Mixed-race families. The trials of getting older. Genetically modified organisms. Wanda Sykes swam deep into the complexities of life Friday night at the Paramount Theater during her blisteringly funny and effortlessly relatable Moontower Comedy Festival headlining set.
Sykes is a pop culture fixture, familiar to fans of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and a respectable bundle of animated films. She’s quick with a barb, at ease with exasperation and an auteur of raucous, withering observations. The comedian served up all of that from the stage of the historic Austin theater, but it was her sane, sympathetic humanity that shined through the set.
After opening with a hilarious bit about her fear of black women with baby powder on their chest — she can explain it better — Sykes waxed upon what it means to be a woman getting older. The 51-year-old comedian, who had a double mastectomy in 2011 after being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, spun gold from the contrast between her old breasts (which, she said, could be mistaken for the opening sound effect from "Law and Order" when she removed her bra) and her new breasts (which she is sure are scheming and plotting something, as they are far too alert in the morning). Also, her poise in recreating her colonoscopy, balancing on a stool, was more impressive than any Cirque du Soleil feat.
Another complication, though a welcome one, in Sykes’ life: Married to a white French woman, Sykes now finds herself the mother to two blond white children who speak French and terrify her nightly when they recreate scenes from "Children of the Corn" at the foot of her bed. Which, she said, is an unexpected turn of events for a woman who attended a historically black college. And Sykes’ jokes about race relations — which doesn’t sound funny when you type it like that, but that’s why Wanda Sykes in a standup comedian and this is a blog post on a news website — rang with righteousness and funny-bone vibrations. Watching news reports about the shooting of unarmed black men alongside a Caucasian wife from a different culture, refusing to watch "12 Years a Slave" out of knowledge of her patience limitations, imagining throwing down with Mitch McConnell’s wife were she in Michelle Obama’s shoes: Sykes tackled all with razor wit.
At another point in the night, the state of food in America (including the aggressive sales tactics behind McNuggets despite their questionable composition) served as a perfect punching bag for a gleeful Sykes. The line of the night, or at least in the top ten: "I don’t (expletive) with tilapia."
In ending with the heights of insanity that her love for her wife inspires, the comedian tied a bow around a performance that exuded contentment through the travails of society. Earlier in the set, Sykes said she is now the happiest she has ever been, and even if her relationship leads her to snowboarding misadventures and romantic getaways that feel like hostage situations, the audience is lucky that she finds the laughs. That’s what a Wanda Sykes show is all about at every turn, saying in one way or another or another:
This is crazy, right? We both know, so let’s just say it aloud.