'Wanda Sykes: I'ma Be Me,' Saturday on HBO

Verne Gay
Newsday (MCT)

REASON TO WATCH: Wanda, for your glimpse at Fox's late-night future.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Sykes taped at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., in August, so it's topical (Michael Jackson jokes, all sympathetic) and observations about President Barack Obama. Plus, plenty of stuff about her exit from the closet almost exactly a year ago at a pro-gay-marriage rally in Las Vegas. There's plenty of material, but it's up to fans to judge what's brand-new, even though much of it feels fresh — notably her riffs on gayness and blackness and marriage and kids (two, with her partner.)

Also: material about aging, body fat, hair, a gay cruise, various bodily functions both sexual and otherwise. There's plenty of raunch here — it's Wanda! — so maybe you want to keep the kids away from the tube.

BOTTOM LINE: You're not about to hear here for the first time that Wanda Sykes is an immensely gifted stand-up who controls and commands and slays both stage and audience like a bantamweight dominatrix (she'd probably like that analogy). It's quite a sight, really — this package of sound and fury mellowed from the years at "The Chris Rock Show," where she was a writer and sometime performer. There is also some funny material here, but from where I sat, not enough. Of course, I suppose it's all a matter of taste — the audience at the Warner is so wracked with laughter that I feared there was about to be a mass cardiac event. Whatever.

But what's especially intriguing is this glimpse of a pre-Fox Wanda. She starred in the short-lived "Wanda at Large" way back in '03 on the network — a sitcom that ultimately dried and withered on the Friday night vine. She wasn't too happy about that. Now she's about to return to Fox Nov. 7 for a new late-night Saturday talk/comedy show that'll be quite a departure for this medium — a gay black woman as host of a late-night show. Will she mute her act for Fox, or add some of the fire you'll see on HBO Saturday night? Your final answer in exactly one month.




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