At 52, Mo’Nique is firm in who she is and what she wants in her career.
She wants to be paid her worth—and she wants to do what she loves. It’s as simple as that.
The Academy Award-winning actress describes comedy as her first love, and tonight, she is back in the spotlight for her art—and not drama—as host and executive producer (alongside her husband) of Mo’Nique and Friends: Live From Atlanta, airing on Showtime. This is Mo’Nique’s first comedy special in 10 years, but don’t call it a comeback.
Literally. Do not call it a comeback.
“When people say comeback, what did LL Cool J say? You know the lyric! Give me the lyric!” Mo’Nique says, flipping the interview question on me.
The lyric she is referring to is, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years!” from 1990’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
It’s a classic battle rap aimed at Kool Moe Dee, but while Mo’Nique isn’t a rapper, the sentiment remains, because Mo’Nique has an equally intense way with words and beef. We’ve heard those words in protest against perceived personal slights and injustices inflicted by Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels, and Netflix—the latter of which is the subject of an ongoing gender bias lawsuit that she’s tight-lipped about. (She declined to answer any questions about it.)
Mo’Nique has stated in the past that her truth got her blackballed in Hollywood, but today she maintains that she never stopped working. One of the first things she says during her standup intro in Mo’Nique and Friends: Live From Atlanta is “You can’t keep a good b—ch” down.
She comes in hot and holds back nothing as she cracks jokes about the shade of Tyler Perry not inviting her to his recent studio-opening gala in Atlanta after believing that they had resolved their issues. She takes a shot at Oprah not embracing being called auntie, which is a term of endearment in her mind—and one she welcomes.
The gist of Mo’Nique’s position in life is that “sometimes it’s okay to be uninvited.”
“Years ago, my husband [Sidney] and I—we’ve been best friends since we were 14 years old—we went to a party. It was the senior party, and most of the people there were real siddity,” Mo’Nique explains. “I walked through the inside and not one of they asses spoke. Not one of them said, ‘Hello, Mo’Nique.’ Not one of them. Not one of them spoke to Sidney. Not one of them said, ‘Hey, Sid, what’s up.’ We met in the back and said, ‘You ready to go?’ I said, ‘Yup.’ He said, ‘Yup.’ And we left, and it was okay to not be invited because that was a party where you knew you weren’t going to have a good time, because you had the feeling that no one there was being their authentic selves.”
Being authentic for Mo’Nique means that she never stops working and pursuing projects she’s passionate about, particularly comedy, whether she has the Hollywood establishment behind her or not. She only appeared in a few movies since Precious, the film that landed her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2009, but her comedy tours have continued.
Last year, she made history by becoming the first black female comedian to have a residency in Las Vegas.
“I’ve never stopped doing standup comedy from the time I stepped in Hollywood. I never stopped going on the road. I never lost the connection with my people. I never became a celebrity to my people, and I’m grateful that they consider me family,” says Mo’Nique. “People say, ‘Girl, you like my cousin; you like my aunt; you like my sister; you remind me of my mama.’ They ain’t saying, ‘Oh girl, you this celebrity.’ So they’ve always embraced me like family. So, I’ve never stopped being in front of my family.”
Correy Bell and Prince T-Dub, who are two of Mo’Nique’s friends appearing on her special alongside Just Nesh, Donnell Rawlings, and Tone-X, started off feeling those familiar vibes—energy that encouraged each to forge their own respective chance encounters. Bell sent her a message on IG, while Prince T-Dub came to one of her shows and asked for five minutes on stage. Mo’Nique, who is big on intuition, decided to give both comedians the chance to open for her at different moments—and kept those relationships going. When Showtime reached out with a deal that Mo’Nique describes as “respectful,” she felt that it was only right to bring along her actual friends whom she felt would make lasting impressions.
Mo’Nique and Friends: Live From Atlanta is a hodgepodge of newbie comedians in addition to OGs such as Rawlings and Tone-X, who all have a personal connection to its host. It’s also raw and raunchy at times. From R. Kelly jokes to references to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, no one holds back—not even in the age of hypersensitivity.
“I speak to an honest audience. I speak to an audience who don’t want no fluff. I speak to that kind of audience, baby. They show up at the club about 10 o’clock at night. I speak to the kind of audience where they say, ‘Oh, that might sting a little bit, but isn’t it true?'” says Mo’Nique. “So, I speak to an audience that we’re open to love and we’re open to laugh and we’re open to honesty and we’re unoffended and we don’t place no judgment, and that’s the audience that I speak to, would love to speak to, and everybody’s invited. The doors of the church is open.”
As long as Mo’Nique and her fans—whom she hates referring to as such—believe in her metaphorical church, which is authenticity, she’s going to be okay. Richard Pryor told her so.
“Years ago I had the honor of having a very intimate moment with [Richard Pryor]. He was in a wheelchair, and we were at The [Original] Kings of Comedy premiere, and he pulled me into him and he whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t you ever change,'” says Mo’Nique. “So would you consider Richard Pryor to be, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to ever do it! You think I’m going to let another b—ch change me? You know why we loved Richard Pryor? Because he talked to us with love, so you didn’t get offended because you knew he loved you. You knew when that man was on that stage in front of you, you knew he was talking to people he loved, and they loved him back.”
Mo’Nique and Friends: Live From Atlanta airs on Showtime on February 7.