that stings!” Sykes observes. “You’ve got to hum a Negro spiritual sometimes to keep from killing somebody!” She couldn’t dare beat her kids, so what to do, what to do? At one point, all Sykes can manage is a throwback shoutout: “Bye, Felicia!”

Sykes also finds herself flipping the TV channel away from riots in Ferguson, Mo., to something tamer such as Shark Tank when her wife walks into the room. It’s not that she doesn’t want to have a discussion about Black Lives Matter, or systemic racism by police. In fact, Sykes claims she supports the police. It’s just that in reality, “there are some people who should not be cops.” No matter the occupation, it has employees who suck at it. Sykes explains: “There’s somebody burning fries at McDonald’s right now.” Or perhaps in your office, you might walk in and wonder: “Dave naps and plays Candy Crush all day. How is Dave still here?” It’s a train of thought which also gets discussed today in the new stand-up special by Joe Rogan, but they’re running on different, parallel tracks. Rogan sticks to one specific situation, while Sykes manages to cover the topic with more examples, all of which lead to her a more pressing question than what happened to her: What happened to the Republican Party? “They are just one step above doing Yo Momma jokes,” Sykes says.

Sykes filmed this hour in May in Los Angeles, when the nominations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were all but a certainty already, even if the campaigns of other candidates still were making daily headlines. So she’s got things to say not just about Trump’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico, but also how Bernie Sanders looks like a guy still at the bar at last call, while Clinton’s good points are no match for society’s distracted obsession with her pantsuits. Sykes jokes that she understands why people might like Trump or Sanders, because at least what they’re saying sounds new. But please don’t ever try to convince her that trickle-down economics works.

“Why? Because nothing good trickles!” she jokes.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Her most pointed political observations concern equal pay for women — Sykes argues that between cosmetics, feminine hygiene products and a handbag to carry it all, women “have more shit to buy,” addding: “It’s Halloween every day for us.” And her idea for gun control is based upon where you live. So if you have to protect yourself, you’ll get an appropriate firearm. But if you’re gated or suburban, why bother? Those people, Sykes figures, should be more concerned with the food they’re eating. Pizzas getting stuffed. GMOs infiltrating food and killing off bees. Fish raised on farms? Sykes jokes she doesn’t ever remember that verse in “Old MacDonald had a farm.”

On the homefront, Sykes can joke about surviving breast cancer, especially since she only learned about it because she wanted a reduction; same goes for her colonoscopy, because her doctor woke her up during the procedure to ask her advice. “So now I have to go looking for a new doctor,” she jokes. She still has some health issues. Her stomach is large enough she names it Esther, while her daughter has even more words for it.  She’s also worried about what Barbie dolls are teaching her daughter, whereas her son, Lucas, presents her with a stinkier situation. Literally. And she’s not about to let her mother-in-law take them to Euro Disney before Sykes has taken them to Disneyland.

A planned vacation is one thing. A surprise trip, quite another. “When you’re 52 a surprise getaway feels more like a kidnapping,” Sykes jokes. “I have prescriptions!”

Waking up to see her kids at the foot of the bed at night might jolt her even more. But at least her twins aren’t hillbillies. Or snakes.

So she can sleep easily. And she can happily answer the question she posed at the top of her new hour.

What happened? “Progress happened.”

What Happened…Ms. Sykes? premieres tonight on EPIX.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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