I’m An Entertainer Is Wanda Sykes at Her BestPhoto by Aaron Ricketts/Netflix Comedy Reviews Wanda Sykes
The ongoing pandemic has become well-trodden comedy fodder, much like the Trump presidency was during its day. Talk of social distancing and masks is so expected in current stand-up that comics must make a real effort for those bits to feel more than obligatory, much less funny. However, true to form, Wanda Sykes manages to break the mold here on her latest comedy special I’m An Entertainer, her first hour since 2019’s Not Normal.
Not Normal started off with the mind-boggling strangeness of the Trump presidency, and Sykes breathed new life into a subject that felt utterly exhausted at that point (one of the reasons it made our list of the 10 best stand-up specials that year). Likewise, Sykes’ ruminations on the pandemic in I’m An Entertainer are effective, and in this instance it’s because of the specificity of her stories. Her tales of increasingly debaucherous online church attendance and sneakily smoking weed while isolating both work because they’re so singular, so her, and therefore much more hilarious than banal, sweeping statements about lockdowns. It helps that Sykes’ impeccable comic timing and exasperated expressions are tailor-made for giving out about anti-vaxxers and the generally bananas state of the world.
Coronavirus is just the beginning here for Sykes; she kicks off with the pandemic, moving smoothly into tough topics like homophobia, transphobia, the murder of Black people in America, the insurrection on January 6th, and white supremacy as a whole. Her points are woven together with stories about herself and her family, because for Sykes many of these subjects aren’t simply political—they are deeply personal. Add to this her keen ability to get straight to the core of something—stand-outs here include reparations and Republicans opposing critical race theory—and you’ve got a special that pulls no punches. By centering her individual perspective, Sykes injects humor and newfound vigor into conversations that fall flat in a lesser comics’ hands.
In classic Sykes form, her physical comedy is the driving force behind her jokes on I’m An Entertainer. She starts off just pacing back and forth on the stage, but once she gets going, pretending to dance behind the mosquito man or doing a caricature of her French wife, there is no stopping Sykes. She even pantomimes an entire discussion between her and her spouse to a resounding chorus of laughs. Not only is her impersonation of her wife funny in and of itself, playing on American stereotypes about the French (aloof, always smoking cigarettes), but she does meta-commentary on the impression that elevates it to another level.
She deserves all the fanfare here, from the massive silhouette of herself adorning the back of the stage to her celebratory walkout song, “Shining Star” by Earth Wind and Fire. This is Sykes at her best.
I’m An Entertainer is streaming on Netflix.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.