Wanda Sykes: Comedians Can ‘Say Whatever You Want to Say’
A certain contingency of comedians in 2023 continue to argue that telling jokes about sensitive subjects is basically illegal nowadays. Wanda Sykes told them to tell it to her Grammy nomination.
In this past May’s Wanda Sykes: I’m An Entertainer, Sykes tactfully tackled subjects such as abortion, transphobia and critical race theory without pandering or being brutishly provocative. It’s a delicate balance, of course, being incisive and funny at the same time — which is presumably why so many comedians choose to be neither when they use hot-button issues as fodder for their dude-bro bullshit. In 2023, it’s not enough to name-drop trans people, abuse victims or any other marginalized group in an unoriginal joke and declare yourself canceled when it doesn’t land. The kind of comedian who can and does navigate those murky waters does so with exceptional skill and thoughtfulness, and, come February’s Grammy Awards, she might just be rewarded for the effort.
Sykes has already addressed some of her peers’ complaints about the current comedy climate, once declaring that “cancel culture” is simply code for “consequences.” Speaking to The Daily Beast in a recent interview, Sykes doubled down on her stance, saying of the “You can’t say anything nowadays” whiners, “This is America. You have the right to say whatever you want to say. So I just think it’s false when they say that they can’t.” If that were true, then why do those comics have to hide their opinions behind a paywalled Patreon podcast?
“There’s going to be some people who might not like what you say,” Sykes advised her colleagues in the comedy community. “If you really believe in what you say and what you want to say, then go for it, but just be prepared to deal with the outcome.” Sykes further explained that, when a comedian claims they aren’t allowed to share their true opinions, it casts doubt on the veracity of their act. “It bothers me when comedians say that because now, when you’re on stage, I’m sitting there as an audience member going, but what do you really think?”
Sykes went further to say that the excuse of “it’s just a joke, it’s not what I really think” also doesn’t fly, “Unless you’re doing a character, but then we have to all know you’re doing this character.”
When it comes to Sykes’ comedy, she doesn’t need the plausible deniability or lazy distancing that others use to separate themselves from the ideas they espouse in front of their audiences. “I would say what I say on stage is pretty much how I feel,” said Sykes, “Except maybe with parenting. I exaggerate in that area. Like, I’m not hitting my kids. But I’ve said it before, like, ‘I can’t hit them, they’re white. My Black ass can’t be beating white kids!’”