Hold up, are we racing? Where’s the finish line? Is Mo’Nique there already? Wait, is it over? She definitely won.
It’s unclear who said the word “go,” but that was definitely a race, and Mo’Nique, the Oscar winner and Queen of Comedy, wastes no time figuring out the pesky details. She’s gone – sprinting ahead like a woman who still has something to prove.
That’s how the 51-year-old comedian – hair in a regal bun spiraled with gray, makeup-free caramel skin and Nike sneakers – ended up dashing past sports cars in the parking lot of the SLS Hotel on a crisp Vegas afternoon. Her opening act, road manager and bodyguard were left in her dust.
“Listen, don’t challenge Mo’Nique to anything,” offered a member of the entourage pulling up the rear as the group ventured out onto the Strip for Mo’Nique’s daily workout. Lest you find yourself suddenly dead last in an impromptu casino-parking-lot footrace, or in a tipsy dance-off at a stop light (she will battle anyone), or huffing up flights of stairs during a four-mile walk down Las Vegas Boulevard (she won’t take the elevator). Mo’Nique will keep it moving and everyone else just has to catch up.
Back out on the Strip, Mo’Nique is screaming at her finish line. Really, it’s more like a squeal, but calling it that diminishes the sound. This is full-blown, grown-woman joy.
Seconds into her victory lap, Mo’Nique spots her name in lights above the SLS, a 50-foot billboard featuring the comedian mid-laugh in a glittery gown pouring over her hard-won curves.
She is the first black female comedian to have her own residency in Sin City. Yes, the first. Yet there’s been little fanfare for the notable moment. No hashtags or virtual high-fives from Hollywood friends – of whom she has precious few. There’s just the comedian and her tight team hitting the ground, doing local press, turning up three nights a week for her shows and promoting it all themselves.
She snaps a photo in front of the billboard – “Mo’Nique Does Vegas” – and then heads left down the Strip, a wholly unwalkable thoroughfare in this unholy city, but she won’t stop until she gets all her steps in.
Another thing Mo’Nique won’t stop doing? Calling folks out. She’s been doing that since her moment thanking the Academy for honoring “the performance and not the politics.” Since her claim that director Lee Daniels and producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey blackballed her in Hollywood for refusing “to play the game” during the promotional tour for “Precious,” the brutal film that won her that Oscar. Since asking her “loves” to stand with her and “boycott Netflix for gender bias and color bias” after the streaming giant offered her $500,000 for a comedy special – a fraction of what other marquee comedians such as Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock received for their hours.
She’s been calling it like she sees it since way back, when she starred in “The Parkers,” the 1999 UPN hit sitcom that gave her a platform on television. Back then, a UPN exec asked her to shave her legs, and she said no thank you.
“That was me keeping my truth, because if I shaved my legs, then you’re going to tell me, ‘Well, listen, we really don’t like how you talk,’ ” she said later at the Sayers Club, where she’s opening her Vegas residency. “And if I change the way I talk, ‘Well, now we don’t like the way you dress.’ Well damn, now I’m looking in the mirror, and I don’t know this b—-, because I’ve changed her all up to satisfy what you think I should be.”
Because here is one thing to know: Mo’Nique is not changing. No matter what it costs.
So, challenge Mo’Nique if you want to – just know she won’t back down, even when it means she’s gotten less work with the Oscar than before it. Or that she’s received more criticism for decrying the same pay inequity that Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette condemn. She has been unequivocally branded “difficult” by the Hollywood powers that be. But does she care?
“I can’t waste my energy worrying about if you like me. Respect me,” Mo’Nique said. “And then when you say to somebody, ‘Well, why don’t you like her?’ ‘Well, it’s just something about her.’ ‘Well, b—-, what is it?!’ “
No really, what is it?
Perhaps the better question is: Who is it? Hollywood can’t mention Mo’Nique without also mentioning her husband, manager and business partner, Sidney Hicks. It’s Sidney’s voice you hear (on phone recordings the couple released) pressing Tyler Perry to admit that Mo’Nique’s reputation was unfairly damaged after she declined to do international press for the film “Precious” unless more money was involved. Sidney is even-keeled and unapologetic, direct and yet polite. He’s an unwavering advocate for his wife. Mo’Nique described the pair, who met cracking jokes in the back of class at Randallstown High School, 30 minutes north of Baltimore, as an enigma.
“It’s puzzling because we’ve never seen it – to see this black man stand with his black wife and say, ‘I’m not budging,’ ” she said.
“Not being truthful. That’s it. I would hate to be imprisoned with a lie. That’s the worst kind of prison to be in. I just have to be honest even if it don’t make me look good. I do not want to be the Wizard of Oz. I know too many of them,” she said.
The Great Oz was never so palpable. Up and down the Strip fans recognize the “Bessie” actress, shouting “Mo’Niiiiiiique!” from cheesy souvenir shops, car windows and outdoor escalators. She speaks to everyone, never refuses a photo and does a little jig on a flight of stairs, to the delight of a group of fans that will probably be in the front row of her show in just a short few hours.
Wait. No, they are not “fans” to Mo’Nique. She is big on word choice. Fans is short for fanatics (which can have a disapproving connotation), she explained, and she’ll have none of that. The people who come to see her shows, which are packed, might be holding off on paying the light bill to buy a ticket to see her, and those are not fans.
“I got family members. I’ve seen these people before,” she said. “I’ve seen them in my dreams. I’ve seen them in the bathroom mirror.”
That might explain why she calls everyone “auntie,” “sweet sister,” “sis” or “brother,” or why she pulls strangers into hugs. It explains how she made one reporter (not this one) cry after championing her positive energy and demanding that she always know her worth.
Before long, Mo’Nique will have you re-evaluating everything about your life. Are you living your truth? Are you pleasing your partner right, are you spending enough time with your kid, do you know how to bake a cake? Most of these things you thought you had down before sitting across from Mo’Nique for half an hour and realizing: No, you do not.
It’s as if Mo’Nique is in a constant state of uplifting everyone – whether they want it or not. She’s giving crash courses in radical self-love, empowerment, taking no crap and how to be grown. Being grown in Hollywood might mean being difficult, leaving some money on the table or not getting the jobs – even if you have the Oscar.
“I’ve always been this,” she said. “If it didn’t make sense, you had to make it make sense to me. So, they think I’m new, but the people that know me? They’re just like, ‘Man, she been that.’ “
Before heading back to the SLS to get ready for her Saturday night show, Mo’Nique passed an alfresco party scene near the Palazzo. She spotted a woman on top of a table in a body-con dress doing deep body rolls for no other reason than Vegas.
“Is she challenging me?” Mo’Nique asked no one in particular as she surveyed the scene. “Because I would hate to go up there.”
Somehow, we doubt that.