When Sydnee Washington was 11 years old, she accidentally burned down the house. The Brooklyn-born comedian was living with elderly relatives in Oakland, California, at the time, behaving, in her words, like a “little Black Dennis the Menace.”
“If playing with fire was not my first time having a bit, I don’t know what was,” Washington, 37, tells THR. “You burn your house down and you’re either going to be a comedian or you’re going to jail.” Fortunately, Washington’s path led to the former, and now she is an Emmy nominee for her leading role on Bridesman, the first scripted series from Grindr.
Washington plays Judith, a bride-to-be whose gay best friend (played by Jimmy Fowlie) tries to bed her fiancé and sabotage the wedding in order to keep Judith for himself. Over six episodes, Judith models for a photo shoot high on benzos, performs analingus and hurls a stripper across the room by his underwear bulge.
“We didn’t know how audiences were going to receive this,” Washington says of the shortform comedy, which premiered on the gay dating app before streaming on YouTube. “The feeling was, ‘We’re just going to have as much fun as possible.’ To put my heart into something and then get this nomination, it’s super dope.”
Washington is no stranger to nontraditional platforms. In addition to her stand-up, she co-hosts the podcasts Unofficial Expert and Peak 2000s and has created social media projects that have taken on a life of their own.
During COVID lockdown, she started a weekly Instagram Live series called Syd Can Cook, inviting fellow comedians like Julio Torres, Nicole Byer and Ayo Edebiri to fumble with her through culinary misadventures. In her Instagram Stories, she combines web-sourced photos of Black Barbies with insider tales from her years as a bottle waitress at high-end New York City clubs.
“I’ve had so many different lives, and my comedy is very transparent,” says Washington, whose stand-up material ranges from her experience as a femme lesbian who came out as an adult to dealing with her depression. “I’m always peeling back the layers, because that’s what’s going to help me as a person. I want audiences to see the rough draft of me.”
Washington has her eye on developing more projects that suit her voice and experience. “Sometimes I read things and think, ‘Where am I in this?’ I don’t really see my genre a lot, and I need to tell this story.”
She’s at work on a solo show called How to Start a Fire, about that time she burned down the house and how lots of little things can add up to something more profound. “All these smaller projects have helped me feel confident in the choices that I’m making comedically,” Washington says of her ascent to unexpected Emmy nominee.
“I’m still taking it in, because I’ll go to Whole Foods and I’m like, ‘Do they know I’m Emmy-nominated?’ ” she jokes. “When they’re handing out samples, I’m like, ‘I think you should give me the whole tray if you’re really about that.’ ”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.