Comedian, actress, and writer Wanda Sykes will be co-hosting the 94th Annual Academy Awards alongside Regina Hall and Amy Schumer on Sunday (March 27) live from the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center.
Sykes turned to comedy after growing bored at her job working for the National Security Agency. She started out in the entertainment industry as a writer on The Chris Rock Show—a role that earned her a Primetime Emmy in 1999 for "Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music or Program.” The Virginia native later starred in popular shows, including HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and most recently Kenya Barris’ hit series blackish and Netflix’s The Upshaws alongside fellow comic Mike Epps and the legendary Kim Fields.
As we gear up for what could be a historic award night, here are five things to know about this year’s Oscar co-host.
She worked for the NSA before doing comedy
During an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Sykes revealed that she worked for the National Security Agency before becoming a comedian. The blackish actress admitted that her duties mainly acquired everything from office supplies to the NSA’s favorite privacy-invasion surveillance equipment. However, even a job like that was top secret. She worked with the organization for five years.
Her roots trace back to the 17th century
During a segment on PBS Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr., her ancestry was traced back to a 1683 court case involving her ancestor, Elizabeth Banks, a free white woman and indentured servant whose daughter Mary Banks, fathered by an enslaved person, inherited her mother's free status.
According to historian Ira Berlin, a specialist in the history of American slavery, the Sykes family history is "the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present."
She’s a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.!
The actress grew up in Maryland, where she attended Arundel High School. She later graduated from Hampton University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
She’s a Primetime Emmy veteran
In her nearly 30-year-old career, Sykes has been nominated for fourteen Primetime Emmys, with one win in 1999 for "Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music or Program” for her work on The Chris Rock Show.
She was once voted one of the funniest people in America
In 2004, Entertainment Weekly named Sykes one of the 25 funniest people in America, coming in at number 14. The list also included Maya Rudoph coming in at 20 and Dave Chappelle at number 5. That year Chris Rock topped the list.