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In-your-face comic Wanda Sykes has arrived front and center

Even by Hollywood's standards of celebrity overwork, Wanda Sykes seems to be reaching for some sort of record.

Start with the birth in April of twins Olivia Lou and Lucas Claude with her wife, Alex. Toss in a headline-grabbing May appearance as the emcee of the White House Correspondents Association dinner (her jibes were so sharp, even Fox News bloviator Bill O'Reilly insisted she was "mean.").

Then Fox announced Sykes would break color and gender lines by hosting a new late-night comedy/talk hour in place of MAD TV on Saturdays this fall.

She's criss-crossing the country doing stand-up comedy, with an HBO special planned for August. And she'll still appear next season playing best friend to Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her CBS sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine.

Is she trying to work herself to death?

"You know what, I'm close to it," said Sykes, 45, chuckling during a recent phone interview. "But that's always the way it goes . . . my worlds collide. When one thing happens, it just starts a domino effect and everything else jumps off."

There's a sense these days that, after a string of gigs playing the sharp-tongued sidekick in TV shows and films such as Evan Almighty, My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Christine, Sykes is finally coming into her own.

And there's no better sign than the way some pundits took aim after her typically in-your-face routine at the correspondents dinner, where she wished liver failure on conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh (for hoping President Obama would fail) and dared Fox News' Sean Hannity to let himself be waterboarded by MSNBC rival Keith Olbermann.

Former George Bush aide Karl Rove criticized Sykes for "wishing death" on someone "in a serious voice." O'Reilly, a guy known for telling guests to shut up and branding others as "fascists," was amazed at her meanness toward Limbaugh — a guy who derided candidate Obama in a jingle played on his radio show called "Barack the Magic Negro."

It was the kind of conservative pillorying that signified Sykes had arrived in an Obama-led America. And the comic didn't hear about any of it for days, ensconced in a deliberately private cocoon while enjoying her first Mother's Day as a parent.

"I started getting e-mails and texts from friends asking, 'Are you all right?' and I'm think- ing, 'What are you all talking about?' " she said, noting that friends and fellow comics such as Jay Leno, Chris Rock and Denis Leary all called or sent e-mails of encouragement. "I didn't see or hear a lot of the criticism, which is good. Because, you know, I have a bit of a temper."

Which brings a hearty laugh; saying Sykes has a bit of a temper is like saying Donald Trump has a minor hairstyle issue.

A marketing major and former NSA employee turned stand-up comic, Sykes honed her skill during five years on Chris Rock's nighttime talk-variety show for HBO. So when Fox started looking for an edgy, funny alternative to all the white guys hosting network TV talk shows, it's no surprise they turned to Sykes.

And how does she feel about being both the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of late-night TV?

"This allows me to speak on what's happening, flex my stand-up muscles without doing the traveling," she said. "Like, I would have had a blast with the Octomom — I would have had the sheriff's department seize her uterus. Padlock it and everything."

And her vision of what the show, set to debut in November, would be like? "Maybe kinda like The View meets Howard Stern, but without the naked girls," she said. "I don't want to explain to my wife, 'It's part of the comedy, baby. It's just comedy.' "

Sykes has been speaking more openly about her wife since coming out as lesbian during a rally in November, working with the NAACP and other advocacy groups to spark discussions about gay marriage and AIDS.

Though she admits a bit of concern over how black fans might react to the news — the AP found 70 percent of black voters supported the California proposition banning gay marriage — Sykes cited the spread of AIDS in the black community as inspiration for moving forward.

"We (black people ) are killing ourselves by being so homophobic and not talking about it," she said. We have all these brothers on the down-low; they can't be who they are, and they're infecting black women. Sometimes black people, we really want to hold onto our oppression . . . but let's pass it on to somebody else, this time."

So far, the only thing holding Sykes back these days is a lack of sleep. Asked what she has learned so far taking care of two newborns, her answer is swift and typically blunt.

"What I have learned so far is that the Octomom is out of her freakin' mind," she said. "It's truly a blessing . . . but I am going to be tired for the rest of my life."

Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or deggans@sptimes.com. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

IF YOU GO: Wanda Sykes

She performs at 8 Thursday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets are $37.50 and $55. (727) 791-7400. www.rutheckerdhall.com.

In-your-face comic Wanda Sykes has arrived front and center 06/03/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 6:21am]

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