The Untold Truth Of Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes is certainly no stranger to television viewers, thanks to her appearances in series like Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine," and Sykes' own Netflix comedy "The Upshaws." She's also built up a following as a standup comic, entertaining thousands upon thousands of fans over the years with her hilariously wry observations on topics ranging from why every white person needs a Black friend to her first time getting waxed

In February 2022, "Good Morning America" revealed that Sykes would play a major role in Hollywood's biggest night, teaming up with fellow comic Amy Schumer and actor Regina Hall to host the 94th annual Academy Awards

Fans have learned plenty about this fascinating comedian, actor, and writer over the years; interviewed by Us Weekly, in fact, Sykes shared various tidbits about herself, such as being an ardent tennis fan, her "go-to karaoke song" (Macy Gray's "I Try"), and her discovery on a PBS genealogy show that she's related to The Roots' Questlove. Clearly, there's much more to discover, which will be revealed by reading on to learn the untold truth of Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes worked for the NSA

Wanda Sykes is no overnight success. In fact, she didn't embark on a career in standup comedy until she was pushing 30; before that, she told MassLive, she worked for the U.S. government's National Security Agency. "I was just bored. I just thought I should be doing something else. This is not right for me," Sykes said of her job in government intelligence. Appearing on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Sykes revealed she was a "contracting specialist," responsible for purchasing everything from "radar equipment to surveillance equipment to furniture," and held a "top-secret security clearance."

However, she had a nagging feeling she wasn't doing what she was supposed to be doing. "Something in me said, 'This is not my life; I'm not doing this [expletive] for 40 years,'" Sykes told The Washington Post. "I didn't even look in the classifieds, because I knew whatever I was supposed to be doing was not going to be advertised." 

The idea to pursue comedy, she told The New York Times Magazine, grew from her co-workers' insistence at how funny she was, encouraging her to try to get onstage and give standup comedy a go. "So I gave it a shot," she recalled to the Times. As she recalled for MassLive, there was no master plan — and no safety net. "So I just sat down and wrote some jokes one day and got into this talent competition, and luckily, it went well," she added. "Everything after that just kind of made sense."

Cooking is one of Wanda Sykes' passions

Participating in Us Weekly's "25 Things You Don't Know About Me" feature, Wanda Sykes revealed that had she not become a standup comic, another creative vocation may have beckoned. "If I wasn't a comedian, I'd be a chef," said Sykes. "I am a good cook. The most requested dish my family asks me to make is beef bourguignon."

Chatting with Vegas Eater, Sykes detailed some other specialties in her culinary arsenal. "My lamb chops are pretty good. I make a mean spaghetti sauce. Roast chicken. There's a bean dish; I look to cook beans. And then I like to go on Epicurious or read cookbooks and try something out," she said. In fact, Sykes revealed in an interview with NPR's "Morning Edition" that she has "a passion for cooking," and does "most of the cooking" in her household. The reason, she joked, was because of the quality of her wife's cooking, which "tastes like necessity." When her wife does cook, she told Vegas Eater, "she's not really into it. I prefer to cook while she's with the kids."

Sykes is also a fan of haute cuisine. As she divulged, she had recently visited famed chef Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier in Paris, where she immensely enjoyed his butter-soaked potato puree. "They should have EMTs on site waiting to rush you off to the nearest hospital or at least a defibrillator," she cracked.

She credits Chris Rock for her comedy career

When she was just starting out on the standup comedy circuit, Wanda Sykes would often encounter fellow comedian Chris Rock. In fact, she told Backstage, her "first big break" was opening for Rock while he was working out material for his seminal 1996 standup special "Bring the Pain." Prior to that, however, Rock hadn't watched her perform. "So, he got to see me that whole weekend and he was like, 'Man, you're really funny. You're really good,'" she remembered. "After 'Bring the Pain' blew up, he got a talk show. I got a call to submit some writing samples to do the show and I did, and I got the gig, and I think everything took off from there."

Working as a writer, producer and performer on HBO's "The Chris Rock Show" not only gave Sykes national television exposure, but she compared the experience to "going to college again for me, because I learned so much working on that show. ... That was a huge break for me."

