Also Credited As:Wanda Sykes Hall
|Wanda Sykes Hall on March 7, 1964 in Portsmouth, Virginia, USA|
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Born in Portsmouth, VA on March 7, 1964 and raised in the Washington D.C. area, Sykes enjoyed the comfort of a middle-class home afforded by her Army colonel father, who was employed at the Pentagon, and her banker mother. She attended Arundel High School, where she discovered that she had a knack for bringing the funny, then like the sensible person she was, moved on to Hampton University to earn a bachelor's degree in marketing. Following her father into government service, Sykes took a job at the National Security Agency as a procurement officer and immediately became bored with the routine - one made more irritating because of the guilt she felt for having to frivolously spend taxpayers' money. In 1987, Sykes decided to make a change and performed a five-minute stand-up routine at a talent competition sponsored by Coors Light. Though she lost, Sykes killed that night, finally realizing her serious love of performing and making people laugh.
Sykes spent the next five years honing her whip-smart, cynical material and matter-of-fact delivery in D.C.-area clubs until she was confident enough to quit the NSA in 1992 - a move which her parents understandably found crazy. After moving to New York City, Sykes caught her first break opening for Chris Rock at Caroline's Comedy Club. The two worked well together, prompting Rock to hire Sykes as a writer and occasional performer for "The Chris Rock Show." Although the show did not make her a household name, Sykes did earn four Emmy nominations - including a 1999 win - along with her fellow writers, opening an untold number of doors. In 1998, she made her feature debut in Louis C.K.'s "Tomorrow Night," a dark comedy about a mean-spirited photo shop clerk (Chuck Sklar) and his bizarre relationship with an elderly woman (Martha Greenhouse).
After a small part in "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps" (2000), she reunited with Rock in two uninspired comedies, "Down to Earth" (2001) - a remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941) - and "Pootie Tang" (2001), a spin-off of the crime fighting, Ebonics-spewing pimp from "The Chris Rock Show." As her presence on screens both large and small became more frequent, Sykes began earning wider recognition, including a win for Outstanding Female Stand-Up at the 15th Annual American Comedy Awards. Sykes then landed the hostess job on "Premium Blend" (1997-2006), a live comedy showcase on Comedy Central, for the 2002-03 season. In an unusual turn, she began doing correspondent bits on HBO's "Inside the NFL" (1977- ), a gig she landed after heckling executive producer Rick Bernstein at a wrap party. Bernstein wanted a humorous report on steroids and called in Sykes for the job. Though no team wanted a funny report on such a serious issue - they refused to talk to her - Sykes nonetheless developed a humorous segment that became a regular feature on the show, earning the comedienne Emmy Awards in 2002 and 2004.
Continuing to up her profile, Sykes made a multi-episode arc on "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004) as a demanding efficiency expert who has crush on Carey. In 2001, Sykes made the first of several appearances on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ), playing a caricature of herself in a hilarious episode where she accuses Larry of obsessing over her ass.
Sykes continued to work as a memorable supporting or guest performer when possible, but by 2003 she was a big enough star to receive headlining offers. Her first series, "Wanda at Large" (FOX, 2003-04), featured Sykes as a former stand-up comic hired as a correspondent for a political talk show - a premise loosely culled from her own life. Designed to highlight Sykes' acerbic, skeptical self, "Wanda at Large" managed to last only a brief time before being cancelled. Her next effort, "Wanda D s It" (Comedy Central, 2004), a fictionalized take on her own life similar to "Curb Your Enthusiasm," was even more short-lived, surviving a scant six episodes before getting chopped off at the knees.
Sykes was hesitant to return to regular television work after experiencing the headaches induced by networks - particularly Fox, which shuffled "Wanda at Large" around the schedule like an unwanted foster child. Though largely absent from the scene for much of 2004-05 - sans her usual stints on "Curb" and "Inside the NFL" - Sykes returned to the big screen with a long string of appearances, including voicing characters in two animated features, "Over the Hedge" (2006) as Stella the Skunk, and "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" (2006) as Bessy the Cow. She then costarred in "Monster-In-Law" (2006), playing the wary secretary of a famous news sportscaster (Jane Fonda) who reluctantly helps sabotage the relationship between her boss' son (Michael Vartan) and his fiancée (Jennifer Lopez). Though the movie received generally scathing reviews, both Fonda and Sykes came out smelling like roses, having received the best notices of all involved - one critic going so far to say the only thing in this movie worthwhile was Sykes.
After visible supporting roles in "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (2006) and "Clerks 2" (2006), Sykes finally returned to television, landing a recurring role on "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS, 2006- ), starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Sykes then enjoyed a major comedic breakthrough with her first HBO special, "Wanda Sykes: Sick & Tired" (2006), a stand-up performance in which she covered politics, gay marriage, race, abortion and other timely issues that was taped in Seattle during the spring of 2006. Meanwhile, the comic continued to liven up feature comedies, filming the big-budgeted "Evan Almighty" (2007), the follow-up to the Jim Carrey hit, "Bruce Almighty" (2003), while starring in her first comedy special, "Wanda Sykes: Sick & Tired" (HBO, 2006). A few years later, she returned to the stage for her second comedy special, "Wanda Sykes: I'ma Be Me" (HBO, 2009), which featured more of her stand-up act. Both specials earned her Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special in 2007 and 2010 respectively.