Just when she hit rock bottom, comedienne Wanda Sykes got freedom, courage, and a half hour of killer material.
In 1998, I experienced the highest point of my career and the lowest point of my personal life at the same time. I was a writer and performer for The Chris Rock Show in New York City and was preparing for my first special on Comedy Central. The week before I was scheduled to go to Los Angeles to film the show, my marriage fell apart. Friday morning we separated and my husband left; I went to work and was a mess. But that night, two friends of mine put me in a cab and we hopped from comedy club to comedy club, working on my act.
I went into the first club, did my routine, and got back in the cab. I thought, "What the hell has happened to my life?" I was a wreck. I went to the next club, got onstage, and started talking about the subject I'd left alone for the five years I'd been married. I said, "People say marriage is a contract, but it's not. Contracts come with warranties. If your husband breaks, you can't take him back to his mother and say, 'There's a problem here. Can you fix this? He just sits on the couch and makes a funny noise.'"
I got back in the cab, broke down and cried a little, and went to the next club. I joked, "I keep remembering my vows—'till death.' I guess I'm going to have to kill him."
I'd always been fairly honest in my acts, but now I told the whole truth; I wasn't holding anything back. I was angry—I felt I had failed at something. I performed five spots that night, and each one was more truthful and better than the last.
I put that material together and went to L.A. It was a great show. I had friends there, and as soon as I got off the stage, we went out for something to eat and it hit me: When I got home, there would be no one there to tell me what I did wrong. It was just me. But, boy, it was good. If I had to choose between having someone there at home who celebrates with you but who also criticizes you and being alone, I'd rather be alone, keep my good friends, and have the freedom.
I felt a tremendous sense of liberation. From then on, I could talk honestly and not worry about whose feelings I was hurting or who was sitting in the back of the room giving me the evil eye. At the end of the day, I just have to answer to myself. I get so much joy from what I do. As for future relationships, I'm already me. I don't have anything to be afraid of—I'm not hiding anything. This is what you're getting. This is it.
From the November 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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