After the show ended in 2000 after a three-season run, Sykes appeared alongside Rock in the films "Down to Earth" and "Pootie Tang." As Sykes joked in an interview with the African American Literature Book Club, "I still credit him and the exposure I got on his show for my big break. But I just credit him. I don't write him a check or anything."

She regrets 'blowing off' Michelle Obama

In 2009, Wanda Sykes was tapped to perform at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Entertaining a crowd that included politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as then-President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Sykes delivered an eviscerating routine that Deadline described as "more harsh partisanship than funny comedy."

As The Washington Post pointed out a few years later, Sykes "received considerable criticism" for her "scathing jokes" about right-leaning figures such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh; as Mother Jones reported, members of the audience booed when she said of the latter, "I hope his kidneys fail."

Subsequently interviewed by The New York Times Magazine, Sykes admitted she had regrets about that night — not about her jokes, but about her interactions with the first lady. "I still kick myself about it," she said. Sykes explained that she had a chance to chat with Michelle Obama at the event, but the comic "was so focused on having to go up and perform" that evening that she ended up "blowing her off." She continued, "I think I even looked at her one time like: 'Will you shut up? Don't you see I'm sitting here going over my notes?'" When Sykes ran into Obama subsequently, "we laughed about it. She was like, 'I was just trying to make conversation, and you wanted nothing to do with me.'"

She also regrets her 'double date' with Amy Schumer

Another regret that Wanda Sykes has expressed was her decision to accompany Amy Schumer and her husband, chef Chris Fischer, to see a Broadway show. As Sykes recounted during an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," she and her wife joined the couple to go see a performance of David Byrne's "American Utopia." According to Sykes, Schumer sent her a message inviting them to dinner before heading to the event. "So I'm thinking, 'Oh, it's a little double date here,'" Sykes said. Oh, how wrong she was.

When Sykes and her wife arrived, she was dismayed to see "like 80 people in her house. And I'm like, 'What the hell?'" After dinner, Schumer and her guests "proceeded to get on this school bus — she piled everybody on a yellow school bus to go to the play, and I was like, 'I did not sign up for this!'" Sykes jokingly chided Schumer for not revealing the full plan when she invited her in the first place. "Give me more details so I can say I'm busy!" she quipped. 

Clearly Sykes isn't holding a grudge, given that she, Schumer, and Regina Hall were tapped to host the 2022 Oscars together. "Wanda and Regina are like complete comedy royalty to me," Schumer told ET. "And for the three of us getting together, we're having an absolute blast."

Comedy lets Wanda Sykes 'be free'

Throughout her comedy career, Wanda Sykes has worn many hats, including writer, producer, talk show host, and actor. Of all the various aspects of her talents, however, she prefers to express herself via standup comedy. Interviewing Sykes for NPR's Fresh Air, host Terry Gross asked about the experience of being a comedian, "when your job is truth-telling." That prompted Sykes to respond, "You know, maybe that's why I love doing standup. Maybe that's it. Maybe that's where I can — I feel I can be free."

Sykes has admitted that an audience's response to a joke that kills can be downright intoxicating, particularly at late-night shows when the crowd is less uptight (and probably drunker). It's during those shows, she explained in a Netflix promotional video for her 2019 special "Wanda Sykes: Not Normal," when she can really push the envelope and cut loose. "And the audience, man, when they're really into it, and they're having a good time, it gives you permission, right?"

In a Variety interview about that special, Sykes discussed how her standup had evolved over the years. "My sensibilities are pretty much the same, but I think I've gotten better as a performer," she explained. "Before it was all about the material and relying on the jokes, but now my acting out and really performing the material has really improved."

Wanda Sykes is no stranger to getting booed

For a standup comedian, getting booed is an inevitable occupational hazard — and something that Wanda Sykes has encountered on more than one occasion. In fact, Sykes recalled in an interview with Pride Source, she was booed the second time she stepped onstage. Explaining that she "did really well" the first time she performed standup, "the second time, it didn't go well. I just bombed." That led her to frequent comedy clubs, where she "watched comics bomb and then when I went back onstage again I was just really nervous because I realized they don't have to laugh; they can actually sit here and boo."

