Famed comedian Wanda Sykes isn’t afraid to be called a “woke comedian.” She’s also not afraid to call out compatriot Dave Chappelle for his “hurtful and damaging” comments to the trans community.
In a new interview with Varietythe 59-year-old actress talks about her new Netflix special, Wanda Sykes: I am an artistwhich includes several swipes at queerphobic conservatives, swipe bans, and transgender toilet laws.
Sykes, who identifies as a lesbian, admits she wanted to offer a perspective “from the other side” of Chappelle’s transphobic rhetoric over the past few years. Infamous, his 2021 Netflix special The closestwhich included several anti-trans jokes, sparked an employee strike at Netflix, tons of outrage online, and continued talk about the ethics of making trans jokes.
“I don’t know how to balance things,” Sykes says of her special, “because I think what (Chappelle) said was so hurtful and damaging to the trans community. So yes, the scales still tip, I would say, in their favour. But I know I wanted to say something because so much has been said on this platform.
In I am an artist, the former talk show host is speaking out against the controversial anti-drag bill that passed in Tennessee in March. “Until a drag queen walked into a school and beat eight kids to death with a copy of Kill a mockingbirdI think you focus on bad shit,” she says in the special.
She also points out the absurdity of banning trans women from women’s restrooms, pointing out how public women’s restrooms are generally “unfeminine”, concluding, “I welcome my trans sisters into the women’s restroom. Maybe you’ll make us do better.
Sykes also addresses the backlash some establishment comedians (read: older, usually male, heterosexual, cis) towards so-called “woke comedians” – usually women and others from marginalized groups. The former Oscars host said she was hardly offended by the title, referring to other iconic ‘woke’ comedians like Dick Gregory and George Carlin.
“If you want to label me a ‘woke comedian,’ that’s fine,” Sykes says Variety. “That’s great. What makes me laugh is that they say that like it’s an insult. ‘Oh, they’re awake.’ Thank you! Yeah, I read stuff from time to time. Yeah , I know a few things. It’s not an insult at all.”
“It’s almost as if they were angry that we are evolving,” she adds. “It’s sad, really.”
Sykes is the latest A-list comic to indirectly respond to Chapelle’s remarks on Netflix’s platform. In the long-awaited Mo’Nique special, My name is Mo’Nique last month, the Oscar-winning actress has defended the rights of LGBTQ+ people, in addition to being gay herself. “I respect all the fucking bodies here free enough to be themselves,” she said.