If God had ever rolled up on “Evan Almighty’s” Wanda Sykes and asked her to build an ark because he was about to drop a flood on the planet, there’s no doubt that the G man would immediately realize his mistake.
Sykes is no Noah.
“I’d give him a dollar and keep moving,” cracked the diminutive comic with the untamed spiraled hair. “You know, like God bless you. Yeah, whateva.”
And even if she took the bait, you wouldn’t exactly fill her ark up with critters.
“What am I putting on it? A flat screen TV, some air conditioning, a bar — two bars — that’s a big ark, a Jacuzzi, a pool,” she said. “Animals wouldn’t make it, I don’t think.”
One of the coolest things about being in the same room with Sykes — albeit a cold, dark and impersonal screening room on the Universal lot — is that you can always sense the truth in her jokes. Those animals — they would have been kicked to the curb for sure. Sykes, who plays Rita, Steve Carell’s assistant in this comedy about a congressman God has tabbed to build an ark, is clearly one of the B-girls. Brazen, brash and yes, sometimes that word that rhymes with witchy.
She doesn’t suffer baboons or fools easily.
For example, this is how she felt about wrapping “Evan Almighty.”
“I was so happy to get out of that suit I’d been wearing for the last two months,” Sykes said. “It smelled like monkey balls. It was just ugh. We had baboons like this close to us so trust me, I know what a monkey’s balls smell like.”
And here’s how she feels about Paris Hilton.
“That’s pretty sad when you f--k up rich,” Sykes said with a hint of a smile. “You’ve got to be the biggest idiot in the world if you just can’t sit your ass down somewhere and be rich.”
‘That woman rocked it so hard’After 30 minutes of questions and zingers about her new film, politics, working with Carell, her funny folks and her aspirations, it was apparent that Sykes, who got her start in a D.C. comedy club in the late ’80s, never has to force her humor. It’s as natural as her highlighted hair and as rich as her mocha-colored skin. Sykes is so naturally funny that “Evan Almighty” director Tom Shadyac didn’t even bother to script her lines in the film. He just let her go.
“Wanda is a genius,” he said. “I started calling her ‘Rita Almighty.’ I mean that woman rocked it so hard. Once I met with Wanda and my editor worked with her on another movie, I knew it would be insane not to tap into her genius. So, about 90 percent of what you see of Wanda is Wanda. (It’s not) necessarily the storyline or driving things forward, but if you’re laughing, it’s all Wanda.”
The freedom to be agrees with Sykes.
“I think it’s why they always call me for these jobs,” she said. “It’s like they say it would be nice to have some Wanda droppings in here. It’s always fun to do — especially being a stand-up. It’s always nice to just have that stage to say whatever.”
Sykes, a Virginia native who grew up in the D.C. area was always funny but didn’t pursue a comedy career until after graduating from Hampton University with a B.S. in marketing in 1986. Bored with her gig from hell as a procurement officer at the National Security Agency in Laurel, Md., Sykes knew she had to get out.
“A friend of mine dared me to go to this open mic night at a comedy club in D.C.,” she said. “That was the first time I had ever performed in front of a live audience and they seemed to like what I was doing so I told my bosses ‘gotta go.’”
After paying her dues in the clubs, Sykes eventually landed a job as a writer/sketch performer on HBO’s “Chris Rock Show” in 1997. She spent five years with Rock, winning an Emmy for outstanding writing.
Since then Sykes, 43, has worked steadily. She has appeared in films such as “The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,” “Pootie Tang,” “Monster-in-Law,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and voiced one of the characters in “The Barnyard.” Additionally, Sykes starred in her own short-lived Fox sitcom, “Wanda at Large”; starred in two comedy specials on HBO and Comedy Central, been a special correspondent on “Inside the NFL,” had a recurring role on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” “NFL and is now a regular on “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Sykes, who recently won a coveted Gracie Award from the American Women in Radio and TV, is currently working on a “Barnyard” TV series, tweaking her stand-up act and hopes to eventually develop and star in the Moms Mabley story. Like Mabley “anything is fair game” in her stand-up, but she’s no longer into burning Bushes.
Finding a kindred spirit in Carell“I’ve been traveling a lot, you know, like to Paris and Brazil and I’ve been just doing new things like snowboarding,” Sykes said. “So I talked more about that because I was just so sick of talking about, you know, how Bush is screwing up everything. I can’t do it any more. I just take Ambien. I’m going to take a nap and just sleep it out man. Wake me up in ’08 man.”
The political and religious themes in “Evan Almighty” might give her some new material. It’s certainly given her a new appreciation for Carell and the things he had to go through in doing God’s will.
“Working with Steve, we didn’t try, we did,” Sykes said. “We just cracked each other up. Steve is very funny and the guy, he shows up. He works hard. Me, I would’ve been complaining the whole time — you know with the hair and he had to go through so much with the makeup and the birds all on him and they’re pooping on his head. He just got into the spirit of the thing. So, you know, you just had to have fun with it.”
Carell dug working with Sykes as well.
“I was so close to ruining so many of her takes because she just makes me laugh,” he said. “She’s kind of beyond funny. She has a very sarcastic, biting sense of humor and she’s kind of made her mark that way. But in person, she’s very warm, very sweet and kind. (She’s) kind of a gentle soul that you don’t necessarily see.
“I hope I haven’t pulled the curtain aside on who she really is.”
Sykes is many things. She’s an actress, comedienne, author, screenwriter, wine connoisseur, sports fan, sorority girl and everybody’s favorite cousin at the family reunion.
“My family, they’re funny but they have to work small rooms, you know?”
And, by the end of the summer, she might be pursing yet another vocation. One that will probably have God removing her from his short list of potential ark builders.
“I haven’t done any porn,” she said. “I haven’t ruled it out, I’m just saying I haven’t done any yet!”
Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at .