In 2016, Fox News reported that she was "booed offstage" during a performance at a charity event after a joke mocking Donald Trump, who had recently been elected America's 45th president. "I am certain this is not the first time we've elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president," Sykes quipped, per the Boston Herald. "He's just the first confirmed one." She then flipped off those who heckled her, holding her middle finger proudly aloft while using a certain four-letter word to tell off her detractors. 

Sykes later took to social media to quibble with Fox News' reporting of what had taken place. "First of all, I was not booed OFF stage," wrote Sykes on Facebook, as reported by The Washington Post. "I didn't go anywhere. I was booed while ON stage in the middle of my set."

A personal and professional turning point

Wanda Sykes was only a few years into her career as a comic when her career began to take off. As she recounted to Oprah Winfrey's website, while working for Chris Rock's show in 1998, she landed her first-ever Comedy Central special — a very big deal. However, her life behind the scenes hit a serious rough patch. "The week before I was scheduled to go to Los Angeles to film the show, my marriage fell apart," she shared. "Friday morning we separated and my husband left; I went to work and was a mess." Sykes told The New York Times Magazine that her relationship with then-husband Dave Hall had become fodder for her standup act while they were together — but not in a good way. Reflecting on her material from that time, she said, "I was being honest."

Though her personal life was in shambles, Sykes did not slow down. Following their split, she shared with, she "hopped from comedy club to comedy club, working on my act." Suddenly, she felt free to confront the one subject she'd been avoiding onstage: her failing marriage. According to Sykes, she'd been "fairly honest" in her act, but now she "wasn't holding anything back." She said she experienced a "tremendous sense of liberation" at no longer having to worry about one of her jokes offending her husband. Ultimately, she realized, "At the end of the day, I just have to answer to myself."

She fulfilled a dream on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

In 2020, Wanda Sykes guest starred on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," and it was far more than just another acting role. In the hit scripted series, Sykes portrayed one of her comedy idols, Moms Mabley, in the historic Apollo Theatre. "I have always wanted to play the role of Jackie 'Moms' Mabley," she told Us Weekly. As she shared with Backstage, she's a "huge Moms Mabley fan. I don't think I would be doing this if it weren't for her. She was a huge influence for me as a kid. To play her on the Apollo stage, it was such a treat."

In fact, she added, she'd been mimicking Mabley's comedy routines since she was a child. "I didn't really have to do that much research or preparing because I'm so familiar with her and her work," she said. As thrilled as she was to portray the beloved comedian, who died in 1975, Sykes admitted she felt a massive amount of pressure to do her justice. "I so wanted to get it right. That was the pressure I put on myself, because like I said, she means so much to me, so I wanted to do her service and do a good job," Sykes added. "I had to nail this. I had to do it for Moms," Sykes told Variety

Sykes accomplished her mission, with the performance earning her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.

Why she refused to let her son have a pet snake

In addition to her comedy career, Wanda Sykes is also the mother of fraternal twins, born in 2009 to her wife, Alex Niedbalski. Not surprisingly, Sykes' family life often provides material for her comedy, and such was the case when she paid a 2021 visit to "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." During that appearance, she described her son's desire for a very specific pet. "My son, he really wanted a snake for Christmas," Sykes revealed. "And I was like, 'Hell no!' And I told him, 'You're not going to be that kind of kid. You're not going to be the weird kid with the reptiles.'"

Recounting the anecdote on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Sykes revealed she "compromised and got geckos, 'cause you know, geckos, at least they have feet." However, she subsequently discovered the two geckos she'd purchased were of different sexes, leading to some unexpected complications when eggs began appearing in the reptiles' habitat after the male and female geckos had been "doin' it all night."

Explaining that her aim was not to become a gecko breeder, Sykes bought a second tank in order to keep the amorous geckos separated. Asked if the tanks were at least in close proximity so the geckos could see each other, Sykes insisted the two tanks were in "separate rooms," so the male gecko would be "in the trashcan of your memories" for the female lizard.

She's been married twice

In 1991, Wanda Sykes married music producer Dave Hall. Interviewed by The New York Times Magazine, Sykes characterized their union as "a bad relationship," adding, "I wanted to get away." Their marriage ended in 1998. 

