Wanda Sykes isn’t afraid to call out transphobia—even to friend and fellow comic Dave Chappelle.
In a recent interview about her new Netflix stand-up special I’m an Entertainer, the out comedian told Variety that she and Chappelle have known each other since they both started out performing in Washington, D.C. comedy clubs. Chappelle, of course, has been widely criticized for transphobic jokes in his own 2021 comedy special, The Closer, and for doubling down on his transphobia ever since.
Sykes said that while she hasn’t had a chance to talk to Chappelle since the special dropped, she wouldn’t hesitate to call him out.
“If our paths did cross, I totally would say something,” she said, noting that “I still love the guy.”
Sykes also explained why she felt it was important to include a run of jokes criticizing anti-trans laws banning trans women from women’s bathrooms in I’m an Entertainer, which premiered on Netflix earlier this week.
“I knew that it’s such a delicate issue to talk about. I’m not trans, but they have my support, 100%,” she said. “I wanted to find something where I can shine some light on what they’re going through, to show how just stupid and hateful really it is.”
Last year, Netflix drew criticism again for platforming another transphobic comedian. In his May 2022 special SuperNature, Ricky Gervais spewed hateful misinformation about trans women reinforcing the baseless stereotype that many are secretly sexual predators.
Asked whether her Netflix special “balances out” transphobic content on the platform, Sykes had this to say: “I don’t know about balancing it out, because I think what [Chappelle] said was so hurtful and damaging to the trans community. So yeah, the scale is still tipped, I will say, in their favor. But I know I wanted to say something, because so much has been said on that platform. I definitely want to something on the other side of it.”
Sykes is also refreshingly candid about her process of determining how her own jokes about trans people are received and understood by audiences.
“In the trans area, I had to step some things back that might be misconstrued as me making fun, instead of trying to help,” she explained. “It was more about the laws making it a crime for parents to help their children who were having gender identity issues. I said to myself, ‘You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about — shut up and let’s just talk about the bathrooms.’”
For Sykes, getting a laugh out of her audience is apparently less important than the impact her comedy might have on perceptions of a marginalized community.
“The audience, they did laugh,” she said of certain jokes she later removed from her set. “But then I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Why are y’all laughing? What are you laughing about?’ So yeah, I’m quick to get rid of something if it doesn’t feel right.”