“The last time I was here … I caused a little trouble,” says Wanda Sykes in her new HBO comedy special taped in her D.C. hometown, Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me.
Sykes, typically the best thing about bad movies (Mother in Law) or the comedy spice to existing shows (Curb Your Enthusiasm), let loose during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last May.
She’s still riding the pop culture buzz from that performance, during which she called Rush Limbaugh “the 20th hijacker” and praised President Obama’s pectorals and the first lady’s arms.
The special, debuting at 10 p.m. EST Saturday (Oct. 10), cements her status as defender-in-chief — eager to speak out on behalf of the new president. She repeats some of her lines from the White House gig, but doesn’t resurrect her Limbaugh remarks.
She uses the new special not only to celebrate the first black president, but also her newly found personal freedom. The now openly gay performer peppers her stand-up routine with relationship humor, the kind she wouldn’t mention in the past.
The beauty behind Sykes’ best appearances, both on screen and on stage, is her shoot-from-the-hip demeanor. She scrunches up her face, pauses for dramatic effect, and then tells it like it is.
She’s an equal opportunity cynic, and a darned funny one at that.
But once she sidles up to an ideological dance partner, that truth-telling sounds like spin. And no matter how clever her observations can be, it feels like we’re getting a censored version of her genuinely fertile mind.
Why, for example, is the openly gay performer not frustrated by Obama’s refusal to embrace gay marriage? That would fuel some pretty prickly material, but she never holds the president accountable during the special.
She still has enough zingers to bring both sides together for a spell. Her view on illegal immigration:
They’re not illegal; they’re undocumented. … If someone broke into my house … and vacuumed, I might be a little confused but I ain’t calling the cops.
Her best material reflects how a black person reacts to Obama’s presidency:
It’s a little bittersweet. … The first black president and the country is broke.
She also scores by explaining Obama’s decision not to adopt a rescue dog for his family:
The man has to rescue a country that’s been abused by its previous owner.
No matter your politics, that’s a clever line.
Of course, should Obama fail, Sykes would be ready to abandon ship: “Who is this half-white failure?” It’s the only time she dares to tweak The One even gently.