Tag Archives: Comedy

Black History Month 2013: Wanda Sykes

8 Feb

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to comedian and social justice activist Wanda Sykes.  TSM readers might remember Wanda being celebrated for her standing up to the homophobic bigot Tracy Morgan. Always outspoken, with a sharp mind and a sharp tongue, Sykes has been voted one of the funniest people in America.

She was born to a banker and an Army colonel in the Washington, DC area. She graduated from Hampton University with a degree in marketing and worked for five years at the National Security Agency. Not fully satisfied with the work, she began doing standup comedy on the side in 1987. She left the NSA and began acting and performing full time in 1992.

Sykes’ family history was researched by the PBS genealogy program Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr. Her ancestry was traced back to a 1683 court case involving her paternal ninth great-grandmother Elizabeth Banks, a free white woman and indentured servant, who gave birth to a biracial child fathered by a slave, who inherited her mother’s free status. According to historian Ira Berlin, a specialist in the history of American slavery, the Sykes family history is “… the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present.”

Besides her wonderful standup performances, Sykes has been on many TV shows and in several movies. I particularly like her performance as Jane Fonda’s personal assistant in Monster-In-Law–Sykes steals the movie, “Y’all better get that little girl out of there.” After an unsuccessful marriage to record producer Dave Hall in the 90s, Sykes quietly acknowledged that she was a lesbian. She came out publicly in 2008 during the battle against Proposition 8. She and her wife, Alex, were married one month before that odious measure passed.

She’s an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality and calls out injustice wherever she sees it. As an outspoken African American woman and out lesbian, she is a powerful personal symbol of the intersections of oppression and embraces that role. We love our Wanda, who proves that social justice can be funny and smart at the same time.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 18, Ellen DeGeneres

18 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate an international celebrity who uses her voice and fame to make the world a better place. Ellen DeGeneres was born in 1958 in Louisiana. After her parents’ divorce and her mother’s remarriage, the family moved to Atlanta, TX, where Ellen finished high school in 1976. She moved back to New Orleans for college but dropped out after one semester.

She held a number of jobs (including selling clothes at JCPenney, for which she is now the official spokesperson). She also started doing stand-up comedy for fun, quickly realizing that this was her passion. By 1981 she was the emcee at a local comedy club and began touring nationally. In 1982 she was named Funniest Person in America by Showtime. In 1986 she appeared for the first time on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; Carson invited her over for an onscreen chat after her performance, making her the first comedienne in the show’s history to be treated this way.

She had a number of small film roles and was a frequent guest on television shows. In 1994, she starred in These Friends of Mine, renamed Ellen after the first season. Tired of the rumors about her sexuality, Ellen came out as lesbian on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997, followed by a very successful coming out episode for her character on Ellen. Sadly, while the public were interested in the sensation of the coming out, they lost interest in the show’s sensitive portrayal of her exploring her identity and Ellen was cancelled after one more season.

She starred in The Ellen Show for the 2001 – 2002 season. A wonderful, witty show in which her character was out from the beginning, it co-starred major talents like Cloris Leachman and Martin Mull. CBS seemed to have no idea what to do with the show, bouncing it from one slot to another, confusing fans and eventually killing it. (The whole series is available on DVD and streams from a variety of sources; go find it and watch it!) Soon after this she had her award-winning turn as the confused fish Dory in Finding Nemo. She has also hosted the Academy Awards and the Prime Time Emmy broadcast.

In the talk-show void left by Rosie O’Donnell’s departure from daytime, many celebrities launched new chat shows in 2003. Ellen’s was the clear winner, combining her charm, wit, and easy-going nature with guests for a combination that appealed across demographics. While Ellen is seldom as political as she could be on the show, she is open about her life and her family, frequently talking about her wife, Portia de Rossi.

Ellen uses her significant wealth and public voice to support charitable causes. She has won many broadcasting and comedy awards but has also been noted for her contributions to social justice. She makes an enormous difference simply by being the lesbian in everyone’s living room but also recognizes that the power of her celebrity can be wielded to good effect. In 2011, Secretary of State Clinton named Ellen the Special Envoy for AIDS Awareness in recognition for her work in that area.

As an added bonus, Ellen has a wonderful mother, who turned around her shock at Ellen’s coming out to be a staunch advocate for the LGBT community. Betty DeGeneres is the first non-gay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project and perhaps the most visible member of PFLAG.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 2, Wanda Sykes

2 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to out lesbian Wanda Sykes.  TSM readers might remember Wanda being celebrated for her standing up to the homophobic bigot Tracy Morgan. Always outspoken, with a sharp mind and a sharp tongue, Sykes has been voted one of the funniest people in America.

She was born to a banker and an Army colonel in the Washington, DC area. She graduated from Hampton University with a degree in marketing and worked for five years at the National Security Agency. Not fully satisfied with the work, she began doing standup comedy on the side in 1987. She left the NSA and began acting and performing full time in 1992.

Sykes’ family history was researched by the PBS genealogy program Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr. Her ancestry was traced back to a 1683 court case involving her paternal ninth great-grandmother Elizabeth Banks, a free white woman and indentured servant, who gave birth to a biracial child fathered by a slave, who inherited her mother’s free status. According to historian Ira Berlin, a specialist in the history of American slavery, the Sykes family history is “… the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present.”

Besides her wonderful standup performances, Sykes has been on many TV shows and in several movies. I particularly like her performance as Jane Fonda’s personal assistant in Monster-In-Law–Sykes steals the movie, “Y’all better get that little girl out of there.” After an unsuccessful marriage to record producer Dave Hall in the 90s, Sykes quietly acknowledged that she was a lesbian. She came out publicly in 2008 during the battle against Proposition 8. She and her wife, Alex, were married one month before that odious measure passed. She’s an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality and calls out injustice wherever she sees it. We love our Wanda, who proves that social justice can be funny and smart at the same time.

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