Long before The Oxford English Dictionary got wind of “woke”-ness in 2017, there was Wanda Sykes. The veteran comedian and The Other Two scene-stealer has never been afraid to artfully punch up at systemic injustices (a classic symptom of being so-called “woke”) whether tackling the whiteness of the opioid epidemic or the violent inanity of anti-trans bathroom bills.
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Needless to say, Sykes is familiar with seeing her comedy siloed by the word (which, like most of the internet’s current popular lexicon, originated in the Black community years before being co-opted and removed from its frame of reference). But she’s not bothered by the descriptor: in fact, she explains, she takes it as a compliment.
“If you want to give me the label of a “woke comic,” that’s fine. That’s great,” Sykes tells Variety’s Adam B. Vary in a new interview. “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.”
Continuing on, Sykes—whose new special I’m An Entertainer premieres on Netflix today—opines that the “woke comic” label actually places her in a pantheon of iconoclastic comedians. “I mean, George Carlin, he was woke. Richard Pryor, woke. Bill Hicks, woke,” Sykes shares. “It’s almost like they’re angry that we’re evolving. It’s sad, really.”
Although Sykes doesn’t have any misgivings about the kind of backsliding some fanbases have luxuriated in, she also makes clear her belief that change is still happening for the better, in spite of any and all anti-”woke” hullabaloo.
“The steps back in both the news and comedy, that’s what makes the most noise, instead of the progress we’re making,” Sykes shares. “I think they’re just louder, all the Trump supporters and all that. But I like to focus on the wins. I mean, there are not a lot of them, but I like to celebrate them!”