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First Lady

”I ain’t losin‘ no damn weight,“ says comedian and TV’s The Parkers star Mo‘Nique, speaking by phone from her hotel room in NYC. ”I exercise, and I’m healthy as an ox. I‘m okay with being a size 22-24, and I’m sexy as a mothafucka -- ain‘t shit wrong with me.“ For over 11 years, the 33-year-old Baltimore native, through her high-raunch standup material, has fashioned herself into something of a patron saint for big girls in today’s thin-obsessed, Vogue-worshipping world. But Mo‘Nique, who says she’s been fat since birth, isn‘t having any of it. ”I think that when black women started buying into other people’s shit, that‘s when you started hearing, ’Oh my God, I‘m too big, oh, I’m too fat.‘ I can remember a time when I would see big sistas and it was just fucked up. They just felt so bad about who they were. Their chins were tucked in their chests ’cause they had their heads down. I love the fact that I can empower fat women. Through the ages, black women have always been thick women. And on top of all that, historically, black men love big black women. That‘s what we come from. So it trips me out when I see a brotha with a girl that’s a size zero. I‘m like, nigga, you don’t know nothin‘ about that. You gonna hurt that little girl.“

The comedian claims she’s never had any issues surrounding her size. ”My father, who I think is the most brilliant man on the face of this Earth, said to me from the time I could understand words, ‘You are the prettiest girl in the world,’“ says Mo‘Nique. ”That’s all he ever said. So it was conditioning. I‘ve always been fat -- I came out fat. But my father told me that I was pretty so much, I’d hear it in my sleep. Now, 210 pounds, I am the prettiest bitch in the world. And can‘t nobody tell me different.“

Mo’Nique, who got her start in standup on a dare from her brother at age 22, deals in a brand of humor -- sidesplitting one-way conversations with a down-to-earth sista -- that reveals a storytelling skill so deft, it ranks her as a sort of salacious standup-comedy version of Toni Morrison, with the bluest and sharpest of tongues. Her female fans adore her for it. On the recently released Queens of Comedy DVD, an HBO special taped in front of an audience of mostly black women in Memphis, Tennessee, the robust comedian literally has people falling into the aisles on their knees. Tears stream down their faces as they howl with laughter.

It is in the heat of her routine that Mo‘Nique announces her solidarity in sisterhood to her cheering audience: ”You know what I’m most proud of? What makes me feel good? Just bein‘ a black-ass woman!“ The ladies stomp their approval, quickly rising to their feet in ovation. ”I don’t give a fuck what size I am,“ Mo‘Nique pushes on over the mayhem. ”It’s just about being a sista. We carry some shit with us that can‘t nobody fuck with. ’Cause black women, we have a motto about life.“ She pauses for several seconds. Her eyes dance, and her mouth is parted expectantly in a half-smile as she waits for her audience to calm down. ”We don‘t give a fuck!“ The place roars. She repeats the last line over and over again, shouting into the mike with a look of wide-eyed wonder that drives her in-the-know crowd into even louder hysterics. In mock conversation, she turns to an invisible friend and asks, ”Girl, you goin’ to work tomorrow?“ The imaginary friend replies, ”Girl, fuck that job.“ ”See?“ wraps up Mo‘Nique ”We don’t give a fuck.“

While Mo‘Nique’s comedy revolves around commentaries on black womanhood, she gives equal weight to relations between black men and women. The misogynistic and sexist manifestoes that fortify hardcore rap music have over the years created an ever-widening chasm within black culture between the sexes. Ironically, hardcore rap built much of its foundation from the sexually explicit and expletive-filled works of black male standup comedians like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, who themselves drew upon the triple-X diatribes of Redd Foxx, Dolomite and Pigmeat Markham. Couple all this with the mammoth success of today‘s young superstar crop of black male comedians like Chris Rock, the Wayans brothers, Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence -- all of whom at some point in their careers followed in the tradition of the misogynistic humor passed down by their legendary predecessors.

But for black female performers trying to get acclaim in the arena of standup comedy, the road to stardom is narrow, according to Mo’Nique, who was one of the first African-American female standup comedians ever to star in her own television show. Established white female comics like Roseanne Barr and Joan Rivers aside, it‘s still an uphill battle for women of any ethnic background to make a breakthrough in the male-dominated field. Only a handful of black female raconteurs have made inroads over the years, like Marsha Warfield and the late Moms Mabley and Shirley Hemphill. With the exception of comedic actress Whoopi Goldberg, until recently Hollywood has been sluggish in embracing black female standup comedians, much like the record industry, which didn’t start to promote women rap artists until the late ‘80s.

”The belief and the myth is that women aren’t funny,“ says Mo‘Nique. Along with fellow Queen comedians Adele Givens, Sommore and Laura Hayes, Mo’Nique toured last year with the Kings of Comedy, which featured Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer, the stars of Spike Lee‘s movie of the same name. ”With Queens, we brought the funk, and we know we have to because of the success of the Kings of Comedy. We knew we are going to be compared, but we have held our own. It’s the same humor. They came from the male side, and we‘re coming from the female side.“

Both the Kings and Queens embrace the art of cursing and share a focus on sex in their quest for laughs. Predictably, some reviewers have already thrashed the Queens of Comedy as lewd, blatantly offensive and obscenity-filled. One critic of the HBO Queens special came down especially hard on Mo’Nique for what he perceived as gay bashing during a segment of her routine. ”People always ask me, do I think that I offend people?“ says Mo‘Nique. ”Here’s the thing. I talk about black people, white people, Chinese people, skinny people, fat people, ugly people, pretty people, rich people, poor people, but I bring it all back to Mo‘Nique. So if I can laugh at Mo’Nique, I‘ll be damned if I ain’t gonna‘ laugh at you.“


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