Comedy has been good to Wanda Sykes. Over her 25-year career, she has won four Emmys, starred in several of her own shows and comedy specials, and lent her unique voice to animated movies like "Rio" and "Ice Age: Continental Drift."
She's come a long way since her very first stand-up performance at a Coors Light-sponsored talent show back in 1987.
"That was the first time I had been on stage to do standup. My first gig I killed ... but the second and third time I went on stage it went horribly wrong," Sykes said with a laugh.
"The first time, I was kind of oblivious to what I was getting myself into. I didn't have any reason to be fearful because I hadn't been to comedy clubs. I didn't know that people could not laugh at you, and how bad that would feel.
"But if you do well, then you get to a place where you're impersonating what you think a standup comic should do or sound like," she said. "That gets you through your second show and then you get to where you can start talking about what you want to talk about and show who you are as a comic."
Wanda Sykes' national stand-up tour is bringing her to the Mahalia Jackson Theater in New Orleans on Oct. 28, and she said that she couldn't be happier about being back in the Big Easy.
"I love New Orleans. It's one of my favorite cities," Sykes said. "I'm a Saints fan too ... but I think this is actually the first time I've done a show in New Orleans. I've performed there, but it's always been private events, and usually if I'm in New Orleans I'll drive out to the casino too."
Sykes recently shot an independent film called "The Hot Flashes" in New Orleans with Brooke Shields and Daryl Hannah. It's about a group of women who play basketball to raise money to fight breast cancer. She denied that her own battle with breast cancer is what inspired her to do the movie.
"It's funny, when this movie came along I think I had just gotten diagnosed and I told myself let's not do this movie just because, but after reading it I thought, this could be fun, and I liked the idea of playing basketball and I really enjoyed the script. It was kind of bizarre, but then I said, look at the number of women who are affected by breast cancer. This wasn't custom tailored for me," Sykes said.
When asked if she was as skilled with a basketball as she is with a mic and some jokes, she replied, "I kind of impressed myself. I played back in junior high, and we did a week of basketball camp, so it was fun to get back in shape. Well, try to get back in shape ... I think we bought out all the Epsom salt at the CVS."
Attendees to her live shows are in for a treat, because she says that even after all these years of doing movies and television, stand-up comedy is still her favorite gig.
"It's just a different energy. I still get anxious before a show, because you never know. You get the response right there from the audience. There's nothing like standing on a stage and saying something and having rows full of people just fall out laughing."
Twenty-five years into her career, and Sykes found herself facing a new challenge: balancing touring on the road with raising two young kids. However, she said that she's found a way to make it work.
"It hasn't slowed me down. This year I've been the busiest as far as touring...When they get older maybe I'll just go out on the weekends. But right now I've been pretty much able to do everything, and my wife encourages it, and we work well together," she said.
Sykes also said that though her passion for performing in front of a live audience hasn't changed, her writing process has.
"Before I would sit down and force myself to write some jokes or pour over my tapes. Now, I kinda know what's funny and what's not funny. So if I think of something I'll jot it down, and when I get on stage I'll try it out. If it works, great, and if not, then I'll play with it until I figure it out," Sykes said.
Years of performing live in front of every kind of crowd imaginable helped prepare Sykes for the show of a lifetime -- performing for the president at the 2009 White House Correspondent's dinner. She was the first African American woman and the first openly gay person to be given that honor. It's easy to see how anyone would be intimidated by poking fun at the president of the United States, but she said that she was surprisingly calm about it.
"I felt good about it, because I knew I was prepared," Sykes said. "Also, I knew what the room was going to be like. It's not just a bunch of politicians. There were entertainers in there.
"It was funny, you'd look out and see Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell and then you'd look over and there's some Kardashians. The comedy of that put me at ease," she said.
"Also, I got to meet the president and first lady before I performed, and they really made me feel welcome. And she told me, don't go easy on him, let him have it! So yeah, I had a blast."
No matter for whom Sykes is performing, it's clear that even after a quarter-century as a professional stand-up comic, she still loves her job, whatever form it takes.
"For me what it's all about is making people laugh. Even if it's just on Twitter, I can still hear them in my mind ... I might need to get that checked."
Wanda Sykes will perform at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in New Orleans on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.