CLEARWATER — Midway through a smoking set at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, comic Wanda Sykes noticed a problem.
Overcome with emotion, a fan in the crowd shouted out the name of Bessie the Cow, the sassy bovine Sykes voiced in the animated kids movie Barnyard.
"You got kids, right?" she said, a flash of concern passing over her face. "I hope you didn't come here expecting that. You'll leave outta here thinking, 'Man, that Bessie is foul-mouthed.' "
True enough, any one of the 1,941 fans who knew Sykes only through fare like CBS's The New Adventures of Old Christine were in for a shock, as she tore through a bawdy set touching on everything from President Obama's sex with his wife to old ladies' disappointment when their husbands discover Viagra.
"I know the media loves the president … we don't see no pictures of him smoking, but 20 pictures with his shirt off," she said, stalking the stage in a black leather coat, white tank top shirt and jeans. "I know he believes in transparency, but I don't need to see the president's nipples."
Sykes, who made headlines last year coming out as a lesbian and again in April when she had twins with her wife, veered between in-your-face jokes about her relationship ("With two kids I'm so tired, I tell my wife if you find me in another woman's bed, I'm there for a nap.") and in-your-face-jokes about politics.
"How do you call torture 'enhanced interrogation techniques?' " she said, taking a shot at former Vice President Dick Cheney. "That's like somebody raping you and then saying, 'These are just my enhanced makeout techniques.' " We won't even discuss what she called Obama's "stimulus package."
Oddly, a fair amount of material midway through Sykes' set came straight from her controversial turn as emcee at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last month, including jokes on how Michelle Obama can use her well-muscled arms to discipline floozies and how she'll tell her kids to go off with a stranger before getting in an auto with Cheney.
"With a black president, I can finally relax," she said. "I can dance in public … I can even buy a whole watermelon. (But) our first black president loves his basketball … which is one step forward and two steps back, seems like."
The crowd hung on every word, roaring with extra approval whenever she talked about her wife, kids or entertaining on a gay cruise. It was an oddly heartfelt reaction for such a tough comic, but Bessie surely would have approved.