Mo’Nique has been through it.
Though she’s had a moment or two that made us pause, the one thing I can respect about the veteran comedian is that she stands in her own personal truth, even in the midst of potential blacklisting in an industry that rarely ever sees it for black women anyway.
When she demanded financial respect from Netflix, many believed she shouldn’t have asked for so much money nor did they believe she deserved it. Everyone had an opinion about it, even her royal comedian colleague.
In November 2019, she filed a gender and racial discrimination lawsuit against Netflix, which the streaming platform confirmed they were “fighting.”
The 52-year-old comedian has never bit her tongue and has made headlines calling out powerful people in the industry like Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels and Oprah. [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to her Instagram post in which she penned a letter to Oprah.]
In 2017, Mo’Nique posed a question regarding the eight black women who, at the time, had won an acting Oscar (the tally is currently at nine, with Regina King winning for Supporting Actress in 2019). She asked whether they had “multimillion-dollar offers” after winning the coveted statuette and proceeded to utter what would become a meme-worthy line, “I would like to see it.”
Despite every single roadblock presented to her, nevertheless, Mo’Nique persisted with a confidence only bestowed to a woman who knows she’ll get “hers,” regardless. So, in turn, I was curious about Mo’Nique’s next steps and inevitable success. In that same vein, I thought, “I would like to see it.”
And now, we’re able to see it, with Monique & Friends: Live From Atlanta. Though everyone had their eyes on the possibility of Mo’Nique getting her own special, she decided to open the door and make space for other comedians, despite experiencing folks attempting to block her path.
From the press release, via Showtime:
Filmed at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, the hour-long special features a variety of talented newcomers including Prince T-Dub, Just Nesh, Tone-X and Correy Bell alongside veteran comedian Donnell Rawlings (Chappelle’s Show).
I sat down and had a 30-minute phone call with Mo’Nique to discuss her landing a comedy special with Showtime, her tenacity throughout the blackballing, whether she ever feels hesitant to “burn bridges,” the importance of black women having a presence in the comedy industry and, yes, I asked how she felt about being called an “auntie” (for the record, she is “tickled as shit” and “honored” when we call her that).
“Hey, sweetness!” Mo’Nique said on the other end of the line, immediately causing an involuntary smile. I felt the warmth from the very moment she got on the phone. We got right to business, beginning with her bumpy journey over the past few years.
“Well, you know, sis, I’ve just always stood in what I knew was right,” Mo’Nique began, firmly. “And unfortunately, in this place called Hollywood, that’s going against the grain. Yes, we’ve been so conditioned to let it be wrong, it goes against the grain for standing in what’s right.”
Opening the special, Mo’Nique exclaims, “It’s OK to be uninvited.” Though a seat at the table is quite coveted in this industry, how much are you willing to sacrifice—if anything—to get that seat? I know one thing that Mo’Nique is not willing to sacrifice, and it’s her integrity. And she though she mentions “standing alone,” it’s in reference to the business, but never in her life as she has her husband, Sidney Hicks, and children always standing beside her.
“There were some sisters that would comment, ‘Oh, he ruined her career,’” she recalled, disputing that notion and instead referring to him as her “king” who has been “unwavering.” “And I understand [that response] because you’ve never seen it. So if you’ve never seen it, you really don’t know how to speak on it.”
Of course, Mo’Nique’s trials and tribulations weren’t just about Mo’Nique. They invited a larger conversation about black female comedians and the gatekeepers in this industry. As someone who has seen and experienced so much in this industry, I had to ask her if she’s seen anything truly change for the better over time.
“In recent months, it could appear to have changed,” Mo’Nique sighed. “But, do I truly believe it’s changed? No. Often times we will get a carrot that will dangle in front of us, but we don’t know that carrot is bitter because it appears to be sweet. Do I think that black female comedians are paid equally to their white female counterparts, to their black male counterparts or their white male counterparts? I do not. Let me be clear about something. You get paid based on your resumé. That’s what it’s supposed to be in a place called America. You get paid based on your resumé. There are some black female comedians out there that made history. And they’re called the Queens of Comedy.”
“I say this humbly because I was part of the Queens of Comedy,” she continued. “But look at all of the Kings of Comedy and their careers and [then] look at the Queens of Comedy...All of us were funny—not just Mo’Nique...But all of us didn’t get the shot...We didn’t get what the Kings got. And those kings deserve it, please understand what I’m saying. So, no, I don’t think it’s equal when you put resumés on the table.”
Being Mo’Nique’s a vet in the game, I had to conclude this interview by asking for some advice, especially for rising black female comedians.
“Oftentimes, we get scared because we’re too afraid to lose something,” said Mo’Nique, who also shared her and Hicks’ next venture as team owners of the Houston Equalizers, part of Global Mixed Gender Basketball, the first of its kind. “We’re too afraid to lose the mortgage payment...too afraid to lose our stuff, so we’ll just go along to get along. Be unafraid, even if [you have to] stand alone. That’s what has to happen. Because when you look in the mirror, you’ve got to be OK with the one looking back [at you].”
“If we were in the basement right now, I’d be like, ‘Biiiitch! Girl!’” Mo’Nique told me toward the end of the call, instantly cementing what I always imagined her to be: the auntie who always makes you laugh.
Monique & Friends: Live From Atlanta is currently available to stream on Showtime’s website.