Mo’Nique has been a lot of things in the course of her successful career. Headlining stand-up comedian. TV star. Talk show host. Academy Award-winning actress.
But at her home before her first-ever appearance this weekend at Lexington’s Comedy Off Broadway, she is something she has no interest in being: a failed baker.
“I am trying to bake this lemon pound cake and, damn it, this one blew up in the oven,” she said after her attempt at a gluten-free, made-from-scratch recipe.
It’s strangely fitting that Mo’Nique is trying to create this particular dessert, because depending on what you’ve read, seen or heard, your perceptions of the 49-year-old, multifaceted performer could be someone who is sweet, sour or somewhere in-between.
First there is a sweetness you might have witnessed in interviews but that has always been there since she was a little girl in Baltimore. This sweetness gained more focus when Mo’Nique attended her first Patti LaBelle concert and saw people blown away by more than just LaBelle’s pipes.
“She was so full of love that I saw people cry, I saw people speechless, I saw people almost in a daze because this woman was pouring out so much love,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness. If I’m ever in a position to do that, that’s what I want to do.’”
When it came to her stand-up comedy and early acting roles, that love she wanted to convey often had the word “tough” in front of it. Mo’Nique broke into comedy as a no-holds-barred, brutally honest champion of heavyset women when appearing on stage or on revered stand-up showcases like “Showtime at the Apollo,” HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” or BET’s “Comic View.”
The persona continued on the small screen, when she portrayed a single mother attending college with her daughter on the award-winning hit UPN sitcom “The Parkers.”
Even the role in Lee Daniels’ 2009 drama “Precious” that garnered her international recognition and a 2010 Oscar for best supporting actress had love behind it — despite Mo’Nique playing an intimidating, impoverished and abusive matriarch opposite the title character, played by Gabourey Sidibe.
“It was never, ever about an award for me or about me receiving accolades or saying, ‘This is the part.’ When I read that script, those people exist. Those are real people,” she said. “I said, we could save lives if we tell this story right.”
Ever since “Precious” catapulted Mo’Nique to even bigger stardom, she has continued to get lesser-known work in both TV and film, but she has had to fight back against allegations that gave her a sour reputation as being too demanding and difficult. This was fueled further by film and television producer and director Lee Daniels telling her she was being “blackballed” from Hollywood, according to a 2015 interview Mo’Nique did with The Hollywood Reporter.
Even as recently as two months ago, during one of her stand-up performances, she was in the headlines for a profanity-laced rant against Daniels, and against media moguls Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, for what she said was their roles in hurting her career.
Throughout the high peaks and unexpected valleys of her show-business career, her dedication to stand-up comedy has been a constant source of joy and creativity.
Aside from her regular podcast with husband, Sidney Hicks, called “Mo’Nique & Sidney’s Open Relationship,” a stand-up comedy stage is the place you’ll most likely find her and find that even after all these years, she is evolving. She has learned to be more honest on stage, revealing both the sweet and the sour while spreading the laughs and the love in her own unique way.
“I think when I first started, it was I was a big, fat, black woman and that’s what I knew how to be funny with, and that was my honesty, but there was so much more to me than that,” she said. “I tell people that, if you want to get to know me, come to a show. You truly walk away knowing exactly who I am, and you may find out who you are.”
Blake Hannon: firstname.lastname@example.org