When you're in Hollywood, you can witness screen magic in person in many different ways. Some shows film live to tape, which means you're there, they're there and it all happens as if we're in real time even though nobody will see this on TV until hours later (which means we could see it twice, you guys!). Other TV shows and movies film at a hurry-up-and-wait pace, which means if you're there, it's exciting for the first two seconds, then not exciting again until hours later when the one person says "Rolling!" and the other person says "Action!" and then the famous people begin saying their lines on camera. The Wanda Sykes Show on FOX operates on that other, rarer schedule, which is taped before a live audience, but without regard to clocks because it tapes a night ahead of its air date.
Which is how you can find yourself spending two hours on a Friday night watching a show that's ultimately only 40 minutes long when it airs on Saturday night.
Not that that's not fun. If you're at Stage 56 inside CBS Television City in Los Angeles, then you get to see that around the corner is The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and if you look it up on Wikipedia (which is a thing that exists), then you'll learn that Sykes tapes where The Pat Sajak Show taped. History! You'll also get to experience the unique anti-warm-up skills of comedian Brody Stevens -- you'll learn a lot about Brody, which will come in handy in your Trivial Pursuit games of the future -- and also a tight stand-up set from Sykes' announcer sidekick, Keith Robinson. Robinson, a regular host at the Comedy Cellar when he was living in New York City, moved out to L.A. to join his longtime friend Sykes for her show. Their chemistry shows on-camera, too, as you believe that's the one segment in the show in which they don't need a teleprompter. Here's an extra video in which Sykes and Robinson dish on one another.
Remember when I said it took two hours to film 40 minutes? What up with that? This is up with that. Sykes had several stops and starts with her opening monologue, muffing enough lines that at one point between takes, she turned to the audience and joked: "Boy, that was rough, huh?" "When you see this on TV, it'll look so smooth," Sykes added. "You can play a drinking game at home, and say, 'She f*cked up right there!" In the few hours they had to edit the footage, they wisely cut one of the clunkier bits with drag queen Porsche and an audience member, but they also had to drop some wild and silly moments with Sykes' roundtable panel guests: JB Smoove, Margaret Cho and Seth Green. I suppose they had to keep that "Inappropriate Games" segment with one of Sykes' production assistants (because he appeared and got credited in the good-nights), but really, the panel with Smoove, Cho and Green provided more of the fun and unexpected moments that would make for good television viewing. More of that, please!
To do that, perhaps they should just go ahead and tape it live-to-tape, or even just go live with it on Saturday night. You know. Like that other live show on Saturday night. Do it. Do. It. Magic.
People want to know about the debut of any late-night talk show, even if the debut is not necessarily going to be a good judge of what the show will end up looking and sounding like. These things take time. That said, Wanda Sykes launched her new entry into late-night TV this past Saturday night on FOX (replacing MADtv, which meant she'd be going against Saturday Night Live for her second half-hour), and you probably want to know how it went. Here are a few thoughts on The Wanda Sykes Show...
Sykes started with a fairly strong monologue. Sure, she showed her liberal stripes -- which, being on FOX, played to her rebellious streak -- but compared to weekly rants by Bill Maher on HBO (or D.L. Hughley a year ago on CNN), it's not too dangerous of a proposition. And Sykes made sure to deliver.
In her second segment, she introduced her longtime friend and opening act Keith Robinson, who is playing the role of her sidekick. Robinson is a frequent host at the Comedy Cellar in NYC, and any of his friends routinely call him a "dummy." And not in the Jeff Dunham way. Sykes let Robinson go off on a bit he wanted to talk about having a superpower that identifies babies crying??? They did have some fun with video soon afterward, though. There also was a Paranormal Activity parody. So far, s'ok. Then Sykes delivered a second monologue? Hmmm. Sykes has a drag queen on her show named Porsche for reasons yet to be explained. Her segment about going green for her sex toys could have used some better editing and funnier interactions. When we checked in next with Sykes, she was holding court over a drink-fueled panel with Phil Keoghan, Darryl Chill Mitchell and Mary Lynn Rajskub -- this lasted two segments and felt like a cross between Maher's Real Time, The View's Hot Topics and Comics Unleashed; in other words, weirdly planned. Her drag queen friend, Porsche, came out for the panel, so to speak, to play a game called "Inappropriate Games" in which they had to guess what part of Asia different celebrities hailed from. "What do you think, Mary Lynn?" Sykes asked at one point. "What is happening?" Rajskub replied. What. Is. Happening. No, seriously. What is happening? I'm not entirely sure. The show averaged a 2.2 rating and a 5 share in early Nielsen ratings estimates, which made FOX execs happy since that was more viewers than they were getting for either MADtv or Spike Feresten's Talk Show with Spike Feresten, although this was a premiere, so you'd expect more people to take the show out for a test drive.
The next episode airs Nov. 14. I'll have to wait and watch the next few weeks before I know how I feel about this show. Here is the whole debut for you to watch and make your own calls:
In the past week, Wanda Sykes has appeared on Oprah, The View, Today and The Daily Show as part of her promotional push for her weekly late-night talk show, which debuts a week from Saturday on Nov. 7. A lot of the interviews ask Sykes about her recent HBO special, I'ma Be Me, or about her personal life. But we have learned a few things about The Wanda Sykes Show.
Why don't we watch some highlights?
