At the start of our interview, I asked MoNique how she was. She answered, "I'm wonderful! How are you?" I nervously replied, "I'm OK." At the end of our conversation, one in which we covered topics like leg shaving and exploring where confidence comes from, she instructed, "My love, if someone else asks you how you're doing, don't say, 'I'm OK...'" So, for the record, I'm doing great today. Mostly, though, it's because I had the chance to speak and laugh with this finest of comedian.
MoNique is bold always. Whether she's talking about farting onstage or acting in an Academy Award-winning role as an abusive mother in Precious, she is intense in all the right ways. Now in her mid-40s, a mother of four, the woman who wrote the book Skinny Women Are Evil is getting into shape by working out and eating right. We spoke with her about this new journey, what she's learned, and why she decided to take it.
New Times: When you started out, what were some of the hardest elements of doing standup, things you struggled with, or things you found the most exciting?
MoNique: The most exciting part for me, from that time to 25 years later, is walking up on the stage. That's the most exciting part. I've been doing the whole journey, and I've been enjoying the whole journey. For me with standup, it's nature's medicine, comedy is nature's medicine, laughter is nature's medicine.
Did you have a moment in your life where you really realized you were funny?
I think that moment was, one day my brother, we were out in the backyard painting our pool. My brother had gone down to a comedy club in Baltimore and tried to do an open-mic night, and he got booed. And I was teasing him. I said, "If I was onstage, I would have said..." And I did an hour's worth of material. At the time, I wouldn't have called it material; it was just an hour of me talking and my father and my brother are laughing, and I said, "I think I like this!" And he dared me to do it, and it's 25 years later.
What was it like doing comedy in Baltimore, in that scene?
Actually, my comedy didn't really take off in Baltimore. I did the open-mic night in Baltimore, and then I moved to Atlanta. So that's really where I got my feet wet. And when I went back to Baltimore, I opened up a comedy club called MoNique's.
And that place, when I tell you, Liz, they really allowed me to hone in on my craft. Because they were such a beautiful group of family members, I can't even call them an audience. They were such a beautiful group of family members that they would let me know in the moment if it worked or if it didn't. It wasn't they were trying to hurt my feelings, but it was like, "Listen, we're trying to get you to the next place, so we gotta be dead-ass honest with you. That joke, don't tell that no more. But that one, you keep telling."
Once I went back to Baltimore, it was that beautiful group of 300 family members that really, really got me to a lot of different places.
You're lucky you had that support and a tough enough skin to take the good and the bad.
Oh yeah. They allowed me to share it all, and they allowed me to laugh through it, whatever the bad was, I was able to laugh through it. And I think for me, that's what keeps me sane. And that's what's kept me sane. I've always had an audience that's allowed me to laugh through it without judgment.
Over the years, you've been very personal onstage, but it's always funny. I am always impressed by your confidence and genuinely interesting perspective on things. I think you're courageous. Do you feel courageous?
I feel like I'm honest. And I've watched so many people be dishonest with themselves and the public, and you pay a price for that. And I'm so grateful for the gift of laughter that I promised the universe that I'd be honest. Do I call it courageous? Well, that's not for me to say. If you say it, I appreciate it. But I call it honest, and it's just me telling my story.
I wanted to ask about that idea of confidence. It's something a lot of people don't have. Do you have any idea where yours came from or how someone could find it within themselves?
You know, Liz, when I was a very young girl -- I've always been a fat girl; I was a fat girl at birth. They told my father I would grow out of it. Baby, I grew into it! [laughs] It grew right with me.
But as a little girl, my father would say things that I would hold on to. There were two things that my father said to me that impacted my life. One was: "You are the prettiest girl in the world." My father told me that. He didn't say I was the prettiest fat girl or the prettiest black girl; I was the prettiest girl in the world. So because my father said it, it was true. And then my father said to me... One night my grandmother was supposed to pick me up, and I was 7 years old, and she wasn't able to come. And I cried, baby, I cried so hard. I thought she was the worst person ever, because she wouldn't come get me.
And at 7 years old, my father said to me, "MoNique, no one owes you anything. Whatever you get in life, you have to earn it, so wipe your tears." I held on to those two things. So to say where my confidence comes from, I was told as a very young girl, I was the prettiest girl in the world and don't nobody owe me nothing.
Normally, those two things don't go together. Normally, when you're the prettiest bitch in the world, everybody owes you everything! Right? [laughs] So I took that, and I hold on to that at 46 years old. You don't owe me anything, and I'm the prettiest girl in the world. Not to be vain pretty, but that kind of pretty that says, "I'm OK with me."
That's beautiful. Now you're working out and getting healthy. The old-fashioned way, putting up workouts on Twitter. What's been the coolest thing about working out for you? Something you've learned about yourself through the process?
The coolest thing about me working out is that my husband can pick me up, for all that leg-shaking, baby! [laughs] For me, one of the coolest things is showing me that I could. Having that conversation with me, those two voices, the one that said, "Girl, it's not going to make a difference" and the other one that says, "We want to live a really long time." And the older voice that talks to me, I have a 90-year-old woman inside of me, and she says, "If you want to get here to meet me, here are some of the things that you have to do." And I want to get to meet her.
Working out, you learn a lot about your body and cravings, and it's an interesting experience.
It really is. Because once you understand that it's an addiction -- I have an addiction to food. So I understand junkies. Because I'm one too. It's just my drug is different. My drug isn't judged because my drug is shown to me every day on TV. And they know it's poison, but they show it to me every day. There was a time when I judged someone that took crack. I thought, "Oh, my God, how could they do that to themselves?" And I had to look at myself and say, "How did I do this to myself?" So in this whole journey, it's allowed me to not judge.
You've learned forgiveness? Forgiving yourself?
You know, I think so. For me, getting healthy and losing weight the natural way, it really allows your mind to open up in ways that you didn't allow before. Because when you feed your body junk, junk processes through your body and it keeps you cloudy. So when I'm taking a six-mile walk in the morning, you know how much it allows my mind to open up? How much it allows my heart to open up? So, if I'm going on a walk and I'm troubled with something or I'm thinking about something, honey, by the time I get finished, I'm OK.
So that's what it's doing for me the natural way. I'm not in a rush. My husband says, "Mama, this is not a sprint; it's a marathon. It's for the rest of your life." There's no rush for me, me taking my time, it's so much fun too. Liz, I didn't know I was so athletic! Girl, I mean, I'm playing basketball, I'm playing football, I'm having an amazing time, and I'll be 47 in a few months.
That's beautiful. I know you've talked about not shaving. I hate shaving. It's something I never want to do, and I feel like it's becoming more acceptable to not shave.
Well, actually, I've now started shaving!
And let me tell you why. One night, me and my husband were standing in the closet, and he says, "Mama, you have patches on your legs." I said, "What?" He said, "You have patches on your legs." The hair had started falling out in certain places. So, girl, I'm starting to look like a spotted tiger!
So the universe said, "OK, baby, it's time." Because nature started doing what nature does. And that's the only reason I started doing it. But when I tell you, my skin feels like a baby's bottom, oh, girl, I love it.
Anything happening in your standup routine we should be prepared for?
I always say, if you want to get to know me, come to a show but know that you're coming to an adult show. It's very adult. People like to say it's lewd; people like to say that it's dirty. I say it's adult. It's things you say in your mind, but I say them out loud.
MoNique, 8 p.m. Friday, September 19, Fort Lauderdale Improv, 5700 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $40 with a two-drink minimum. Visit ftl.improv.com.
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