Celebrated comedian Wanda Sykes isn’t afraid of being called a “woke comic.” She’s also not afraid to call out fellow standup Dave Chappelle for his “hurtful and damaging” comments to the trans community.
In a new interview with Variety, the 59-year-old comic discusses her new Netflix special, Wanda Sykes: I’m An Entertainer, which includes several jabs at queerphobic conservatives, drag bans, and transgender bathroom laws.
Sykes, who identifies as a lesbian, admits she wanted to offer a perspective “on the other side” of Chappelle’s transphobic rhetoric over the past few years. Infamously, his 2021 Netflix special The Closer, which included several anti-trans jokes, triggered an employee walkout at Netflix, tons of online outrage, and continuing discourse about the ethics of making trans jokes.
“I don’t know about balancing it out,” Sykes says of her special, “because I think what [Chappelle] said was so hurtful and damaging to the trans community. So yeah, the scale is still tipped, I will say, in their favor. But I know I wanted to say something because so much has been said on that platform.”
In I’m An Entertainer, the former talk show host calls out the controversial anti-drag bill that was passed in Tennessee back in March. “Until a drag queen walks into a school and beats eight kids to death with a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, I think you’re focusing on the wrong shit,” she says in the special.
She also points out the absurdity of prohibiting trans women in women’s bathrooms, highlighting how “un-ladylike” public women’s restrooms typically are, concluding, “I welcome my trans sisters into the ladies’ room. Maybe you’ll make us do better.”
Sykes also addresses the backlash from some establishment comedians (read: older, usually male, straight, cis) towards so-called “woke comics”—usually women and other people from marginalized groups. The former Oscars host said she’s hardly offended by the title, referencing other iconic “woke” comedians like Dick Gregory and George Carlin.
“If you want to give me the label of a “woke comic,” that’s fine,” Sykes tells Variety. “That’s great. What makes me laugh is that they say that like it’s an insult. ‘Oh, they’re woke.’ Thank you! Yeah, I read some stuff from time to time. Yeah, I know a few things. It’s not an insult at all.”
“It’s almost like they’re angry that we’re evolving,” she adds. “It’s sad, really.”
Sykes is the latest A-list comic to indirectly address Chapelle’s remarks on Netflix’s platform. In Mo’Nique’s long-awaited special, My Name is Mo’Nique last month, the Oscar winner defended the rights of LGBTQ+ people, in addition to coming out as queer herself. “I respect every-motherfucking-body in here free enough to be their goddamn selves,” she said.