"I chose to be straight," Sykes told Oprah Winfrey in 2013. "Totally repressed it." She came out publicly as gay in 2008 at a rally in support of same-sex marriage. As she told The Advocate, she'd known she was gay since childhood, but "actually made the choice to be straight as a kid" when she realized being a lesbian "wasn't gonna fly" in her conservative, religious family. Her divorce, she insisted, wasn't brought about by her sexuality, but as a byproduct of it. "It's just that when you bury a part of yourself, you can take those relationships only so far because you can't be totally open," she explained. 

When she came out, Sykes also revealed that she was married to a woman, Alex Niedbalski, who is French. In an essay for InStyle, Sykes admitted that she and her spouse are "very different, but I think we complement each other in all the best ways. For example, she likes to travel, and I have money. I'm probably going to get into trouble for that one." 

How she became an LGBTQ+ activist

Wanda Sykes' decision to come out as gay was not a carefully thought-out plan. As she explained in an essay for InStyle, she was attending a rally supporting same-sex marriage when she "was put on the spot and called up onstage to say a few words. I had nothing prepared, but I'm known to wing it, so I just came out right then. And the next thing you know, it was on CNN." 

Once she was out, Sykes felt that she had no choice but to use her platform as a celebrity to advocate for LGBTQ+ causes. "We all deserve to be happy, and we're all unique, so we should celebrate that," she added. "Once I made that decision, it was so liberating."

To commemorate being honored for her activism by Detroit's Ruth Ellis Center, Sykes spoke with Pride Source about why she felt it was important to use her platform as a way to address LGBTQ+ issues in a comedic way. "My comedy is grounded in the real world, and for me to not talk about it, to not say, 'Hey, I'm aware of what's going on,' it just feels like I've been intentionally avoiding it," she explained. 

She wants to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As demonstrated by her IMDb profile, Wanda Sykes has appeared in numerous films and TV series, even lending her distinctive voice to such animated features as "Over the Hedge" and "Barnyard." Yet after all those screen credits, the one thing Wanda Sykes has not done is a superhero project.

That, however, is something that she's eager to change. During a 2021 appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" she was asked about the fact that her name was often mentioned in conjunction with Disney+ Marvel series "WandaVision." As Sykes replied, she'd been hearing the same thing, constantly besieged by people asking when she was going to "pop up" on the show. 

"That's the question I want answered: when am I gonna pop up?" Sykes joked. "I want to be in a Marvel show." Asked which of the many franchises within the Marvel Cinematic Universe she'd like to join, she responded, "I mean, come on, 'Black Panther' seems a little too obvious, but I think I would fit there." She also predicted that she would make a relatively low-maintenance superhero. "I just want my character to wear comfortable shoes," she quipped. "I don't even have to fly-fly. Just a little bit off the ground, just let me hover. That's all I need."

Wanda Sykes' net worth is enviable

After a decades-spanning comedy career, Wanda Sykes has made enough money to live comfortably. In fact, Celebrity Net Worth estimates that she's sitting atop a fortune estimated at a cool $10 million. Given how much her already-high profile will be raised due to hosting the 2022 Oscars alongside Amy Schumer and Regina Hall, she seems poised to add even more cash to her coffers in the future. 

Despite her wealth, there have been occasions when Sykes has had to fight to be paid the amount of money she feels she deserves. That was true when she entered negotiations with Netflix for her 2019 special, "Wanda Sykes: Not Normal." Speaking at a Q&A during Variety's 2019 Silicon Valleywood conference, as reported by Variety, Sykes admitted she'd rejected a previous offer from Netflix because she "felt I was low-balled." 

However, she also insisted she didn't take it personally. "This is what they feel the special is worth. I disagree and I'm going to find another buyer," Sykes said of her earlier talks with Netflix. "This time around, Netflix came in with a good offer. It wasn't Dave Chappelle money but I'm not doing Dave Chappelle business," she added, referencing reports that Chappelle was paid $20 million for each of his Netflix standup specials. "The offer was commensurate with the business I was doing," Sykes said.