MoNique on Getting Healthy, Shaving Again, and Her "Very Adult" Show

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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.

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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.
Contact: Liz Tracy