Williard’s Extensive Research
According to Williard’s extensive research on humor by gay men and women: “Lesbian jokes [a]re an affirmation and validation of a diverse lesbian identity […] Lesbian humor deconstructs the stereotype of lesbians as hypersexual, and instead celebrates sexual agency and the power to self-define.” Along these lines, Sykes often talks about domesticity and married life in her comedy, painting the portrait of queer black life as maternal, wholesome, and loving. In these instances, Sykes’s comedy is particularly effective as it draws attention to queer sensibilities about family as well as fighting stereotypes in the minds of the audience. For example, Sykes discusses her and her wife’s process in getting a donor and raising children as an interracial married couple. Sykes jokes about choosing a white donor because she would not want to leave her daughter’s hair to a white woman if she were able to pass away. Thus, a racialized element is added in that Sykes mentions some of the struggles a queer woman not only would have due to the fact that they cannot as easily conceive a child with both parents DNA as well as speaking about hair, a factor of race familiar to the people of color in the audience.
As this suggests, Sykes’s charged comedy has predominantly focused on marriage rights for LGBTQ couples. During one performance, Sykes exclaims, “It’s very simple: if you don’t believe in same-sex marriage, then don’t marry somebody of the same sex.” Sykes encourages viewers to play with politics, pointing out the absurdity of arguments against marriage equality: “We’ve got to protect marriage, that’s what they say…Same-sex couples, I don’t think that’s the biggest threat to marriage. I think the biggest threat to marriage is divorce…What they should do is ban divorce, right? Make marriage like the mafia; once you’re in, you’re in…The murder rate will go up, but you know.” Yet, Sykes also seems to be a reluctant advocate. Sykes tells audiences, “I’m for gay marriage…but I don’t like that I have to say that because, to me, it shouldn’t even be debated, it shouldn’t even be in the court system. Government shouldn’t be involved in this.” These statements support the claim that Sykes talks about queer issues because she feels she must as an out member of the queer community.
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However, she still receives complaints from fans that she is not queer enough in her content, stressing the view that visibility trumps all content. However, simply being on stage can still be a politically queer act. In her words: My comedy comes from a real place, so it would be hard for me not to talk about my sexuality. In a lot of my appearances I talk about my wife and my kids. What’s funny is that I would get off stage and someone would say, “You know — I really thought you were hilarious and all, but you didn’t really make a statement for gay rights.” Like, jackass, I just did a whole fucking hour about my wife and kids. You can’t get any gayer than that.
Thus, Sykes views being visible and visibly discussing issues as a form of activism and makes sure to make audiences aware of this fact by blatantly drawing awareness to the fact that she puts herself on stage for everyone to view. Therefore, they are required to look at a queer body and listen to her queer content. Hannah Gatsby has also made similar comments in her stand-up special, Nannette:
I’ve been getting a bit of negative feedback of late from my people, the lesbians. Bit of negative feedback. ‘Cause, gosh, don’t my people love the feedback. Not… Not shy! Not shy with the feedback. One of our spokespeople last year… Self-appointed. One of our spokespeople approached me straight after one of my shows to give me a bit of feedback, and that’s my favorite time for feedback. Straight after a show? Yes, please! That is when my skin is at its thickest. The feedback? Apparently, she said, “I was very disappointed in your show this year, Hannah. I just don’t think there was enough lesbian content.” I’d been on stage the whole time. I didn’t… even straighten up halfway through, you know?
As these comedic bits suggest, the more LGBTQ people there are included in the media means that they are actually, physically seen by society as opposed to being rendered invisible. When people are able to see something represented, they are better able to understand and grasp who those people are, and this creates an important shift in the social consciousness to include people from a range of different backgrounds. Queer people can see themselves and say, “we exist.”
Sykes has refused to let herself, or her identities, be the butt of the joke as shown through the work she has done for the queer community. In an interview with TV Guide Magazine, Lisa Bernhard once asked Sykes, “How has your career changed since you announced you married a woman?” Sykes replies, “If anything, it has helped my career, because creatively I don’t have anything to dance around or be not so forthcoming with…It’s totally been liberating.” Throughout her comedic career, Sykes has taken her privileges and freedoms to be what she does best: visible but also vocal