This week, specifically tomorrow, Feb. 9, comedian Wanda Sykes is coming to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. She is fucking hilarious. You should go see her.
I interviewed Wanda Sykes by telephone (it’s amazing how old fashioned that word seems; like I had to crank up the phone first) on Thursday, Jan. 19, at 4 p.m., and I know this, because there’s a file on my desktop called, “BURNED-Wanda Sykes Interview 01.19.12.wma.” All my interviews are recorded for later transcription, and the “BURNED“ refers to the fact that I archive them physically, on CD, as well as digitally, keeping the files in a folder on my computer. It’s an old habit from the days when I used mini-discs and kept those. I still have them in a box somewhere. The CDs stay on my shelf with the rest of my albums because—that’s right—I still buy albums.
I’m getting off track.
The point is that although I interviewed Ms. Sykes on Jan. 19—the same day she appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (she said she had, “stopped in to see my friend Jay” as though they were having lunch together, which, with as many times as she’s appeared on his program, they may well have)—there’s no Wanda Sykes interview running in this issue. That’s because when I plugged in my headphones and fired up Windows Media Player on my laptop to do the transcription, the only thing I heard was myself. Wanda Sykes wasn’t recorded. I have a file—already burned to a CD that’s in a slimline case sitting with others waiting to be logged in Excel and put on the shelf, never to be listened to again—that consists of me asking questions and then long silent breaks and background noise on my end, then me asking follow-ups and more questions.
And while I’m thinking about it, let me take a second to pause and apologize to EVERYONE I’VE EVER INTERVIEWED for how loud I breathe on the phone. I have to hold the phone where I do to not scratch it with my beard when I talk, because I’ve heard how that sounds in playback and it’s awful, but apparently I need another option. Maybe I’ll hit the mute button on the base or hold the receiver up in front of my oh-so-silent eyeball. Either way, I’ll figure something out, because action must be taken. No one should have to listen to me out of breath after asking a three-sentence question about their latest album, or in this case, about how funny I thought Wanda Sykes’ “Esther” bit was on her last HBO special and did she have any plans for another special in the pipeline anytime soon?
It’s happened before, both to me and to my interns who also use the recorder periodically, but usually when something doesn’t take, you know it right away, and it’s human error. I did everything right. All the wires were plugged in correctly, and I even checked the levels, but I guess I just did it while I was talking. I feel like a fool, and worse, since the interview was three weeks ago at this point, I can’t ascribe to my general practice in this situation—and what I’ve made several interns miserable by making them do—of taking notes question by question and putting together as much as possible using quotes from memory.
Right after the interview’s over, that might work, or even an hour or two later, but three weeks? Here’s what I remember from our conversation: She’s got a big movie in the works she can’t talk about yet. She’s just really doing the tour that’s bringing her to the Basie as a way of nailing down material and a new televised special is a ways off yet. She isn’t really comfortable being thought of as a role model for LGBT youth, but is honored to be one. And she loves Pootie Tang. She said that. She said, “I love Pootie Tang!” just like she said it in the movie, which I, in turn, loved. It took every ounce of restraint in my body not to squeal when she said it.
Along those lines, I’ll say too that this was the first interview I’ve done in a long time with someone of Wanda Sykes’ profile. Usually I’m talking to dudes from heavy rock bands or doom bands, and I like that a lot, but they’re not generally famous, and even those who are—Roger Glover is pretty well known in some circles—I’m used to that. I had to remind myself before talking to Ms. Sykes that, although I know and appreciate her work, she has no idea who I am. That’s important to remember so you don’t get on the phone and make a jerk out of yourself going, “Hey Wanda Sykes you know me I’m a huge fan I’ve seen all your specials what’s Chris Rock really like?” which I guess is fine, if you’re not trying to also conduct a professional interview, in which a certain amount of editorial distance is necessary to build a rapport. You can admit fandom—as I did almost immediately to Wanda Sykes, in spite of myself—just don’t get all gushy about it.
I did my best to dig up her end of the audio from the interview, trying to get all hi-tech my recording software and whatnot, but in the end, it did no good. You know what the worst part about the whole thing is, though? The worst part of it is I made her laugh. I made Wanda Sykes laugh. I don’t laugh easy. Ask anyone; I’m a grumpy motherfucker. Come back next week, and I’m bound to be going on about something in this very space that’s got me all grumped out. Hell, I’m kind of doing it now. It’s just my nature. Wanda Sykes makes me laugh my ass off, and when we spoke, in that meager 13 minutes that we were doing the phoner, I made her laugh too.
When I asked her about movies, she said she was going to be in Ice Age 4. I asked her were they really making an Ice Age 4 and what could possibly be left for them to do? Would it be Ice Age Goes To The Bahamas? And she laughed. Granted, it may have been a charity laugh, but shit, that made my whole month. And my recording of it, my proof that it happened, is gone. All I’ve got is me sounding stupid on the phone.
So I apologize to Wanda Sykes, and to her publicity representatives, who were kind enough to reach out with the offer of an interview and are out a cover story—because you’re damn right I was putting Wanda Sykes on the cover. Much as I love Testament (and I do), a little change every now and then from the “Band In Front Of Object X” out front each week does the soul good, especially when it’s a worthy feature, which this would easily have been. I apologize to her PR and to the Basie, who won’t have the plug they didn’t know they were getting but probably would’ve appreciated. Nobody wins when shit doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.
As for what went wrong with the recorder, I still have no idea. I’ve used it since and been fine, so it’s a bit of a mystery, and the only solution to the puzzle seems to be I’m an unprofessional boob. In any case, you should go see Wanda Sykes at the Count Basie Theatre tomorrow and tell them The Aquarian sent you.