Wanda Sykes is well known for her outspoken liberal views but apparently that came as news to some in the crowd of her packed show Thursday in the Walt Disney Theater of Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
After her comedy took a Republican-skewering turn, a heckler spoke up — and was promptly shut down in no uncertain terms by Sykes. One suspects she has been to that rodeo before.
Politics did loom large throughout Sykes’ 75-minute set, but she offered commentary on plenty of other topics — online church, gynecologist visits and more — during a sometimes scattershot show that felt amusingly off-the cuff, even though Sykes consulted notes from time to time to get herself back on track.
“That wasn’t even on the page,” she cracked while checking her notes after one digression.
Sykes, 58, has been doing standup since the 1980s and won an Emmy Award with her fellow comedy writers on “The Chris Rock Show” in 1999. She has done extensive voice-over work and acted in numerous TV shows and movies, with some of her longest runs coming in sitcoms “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Black-ish.”
She’s currently starring in “The Upshaws,” which she described as “a lot of fun.” At the end of her Orlando show, she had the crowd record a birthday greeting for “Upshaws” co-star Kim Fields.
Sykes touched only briefly on the Will Smith-Chris Rock altercation at this year’s Oscars ceremony, where she was a host, but didn’t leave any doubt about her pro-Rock feelings.
“He smacked Chris so hard, the dude from ‘CODA’ heard it,” she joked, referring to the best-picture winner about deaf culture. She said she was shocked to see Smith carry on with the evening after the incident.
“I kept looking out … he was still sitting there!” she exclaimed.
Sykes had harsh (unprintable) words for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“He don’t even believe half that [stuff] he’s saying,” she scoffed, accusing him of playing to a pro-Donald Trump crowd. “It’s a show.”
She also decried the state’s Parental Rights in Education bill, called the “don’t say gay” bill by critics.
“If you really want to protect the kids, ban assault weapons,” she said to cheers from the audience.
Sykes’ passion, folksy asides and personal tales went a long way in blunting political stridency.
Mixed in with the politics were plenty of personal anecdotes, including a particularly amusing caricature of her French wife of nearly 15 years. (Her wife must also have a sense of humor.)
She’s not afraid to use race as a starting point for laughs.
On her wife: “She’s white, but I say French because it sounds …” — deliberate pause and a sly smile — “nicer.”
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Or on meeting friends outside during the pandemic: “It did tickle me, really, telling my white friends to go around the back.”
And she uses physical comedy to her advantage — earning big laughs by demonstrating a drunken woman “hovering” over a public toilet.
Opening the show was Keith Robinson, Sykes’ sidekick on her 2009-10 late-night talk show. Like Sykes, he had fun with topics considered off limits in polite company: Much of his routine centered on his own recent stroke.
But also like Sykes, he delivers his material with a twinkle in the eye and a knowing grin.
With a snorty little laugh, Sykes often indicated she was in on the joke herself — especially when she was the punchline. How would she describe drinking during the pandemic shutdown?
“3:00 became the new 5:00,” she confessed with a conspiratorial smile.
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