Advertisement
News

Comedian has fine time just being Mo'Nique Laughing out LOUD

She's already reached "no last name needed" status among many Baltimore-area black professionals. And she's getting hotter by the week.

There are the sold-out performances at her downtown Baltimore comedy club with folks returning again and again. Then there's the morning radio show. Listeners frequently call in just to tell the co-host: "Girl, you crazy!"

Advertisement

Last Saturday, she appeared on "Showtime at the Apollo," conquering the tough audience. In January, she's flying to Los Angeles to audition for a comedy pilot.

And there's "mo" to come. For the uninformed, "mo" is short for "more" which is short for her official stage name: Mo'Classy, Mo'Sassy, Mo'Nique.

Advertisement

"I love it!" says the 26-year-old Baltimore comedian about her growing fame.

Who wouldn't? Less than four years ago, she was an ordinary working stiff. These days, being Mo'Nique (the last name, if you must know, is Watkins) means limousine rides to engagements, television appearances on HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," owning a comedy club and dissing Baltimore's mayor to his face.

It happened during a recent interview with Mayor Kurt Schmoke on the morning drive-time show Mo'Nique shares with co-host Sonny Andre on WWIN (95.9 FM).

When the program was nearly over, the mayor remembered a point he wanted to make. The problem was, he tried to interrupt while Mo was speaking.

"Baltimore! The City That Reads?!?!?" she asked him. "Naw! No way! Baltimore, the city that needs to be polite! You're the mayor doesn't mean you can interrupt!"

Mo'Nique kept right on talking. The mayor chuckled. He had been forewarned.

"The first time I met Mo'Nique was when I visited her comedy club," Mr. Schmoke said later. "My wife and I were both overwhelmed by her charm and her humor. Mo'Nique's energy level is enough to light up the NationsBank Tower at night."

She struts her stuff during comedy nights at her club at Liberty and Fayette streets. The club is called -- what else -- Mo'Nique's.

Advertisement

On a recent Thursday night, the crowd starts lining up a half-hour before the 9 p.m. show. Mo'Nique's mother, Alice Imes, sits at the front door checking reservations -- required these days -- and collecting the $10 admission fee.

All 125 seats in the the cozy, dimly lit room fill up quickly. The crowd is mostly black professionals, ranging from their 20s to their 60s, well-dressed and ready for some laughs.

People eat, drink and listen to the warm-up comics. Then it's time. "Mo!" shout the men in the audience. "Nique!" the women respond. A few more times and the crowd is primed.

Mo'Nique finally walks on stage wearing a knee-length black skirt and a subdued plaid jacket. An attractive, full-figured woman with dark, flawless skin, she looks stylish and completely at ease. But she acknowledges that she still feels stress before each performance -- sometimes to the point of nausea.

"The stress comes from knowing people paid for this and I have to make them laugh," she says. "And in this business, I know that just one show can make or break a career."

Size the limit

Advertisement

She describes herself as "big-boned." And though she isn't overly obese, her size is often a topic for her routines -- why, she wonders, does everyone always make a big deal about it? Warning: Don't!

Her uncle, who uses a wheelchair, made that mistake once. "I was leaving him alone. And he should have left me alone," she tells the crowd. But no.

At a family picnic, Mo'Nique loaded up her plate with all kinds of goodies. "Well, you know, big girls do that sometimes," she explains. The uncle made some rather caustic comments about the amount of food on her plate.

"Yeah, well, when I get through eating this food, lets see you get up and run across that street!" she says. "Hey! I left him alone! He should have left me alone!"

The crowd howls its appreciation. But make no mistake, Mo'Nique routines are not for everyone.

"I talk about real life," she says. "Stuff that isn't necessarily humorous, but I find the humor."

Advertisement

Even Susan Smith, the Union, S.C., mother who confessed to killing her two sons after first claiming they were kidnapped by a black carjacker, was fodder for Mo'Nique.

"My heart does go out to those babies," she tells the audience. "But they should put her up against the wall. Then every black man in America should walk by and slap that . . .!"

Mo'Nique hasn't been making people laugh all her life. The youngest of four children, she grew up in western Baltimore County. She graduated from Milford Mill High School, then attended Morgan State University but didn't graduate. She got married, had a baby, and had some success working as a model.

No one thought of her as a comedian waiting to be discovered. Though she was never shy, she wasn't a cut-up, either.

