09/16/2014 04:56 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:53 EDT

Wanda Sykes Talks JFL42 And 'Loving' The Ford Family


Wanda Sykes is going to say what you’re thinking, and it’s going to make you laugh -- you can be sure of that.

The 50-year-old comedian has been telling it like it is on the comedy stage for years, and Comedy Central even named her one of the best stand-up acts of all time. She’ll be gracing the stage as a headliner at JFL42, Toronto’s comedy festival, on Friday, September 26 at the Sony Centre.

HuffPost Canada TV spoke with her about being a mom to five-year-old twins, telling controversial jokes, and, of course, Rob Ford.

You turned 50 this year, and you've had such a long, amazing career. How has your comedy changed as you've gotten older?

You know, it’s not even just that I've gotten older, it’s more that now that I've become a mother, it’s that. That has really ... I definitely see the change in my stand-up from that because that has totally taken over my life. Before kids I was focused on what was happening in the country and the world and on top of everything, and once you have kids it’s like -- I have no idea what’s going on out there. I wake up sometimes like, “Is Obama still president? I don’t even know.” I feel like I missed an election. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s crazy. It’s crazy, they just take over your life.

What’s it like living with five-year-old twins? Do you get a lot of material out of them?

Oh, they are material. That’s it. They are material. The energy alone. It’s all about them. They’re these little narcissists. It really is. But, again, it’s the best thing ever. Of course, I wouldn't change anything. But it is, man, it’s crazy how much work it is.

What are your favourite kind of jokes to tell?

My favourites are the ones that everyone’s thinking it, but I’m the one who’s going to say it. Because the audience, as soon as you start, they’re laughing before you can even finish getting the joke out. Because they know "Oh, she’s not going to say that" and sure enough, you know...

What’s the key to joking about something controversial?

You know they want to laugh at it, so it’s kind of giving them permission. It’s like "C'mon guys, all right, I’m going to say it." And if you set it up and just give them a little, like "C'mon," they want to laugh at it, they've been dying to laugh at it, so it’s just giving them the OK. Like, all right, I’ll take this one for the team, but come on, let’s laugh at it.

Something I always wonder with any woman who’s in any kind of position of power or fame -- does it bother you to be asked what it’s like to be a woman in comedy?

Well, yeah, it bothers me especially when they say “Well, what’s it like as opposed to being a man?” Well, I have no idea. This is my reality, it’s the only thing I know what it’s like. So it does bug me a little bit. Are there fewer opportunities? Yeah, yeah you know. But that’s when you’re talking about TV and stuff. But even on the clubs -- it used to be they would say “Well, I already have a female on the show.” But they would have three or four guys. It is a thing that’s still out there.

Do you come to Toronto often? What’s your opinion of Canada?

I wouldn't say often, but I've been there several times. I love Toronto. You guys are nice. Last time I was there it seemed like you were actually building condos right off the highway. It seems like you could jump off the highway right onto your balcony. It’s crazy. It was like "The Jetsons." That’s what it looked like. All you need are those little flying cars, you fly right off your apartment right to work.

Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process when you’re starting to work on a new tour?

I’m pretty much writing every day. Something will happen, or I’ll think of something, or I’m tweaking a joke that I've already performed and just working on that. I come up with something, and I don’t write it down verbatim, just the gist of the bit. And then it’s more about just organizing. Just really trying to organize my set.

What’s the touring life like now that you’re a mother?

Oh, it’s heaven! I used to complain like, "Oh my God, I gotta get on this stupid plane, I gotta travel here, I miss my own bed." But now, I love it. I get to the hotel, it’s quiet. It’s neat, the room is clean and everything is in its proper place. You know, there’s no crayon on the wall. I can watch whatever the hell I want to watch on TV. It’s great.

What can people attending JFL42 expect from your set?

Well, they definitely should come because I’m going to have the mayor, Rob Ford, open for me. [Laughs] He’s sick right? There’s a tumour or something? Poor guy.

Yeah, he has a tumour and he’s dropped out of the race for next term.

But his brother’s gonna run? Does this mean his brother’s got to pick up a drug problem too?

Oh, people say his brother used to be a drug dealer!

Oh, I love this family!

I think you’ll probably kill with any jokes you make about him.

Come on! How can you not make jokes about him?

I’m all worried now! All you think of Toronto are Rob Ford and condos, the two worst things ever.

I think the next one you put up should be the Rob Ford Condo. It could be like a housing project. "Where you live? Oh you know, I live in the Rob Ford Condos." It’s all going down at the Rob Ford Condos. That’s party central! That’s party central!

I can’t wait to see your show. I’ll be outside protesting the Rob Ford condos.

Oh come on! You’ll love it!

To buy tickets for Wanda Sykes and any of the other great acts at this year’s JFL42, check out their website.