I have a confession.
People in my line of work spend a lot of time studying society and its institutions (in my case, the criminal justice system, traumatic violence, and mass media institutions) and often keep ourselves out of the analysis. Far too often, some of the great discussions I have had with my students at Hunter College have focused on their attitudes and their behavior as members of a global audience in the digital age.
But I’m an audience member too, and — like all audience members — I have personal tastes and preferences in media and culture, even tastes that lead me smack dab into 100 proof fandom. And I mean heart quickening, wobbly-leg fandom that can border on lunacy.
The little compartment where my insane fan resides is usually well guarded and secured with inhibitions and my basic shyness. But it is also one heck of a lively place, and where pretty much all my cynicism about the culture of celebrity goes down the drain, replaced by the same kind of uncritical adulation and infatuation that I sometimes have the nerve, the downright hypocrisy, to make fun of when I see it in other people.
So here goes nothing.
I love Wanda Sykes.
I love her gut splitting hilarity, her irreverence, her incredible personal courage, her love for her children and wife, her live standup performances so hilarious that they should come with the same warning about heart disease and pregnancy that you see on roller coasters, and the forthright and unique way she speaks about social justice issues.
I love Wanda Sykes.
I love the fearless and drop-dead funny performance she gave in front of President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner several years ago.
I love the occasional appearances she made on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing a character with an acutely tuned BS meter who almost immediately saw through all of Larry’s antics, including his occasional lapses into subtle and not-so-subtle racism.
I love how she fearlessly wades into the complicated and uncomfortable morass of the awkward relationships between whites and people of color.
But most of all, I love the pure physical feeling of laughing so hard that I completely lose control of so many of the restraints and inhibitions and neuroses that are part of who I am.
It is joyful. It is liberating. It makes me the kind of less intense, less clench-fisted, less judgmental person that I want to be.
So let me shout it to the heavens one more time: I love Wanda Sykes.
And tonight I see her perform live. If I am somehow incapacitated, my classes will be canceled on Monday.