May 18, 2023
Review: 'Wanda Sykes: I'm an Entertainer'
JC Alvarez READ TIME: 4 MIN.
Where once there were numerous relevant comedians on the entertainment landscape, there are only a handful of comics today that leave an impression that extends beyond landing a punchline. In her latest comedy special premiering on Netflix on May 23, "Wanda Sykes: I'm An Entertainer" proves once more that she's the exception that exceeds every expectation.
After the upheaval of the last four years – at the mercy of a certain autocratic take-over of the White House that culminated in an insurrection, to the global pandemic that shut us all down, and the slow crawl out back into the sun – Wanda Sykes has had some time to mine the field for new material. Her 2019 special "Not Normal" addressed all that was [literally] "not normal" with the circumstances we were forced to inhabit. Now that we're en route, to some extent, back toward normalcy (thank you for voting), you might feel that Sykes is able to move on and find more joyful reflection with the progress that's been made – but alas, the comedian demonstrates that we still have some very serious lessons left to learn.
True to form, she's letting it all out. Comedy allows for the opportunity to objectively look at the events of the day (the last half dozen years, in this case), and although it's hard to find the funny, there are obvious moments that, if they don't make you cringe or cry, you can find them absurd enough to scuttle out the humor. It's not funny – but Sykes, relentless as she is, is going to make you laugh at the prejudice, the inequality, the injustices in the world, that need to be addressed. Her life experience continues to provide her with the best material, and the most relatable bits transcend all barriers.
Sykes excels at putting the spotlight on hot topic controversies like critical race theory, and even more sensitive material that might often trigger reactions on both sides of the aisle.
She makes observations about white supremacy, book bans, and gun control (not the most hilarious of things to sling zingers), staying honest about how quick to make judgments she has been, having to pace herself when fans wearing triggering familiar-looking red caps approach her. (To wit: A fan was wearing a cap supporting the "Make a Wish" Foundation. It's just unfortunate that MAGA hats look the same.)
Sykes manages to address the elephants in the room without nailing her show to the cross of current events and politics, addressing the latest headlines and saying out loud what we all wish we could say but for the fear of social ridicule.
Married to her wife, Alex, and parenting twins (their family is multi-cultural), Wanda turns to her family for material that is close to home and relatable. This time around she takes the opportunity to illustrate the challenges of discussing racism with her wife and white children. As uncomfortable as it is to discuss, she provides illuminating commentary on the divides – for example, a simple visit to the local bank can be a problem. When Alex insists that Wanda run out of the car and shake the bank door to see if it's open, she proves her point – a Black woman shaking a closed bank door, regardless of her celebrity, is not going to read so well on security cameras, especially if someone suggests the person looks like Wanda Sykes.
"It's privilege! She can do what I can't do, without consequences," Wanda jokes, "Black people can't be weird. It's like how people are blown away that Lizzo can play the flute. We have to fit the stereotype." Sadly, she may have a point. "People at a Green Bay Packers game standing outside in the snow, with a block of cheese on their head! Renaissance fairs – I don't get it!" She points to how the Shaman that made headlines during the Jan 6th insurrection in DC didn't draw much attention. "Where were the calls to the cops for that guy? He shouldn't have made it to DC – they should have tagged him and put him in the zoo!" Wanda goes on to compare the insurrectionists to a zombie herd: "They had that crazed look in their eyes. Rudy Guiliani," she insists, "must have infected them all! He must have bitten them!"
Sykes has always perfectly married her comedic take to what's relevant and happening in our world, and, given all the craziness of our times, if anyone can find some hilarity in it all, who better than her? The Netflix Special is a great format for the artist to reach her broader audience, but it is a far more gratifying experience to catch Wanda Sykes live and in the room. Sykes feeds off of the energy that the audience is giving her, and whittling her live comedy show down to an hour sometimes doesn't seem fair, but fortunately for us, Wanda Sykes delivers – proving once again she is most certainly an entertainer!
"Wanda Sykes: I'm An Entertainer" premieres on Netflix on May 23, 2023.
Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".