Review: Wanda Sykes at Strathmore

Posted by Doug Rule
February 14, 2012 11:30 PM |

"Here he is!" Wanda Sykes said in a nelly voice as she swished across the stage at Strathmore last Friday night.

The popular lesbian comedian was impersonating a gay Navy Seals officer holding Osama bin Laden from a noose, in full limp-wrist fashion.

In fact, Sykes hypothesized from the stage that the American military's success in capturing and killing Osama bin Laden may have been directly linked to the ending of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Gays in the military are really, truly all that they can be now that they don't have to hide, she suggested early on in a mostly new, hour-long stand-up routine. She offered no proof that openly gay, fey Seals were responsible for the death of bin Laden, of course. She simply made the correlation that bin Laden's death happened soon after DADT repeal. "Just saying," she said, as the crowd whooped and hollered at her theory.

Sykes attracted a predominately white, mostly older crowd to the gorgeous North Bethesda venue -- and the crowd appeared to be mostly straight to boot. That the show in the large, suburban venue sold out many weeks in advance is testament to her broad appeal, as well as to just how far queer comedy has come.

A stand-up sensation and popular screen sidekick for well over a decade, Sykes only came out as a lesbian a little over three years ago. But even now, her sharp, hilarious observations about everyday life, usually playing with stereotypes, are mostly not gay per se. Other than the military's gay advances, she noted the antigay stance of the Republicans running for president. But this was only as an aside to a longer exposition about hypocrisy: The candidates' names are every bit as unusual as "Barack Obama," and yet no one suggests they're not true, patriotic Americans as people still do the President.

Later, she talked about her struggles with giving up Chick-fil-A over the fast food joint's support of antigay politics. And she urged the straight men in the audience to "power-wash" their balls as a Valentine's Day gift to their beloveds. Encounters with "sour balls" are partly what turned her gay, she joked.

But that was mostly it regarding the gay. These days, the bulk of her humor is built around her experience raising white twins, Lucas and Olivia, with her French wife. "I say French because it sounds better than white," she teased. From the satisfaction she gets out of calling her children "my little monkeys," to her daughter's penchant for calling her "Mammy" instead of "Mommy," Sykes succeeds in finding new material to mine from that shopworn source of parenthood.

Yet it's not just what Sykes says or even how she says it, in her funny, pinched voice. She's such a hit with stand-up -- and I mean that literally and figuratively – because of her skill with physical comedy.  At Strathmore, Sykes demonstrated the "leg sweep," one way she jokes about keeping her daughter in line. I didn't get what she meant when she tried to explain this while sitting down on Chelsea Lately. But standing up at Strathmore, she kicked a wooden bar stool clear off the stage and into the crowd simply by sweeping her right leg as she turned around. She joked that it's her trick for getting Olivia to hold her hand when crossing the street: She knocks her down first, forcing her to grab her hand to get up.

It may not be at all funny in real life, but like so much of her routine, Sykes sure does make it sound funny -- hysterical even -- on stage

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