These days Sykes, 39, can be as bad as she wants to be. On FOX's new Wanda at Large
the veteran of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm
stars as an outspoken reporter for a buttoned-up talk show. "I love political issues," says Sykes, who cites an episode in which her character sounds off on school vouchers. "I'm like, 'I don't have any kids, and I don't particularly care for them, so if you're going to spend my tax money sending your kids to some fancy school, I should have a say!' "
The Maryland-bred daughter of a retired Army colonel was working as a purchasing agent for the National Security Agency when she entered a local stand-up comedy contest in 1987. "People laughed," she says. "I didn't win, but I was happy." Seven years later she opened for Chris Rock, who hired her for his HBO show. Divorced in 1998 from a pharmaceutical salesman, Sykes, who rents homes in L.A. and Manhattan and says she isn't involved in a serious relationship, vows that "I'll never get married again. I served my time." Her typically acerbic take on being single: "If he's getting on your nerves, you can just pack your stuff and go. Beautiful!"
Wanda Sykes has never been shy about speaking her mind. When she was a tot, recalls her brother Harry, "My mother had a friend over, and the lady's wig was crooked. Wanda just stared and said, 'Something's wrong with your head.' " By the time Sykes turned 5 "she got so bad," says Harry, that when visitors arrived "she would be sent to stay with our grandparents."