"I was supposed to be the funny one!" says her brother, Steve Imes, who now manages his sister and helps write her jokes.

Their father agrees. But he isn't surprised at his daughter's rapid rise on the comedy scene.

Advertisement

"She was always an aggressive individual who seemed to carry out everything that she started," says the senior Mr. Imes, a

clinical supervisor at Liberty Medical Center.

Comedy on a dare

A dare landed Mo'Nique in the comedy business.

During open-mike night at the Comedy Factory about three years ago, her brother tried a routine. "Well, it was not good," he admits.

"He bombed!" Mo'Nique says. "They cut the mike off on him but he kept right on talking. Then they cut the lights off!"

Advertisement

Later, she insisted that telling jokes couldn't be all that hard. Her brother dared her to get up on stage and try it. So she did.

That same night she was offered $25 to do a stand-up routine at a hairstyling show at Martin's East.

"I thought, maaaan! I can get paid for this?" says Mo'Nique, who earns considerably more these days.

So while listening to complaints in her job as an MCI customer representative, Mo'Nique began hitting the comedy clubs on weekends.

She found that for a black, female comedian, Baltimore was a tough town.

"For me to stay in Baltimore and get my career off of the ground would have been very, very hard," she says.

Advertisement

She did have some breaks appearing at local comedy clubs. But things were moving slowly. Too slowly for Mo'Nique.

About six months later, she requested a job transfer to Atlanta -- a city with a reputation of being a mecca for black artists and entertainers.

Her brother remained in Baltimore booking acts for his sister in Atlanta and clubs up and down the East Coast.

"I would get in my car and drive," she says. "I would do comedy Friday, Saturday and Sunday and have to be back at work on Monday. I played everything from red, redneck barnyards to deep and dank places where the people were so drunk they didn't even know I was there, to playing concert halls. Wherever there was a show, I would go. I was out there by myself and I was saying prayers all across the country."

After about a year of working both the day job and doing comedy on weekends, Mo'Nique came to that proverbial fork in the road.

"I was dead tired all of the time," she says. "I knew I had to make a choice. I had to focus on the big picture." Mo'Nique quit the day job and plunged into comedy full time.

Advertisement

After two years in Atlanta -- and with her marriage disintegrating -- Mo'Nique decided to move back to Baltimore with her son, Shalon Watkins Jr., now 4.

A club and restaurant

She and her brother leased their own comedy club and restaurant about a year ago. They and their partner, Kenny Young, now own "Mo'Nique's," which has become a mecca for the comedian's fans.

"She is the best," agrees Reynaldo Singletary, 26, a vice principal at a Baltimore middle school. "I really love coming here."

Sheila Stokes is at the club at least once a month.

"She is great!" says Ms. Stokes, 27, an analyst for the Department of Defense. "And I love the way she pumps up black businesses." (At the end of the shows, Mo'Nique points out business owners and urges people to support them.)

Advertisement

The comedian's routines are liberally sprinkled with expletives and often broach topics that can't be discussed in a family newspaper. It's something her parents have come to terms with, although neither is comfortable with some of her subject matter.

"I block that part out," says Mrs. Imes.

"Sometimes I have to grit my teeth or leave the room. It is amazing to me some of the things she comes up with. But I know that deep inside that is not Mo'Nique."

Although not all of her jokes fit into the "blue comedy" category, Mo'Nique admits her humor may not suit everyone's taste.

"If you don't like what I do, you have the option not to listen," she says.

"It's like rap music. Some of it I like and some I don't. What I don't like, I don't listen to."

Advertisement

Not surprisingly, she admires comedians Richard Pryor and Martin Lawrence. "They never changed their style. They started out being blue comics and even when people began criticizing them, they remained the same."

After late nights at the comedy club, Mo'Nique rolls out of bed to do the morning radio show. She's on the air weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

One recent morning, she swigs a Mountain Dew as she banters with deejay Sonny Andre. Scanning one of the many newspapers lying around, he notices a Roper Poll stating that 21 percent of men are dissatisfied with the lower half of their bodies.

"And if you all are dissatisfied, think how we women feel," Mo'Nique tells the listening audience. "When you meet me, men, just tell me upfront! Say, 'Hi, Mo'Nique. How're you doing? I'm dissatisfied.' "

Off air, she turns to Sonny Andre. "That was good," she tells him, getting a kick out of her own humor. "That one was fun."



Advertisement