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February 12, 2019 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

‘This is who I am, unapologetically’

Las Vegas has historically been a haven for comedy greats: legends like Redd Foxx, Slappy White, George Kirby, and Richard Pryor all wowed audiences in the entertainment capital of the world.

Now, another name is being added to that illustrious list: Academy Award winner Mo’Nique, who is making history at the SLS Hotel and Casino as the first black female comedian to secure a Las Vegas residency. Onstage, she gives the most authentic, spontaneous version of herself — and in an exclusive interview with Black Image, she didn’t hold back on topics like love, her surprising view of the Oscar she won for portraying an abusive mother in “Precious,” and her distaste for religion.

How would you describe your show at the SLS?

You know, maybe five years ago, my husband said to me: “Mama, you are really funny — but you haven’t touched on it yet.” I said, “What do you mean?” He continued, “They don’t know you. Your audience knows that you are funny, but they don’t know you. People really know the greats such as Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. People knew Richard Pryor’s walk and people knew his journey. He wasn’t just a funny comedian — they knew him. He made you leave his show and really think about what he was saying. He welcomed you into his life: the good, bad, and ugly.” So, once I got comfortable with myself, I said, “Okay, y’all — this is who I am, unapologetically. And some of this stuff is funny, and some of it gonna make you cry, and some of it will make me cry. My show makes you think because it makes me think, also. I’m grateful that the family members who sit in the front row at my show are open enough to go on the journey of Mo’Nique with no judgment.’

How do you feel about making history as the first black female comedian to have a

Academy Award winner Mo’Nique

residency in Las Vegas?

It’s such an honor because there are so many sisters that came before me, who kept inching their way so I could get here. So, I stand on the shoulders of female comedians like Lucille Bogan, Moms Mabley, and Marsha Warfield. I am sure there are so many other legendary sisters I don’t even know, but they kept inching their way and making a path for me. They inched their way so I could be there on the stage in Las Vegas, and that is an honor. I don’t take this for granted, and I don’t think I am here just because I think I am special. I’m honored to be on the list of some of the greatest black entertainers. I say, “black” — but let me say just “entertainers that just happened to be black” who ever played the Las Vegas Strip. From my understanding, Las Vegas used to be called the “Mississippi of the West.”

What are you career plans for the future?

I just hope for tomorrow. I used to have this wonderful list of things I was going to do for the future, and the universe said, “Is that what you think is going to happen? I will show you something different.” I said, “Oh, okay.” So, I have learned to enjoy the moments before me, and every time I walk on stage I hope Sammy Davis Jr. is saying, “Come on baby.” I hope Redd Foxx is saying, “Come on baby, we opened it up for you — now you’ve got to open it up for the ones coming behind you.”

During your show at the SLS, you really speak to black women and you talk about all the hurt we sometimes possess. Is that intentional?

It’s my voice, and I just happen to be a black woman. My experience isn’t any different from yours because my mama and your mama are not too different, nor is our grandmama. We have been taught so many things that keep us from loving. And by me traveling the country and the world, I look into our eyes and I can see that we are hurting. So, let’s laugh so we can be unguarded, but let’s still hear it. My words are also for me, too. I don’t want anybody to think I’m up on stage and I am only talking to my sisters. The things I speak about are my issues. I am listening, and my words keep me on my toes. So, I can make sure that my family is my priority and my husband is my priority. When I perform on the stage and talk about certain things, it’s not just for y’all — it’s for us. It’s for us.

Academy Award winner Mo’Nique

During your show you make reference to the church and why women are single within the church.

Well, as I say on the stage: We’ve got to stop believing in the magic and the myth, because I think that it has damaged our community. Now, if I am wrong, please prove me wrong. Please take me to the community that has the megachurch and the community is thriving? Please show me that. I could be wrong — and if I am, then I have to apologize. I have just not seen it. For me, I am not Christian and I don’t belong to any group. I just believe in love. I believe if there is a transgender at the show, if there is a bisexual at the show, if there is a Muslim at the show, if there is a Jewish person at the show, I don’t care who it is — I can love you. I just give the energy of love and I don’t want anybody to feel that I am judging them because I am not. I just tell my story.

Your SLS Hotel and Casino residency runs until when?

The SLS said I can perform there as long as I want. See what the greats like Sammy Davis Jr. did, baby?

Kim Phillips from one of our Las Vegas Black Image Magazine’ social media pages wanted to know: “Please ask Mo’Nique about her resilience and overcoming adversity in her professional life?”

I am grateful for the spirit I was given and that I came her with. When you come up in a family that you pretty much have to do for yourself and surviving molestation — but I am not saying I am a victim. It was just what it was. You’ve got to keep going. That is the attitude I have always known to have. I’ve got to keep going. My husband that I have who is that King, often looks in my eyes to say, “Mama, we are good.” I tell you, don’t let anybody embarrass you out of this life. I believe my husband and I trust him. So, we light that grill up baby, and it’s us and our babies. That’s what is important, and I didn’t lose that. I have gained a greater appreciation for what’s real.

Carole Bolden Peterson has a few questions. Her first question is, “How does Mo’Nique handle criticism from our community?”

Academy Award winner Mo’Nique

I understand the criticism. We have been taught and conditioned to criticize one another. So, I love them even harder because I understand it. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, when Paul Robeson and Eartha Kitt made statements about equality, some people labeled them communist. I am not saying that they were, but I didn’t read the stories where black people and the black community rallied behind them. I’m not saying they didn’t — I just didn’t read anywhere that they did. When Sammy Davis Jr. said, “I’m Jewish and let me tell you why.” People didn’t do their research to understand it, and instead they ridiculed him. I didn’t read about how black people rallied behind Sammy Davis Jr. No, one came out to say, “Let’s listen to our brother Sammy Davis Jr.” Historically, we have been put in fear, so we assimilate with the masses and jump on a bandwagon even if it means sacrificing one of our own. We sometimes say, “Oh yes, get her.” I remember my father saying to me as a child, “Nikki, I remember watching Tarzan on television and being foolish and saying, “Get those niggers, Tarzan.” It was really awful.” We have been conditioned, so that is why I just love more and harder. I can’t be offended by it, because I understand it.

Carole’s other question is, “Do you think you will act anymore?”

If it makes sense. I am acting every weekend. I go right to the cabaret (laughs). At my show, everyone becomes the kid on the playground — because when I look into the faces of my audience, it seems like they are saying, “Is it okay to laugh at what you are saying?” It is so beautiful.

Also, people want to know what you think about the Oscar Awards.

I don’t feel anything about the Oscars and any controversy, because that is something I don’t think about. I don’t put my energy and value into something that puts no energy and value into me. 

Is there anything you would like to say to our Las Vegas community?

I want to say to my Las Vegas family: I thank you for having me in your home. Thank you for loving me through, and I want to give it right back to you all. So when you get a chance come to the SLS and spend some time with your sister. I want to see my aunties, my grandmama, my granddaddies, and my cousins. I want to see all of y’all, and I thank y’all for having me.

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