And here she was on The Daily Show:
Sykes continues her promotional push tonight on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She has taped a couple of test shows; things kick off for real on Friday, Nov. 6 with Mary Lynn Rajskub among the known guests. Check here for tickets to upcoming tapings.
Wanda Sykes has made her name in comedy by being known as a woman who's never afraid to speak her mind. It's done wonders for her as a stand-up, as well as a supporting player on sitcoms such as New Adventures of Old Christine or Curb Your Enthusiasm; not as well when she's tried being the star of her own series. With another opportunity quickly approaching -- her new weekly Saturday-night talk-show debuts in less than a month -- Sykes has a chance to reestablish herself with her new HBO special, I'ma Be Me. It debuts tonight. Before we can get into this, here's a quick overview:
Wanda Sykes returned to her roots by taping in D.C., and by doing so in late August, the quick turnaround means she can be as topical as she wanted to be. "You know the last time I was here, I caused a bit of trouble," Sykes said, joking about the Republicans at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in May. (Watch Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents dinner here) "I'm going for one of those beer summits!"
Though Sykes proved this spring that she's not afraid to be edgy with her choices of material, she also shows in this special that her subsequent punchlines are a bit more on the safe and easy side. For example, now that there's a black president, Sykes doesn't have to worry about what white people think: She can dance in public, buy whole watermelons, go eat at Popeye's. She jokes about when the "real" Michelle Obama will emerge with the stereotypical black female personality. "We all don't do that." Not that Sykes thinks we need to worry about the Obamas relationship. And yes, there is an easy "stimulus package" joke. The first half-hour of her 85-minute set is fairly political, touching on Somalian pirates, the metric system and public education. On illegal immigrants: "If someone broke into my house, and vacuumed? You know, I might be a little confused. But I ain't calling the cops!" On Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: "The only time your race and gender is not questioned, is when you're a white man." As for health reform and the talk about "death panels"? Sykes is more worried about her kids pulling the plug on her than a doctor doing it.
Halfway in, she starts to talk more about herself and "a lot of personal changes going on in my life," noting that she "had to say something" about her sexuality when, on the same Election Day that gave America a black president, it also decided via California's Prop 8 that gay people were second-class citizens. When Sykes decides to talk further about being gay, however, she headed down a fairly traditional path for humor, with a routine about how she never had to come out publicly as black.
She also now has performed on a gay cruise. Roll the clip!
The rest of the routine looks at celebrities -- among them, Michael Jackson's death ("He died of being Michael Jackson!), and actresses such as Sally Field and Jamie Lee Curtis doing TV ads for medical conditions. "I gotta tell you," Sykes says. "That yogurt works." Sykes also talks about being a new mom, getting older, naming her muffin top because it has a life of its own, and getting her first bikini wax. It's a raunchy closer, to be sure. But when there's a chance for Sykes to explore how our society treats women's health differently from the men, did we really need another joke about erections lasting longer than six hours?
Perhaps Sykes has figured from her past TV gigs that she has to tiptoe around the edges of social comedy with easier, safer punchlines before diving back into the material with real authority. Here's hoping her weekly chat show on FOX (which goes up against SNL) will give her that opportunity, and that she'll take advantage of it.
Even though many in the comedy industry were in Montreal last week, the comedy world kept making news. Go figure. Here's what you (and by you, I mean, of course, me) might have missed:
Wanda Sykes had the chance in 2009 to be the first to roast President Barack Obama and the press at the White House Correspondents Dinner. She got in a good jibe about VP Joe Biden, as well as the Obamas meeting Queen Elizabeth II. Sykes had tougher words for Obama's critics, though. As she said after one barb about Rush Limbaugh: "Too much?" Will this make you more or less interested to see what Sykes does with a weekly late-night talk-show on FOX?
On the one hand, the announcement of Wanda Sykes as the main entertainment for the 2009 White House Correspondents' Dinner on May 9 is nice and all. Growing up inside the beltway, as they say, Wanda Sykes certainly knows more than a little something about the political power players -- she even worked for the NSA before quitting her government day job for stand-up comedy. But, then again. Just look at the home page for the White House Correspondents' Association. A smiling, beaming photo of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, arm-in-arm during the inaugural parade. Which means none of the awkwardness that faced the past few WHCA dinners (Craig Ferguson, Rich Little, Stephen Colbert) even applies to Sykes. Colbert's infamous 2006 address made everyone care about this shindig, because he looked squarely into the squirrelly eyes of the Bush Administration and did not blink. As we all remember, the WCHA overreacted and booked Little in 2007, saw their mistake there and invited Ferguson last year, only to have him mock them. What will happen this year? Who knows...but also, who cares? Maybe we will in May. But today, not as much.
Wanda Sykes wanted to get married to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for laughs this season on TV's The New Adventures of Old Christine, but in real life, Sykes also got married to her lesbian partner, and came out publicly as a proud lesbian Saturday at a rally in Las Vegas. This from the AP report:
"You know, I don't really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life," Sykes told a crowd at a gay rights rally in Las Vegas on Saturday.
"Everybody that knows me personally they know I'm gay. But that's the way people should be able to live their lives," she said.
So this isn't news to those in the comedy community who know Sykes, or even to those in the gay community (this September interview from the Dallas Voice spells it out), but it is news to the rest of the world. Sykes, known as Wanda Sykes-Hall during her marriage to David Hall in the 1990s, said the passage of Proposition 8 in California banning same-sex marriage made her feel the need to become more outspoken. You can hear more of her thoughts in this additional interview from yesterday.