Imagine reporting for work at the National Security Agency and sharing the same office as Wanda Sykes, who spent five years with the NSA during the late '80s and early '90s. "My job wasn't top-secret, but the material I handled was classified," says the 49-year-old Sykes. "I did buy some cool spy stuff, but a lot of the time I didn't know what I was looking at. Then [Operation] Desert Storm happened, and shit got serious." Sykes has since worked with such comedic greats as Chris Rock and Larry David, and hosted her own late night show. Sykes, who brings her stand-up act to the Ohio Theatre Oct. 11, talks with us about beginning a career in comedy, collaborating with Shaker Heights native Kym Whitley and twerking.
Q. Many comedians have horror stories about starting out in stand-up. How was your first time?
A. I had no fear. I had never been in a comedy club and had never seen anybody bomb. Everybody laughed and everybody had a great time. I later found out that people didn't always laugh.
Q. What was it like working with Shaker Heights native Kym Whitley on your Herlarious comedy special for OWN?
A. Is everybody from Shaker Heights crazy? I loved working with Kym, and I wanted to do a show with all women. Are there still barriers for us? Yes, because people are still saying "female comics." At least we're not dependent on network TV anymore.
Q. What's the inspiration for your material?
A. Most of my comedy is grounded in reality. There has to be a grain of truth in it. I talk about my kids, my wife and whatever is going on. If a celebrity does something stupid, I'll talk about it. It's just naturally who I am. I'm not "on" all the time, but I do like making people laugh.
Q. Any opinions on twerking?
A. There won't be any twerking at my show, and if I catch anyone in the audience twerking they will be asked to leave. I saw Miley Cyrus and that shit was scary. Everybody's gone crazy. I just want to take my daughter and put her in Bubble Wrap until she's 40.