Actress and comedian
B orn Monique Imes, December 11, 1967, in Woodlawn, MD; daughter of Steven, Jr., and Alice Imes; married Shalon Watkins (divorced); married Mark Jackson, December 25, 1997 (divorced, 2001); married Sidney Hicks, May 20, 2006; children: Sha-lon, Jr. (first marriage), Mark Jr. (second marriage), Jonathan and David (twins, from third marriage).
Addresses: Management—The Collective, 9100 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 700 West, Beverly Hills, CA 91202.
C ustomer service representative, MCI, through 1989; launched stand-up career, 1987; began acting career, c. 1999; founder and designer, Mo’Nique’s Big Beautiful and Loving It, 2000-02; morning show co-host, WHUR Radio, Washington, D.C., through 2002; published first book Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big-Girl in a Small-Minded World, 2003; signed on as spokesperson and model for Just My Size, 2005. Television appearances include: Showtime at the Apollo, 1989; Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam; BET Comic View; Moesha, UPN, 1999-2000; The Parkers, UPN, 1999-2004; The Queens of Comedy (special), Showtime, 2001; It’s Showtime at the Apollo (host), 2002; Good Fences (movie), 2003; The 4th Annual BET Awards (host), BET, 2004; Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance (special), Oxygen, 2005; Mo’Nique: I Coulda Been Your Cellmate (special), Showtime, 2007; Flavor of Love: Charm School, VH1, 2007. Television work includes: executive producer, Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance (special), 2005. Film appearances include: 3 Strikes, 2000; Baby Boy, 2001; Two Can Play That Game, 2001; Half Past Dead, 2002; Soul Plane, 2004; Hair Show, 2004; Shadowboxer, 2005; Domino, 2005; Farce of the Penguins, 2006; Phat Girlz, 2006; Beerfest, 2006. Film work includes: executive producer, Phat Girlz, 2006.
Awards: Image Award for best comedy actress, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for The Parkers, 2001, 2002.
A star of the hit UPN comedy series The Parkers and several stand-up specials, full-figured, African-American actress/comedian Mo’Nique also had a solid film career. In all she did, Mo’Nique promoted plus-sized womanhood as acceptable, and looked at her size as a gift. She told Bob Longino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I always said that when God put me in position, I would change the way people view beauty. You don’t have to be a size zero to be beautiful.”
Born Monique Imes on December 11, 1967, in Maryland, she was one of four children of Steven Imes, Jr., and his wife, Alice. Mo’Nique claimed she was heavy as a baby and continued to be so throughout her childhood and adult life. With her family’s support, she always accepted her physical appearance and never let it affect her self-esteem.
Raised in Baltimore, Mo’Nique was interested in performing by the time she was a toddler. Inspired by television situation comedies, she could see herself in certain characters like Thelma on Good Times and Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. By the time she reached adulthood, Mo’Nique was working as a customer service representative for MCI.
Mo’Nique began her comedy career on a dare in 1987. One of her brothers, Steve, tried his hand at stand-up comedy. He was, according to his sister, very bad and a poor representative of the family. He bet his sister to go on stage herself at Baltimore’s Comedy Factory Outlet, so she came up with an hour’s worth of material and performed it. Mo’Nique received a standing ovation and a new career focus. She spent two years building up her comedy career and was able to leave MCI to concentrate on comedy full time by 1989.
Mo’Nique loved the rush of performing as a stand-up comedian, telling Steve Hedgpeth of the Star-Ledger, “I get instant gratification. I get to be selfish. When you do standup, it’s just you. When you hit the stage, it’s just you, and I love the fact that you know within five seconds if they like you . I love for people to touch me, that I’m right here in your face.”
In her obscenity-filled stand-up, Mo’Nique did not tell jokes per se but talked about family, sex, and her own life as a plus-sized woman in a funny way. Some of her comedy was extremely personal. Her first husband, Shalon Watkins, was physically abusive, and Mo’Nique drew on this experience for her comedy act. She did so not only for the comic value she could get out of it but also to reach out and affect those in her audience going through the same thing.
Within a few years, Mo’Nique began appearing on a number of television shows which showcased comedians. She made her television debut in 1989 on Showtime at the Apollo. Mo’Nique also appeared on Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam and BET Comic View.
A 1997 appearance at the Montreal comedy festival led to Mo’Nique appearing on television not just a comedian, but also an actress. At the festival, she impressed talent scouts with her wit and sense of humor. She was soon being considered for acting roles. Within two years, Mo’Nique landed a role on a television situation comedy The Parkers.
The origins of the show lay in Moesha, a popular UPN situation comedy in the late 1990s. One character on Moesha, Kim Parker (played by Countess Vaughn), was given her own spinoff series in 1999: The Parkers. Mo’Nique was cast as Kim Parker’s flamboyant, man-hungry mother, Nikki, on the series. Of Mo’Nique, series co-creator Sara Finney-Johnson told Nicholas Fonseca of Entertainment Weekly, “Her weight was never an issue. The execs at UPN were just excited that this woman was actually funny.”
The mother-daughter duo at the heart of The Parkers were both students at Santa Monica College, and Nikki Parker also was an important employee at a cosmetics firm. Emphasizing both physical comedy and sharp one-liners, the show proved instantly popular with black viewers. The Parkers soon posted better ratings than Moesha. By 2001, it was the number-one show among African-American viewers and remained so for most of the time it was on the air. Most critics and white audiences dismissed The Parkers, however.
During the run of The Parkers, Mo’Nique continued her comedy career. In the summers of 2001 and 2003, she toured with female comedians Laura Hayes, Sommore, and Adele Givens as the “Queens of Comedy.” The tour was filmed for a popular Showtime special. Mo’Nique also regularly toured on her own every year to enthusiastic, loyal audiences. She built her career up in other ways as well. Mo’Nique served as the host of the 2002 season of It’s Showtime at the Apollo and the 2004 BET Awards. Through 2002, she also hosted a radio show on WHUR in Washington D.C. from her home in California.
In addition, Mo’Nique launched a film acting career as The Parkers and her comedy tours brought her more attention. She appeared in her first film in 2000, 3 Strikes, and two more in 2001, Baby Boy and Two Can Play That Game. The latter was a dating comedy starting Vivica A. Fox. Mo’Nique played a female friend of Fox’s character.
Outside of show business, Mo’Nique also expanded her interests. She founded a plus-sized clothing company, Mo’Nique’s Big Beautiful and Loving It (BBLI) in 2000. Mo’Nique designed some of the line’s pieces, which included business, casual, dressy, and evening wear, before the company folded in 2002. She published a book in 2003, Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World, written with Sherri A. McGee. Entertainment Weekly’s Fonseca wrote of the bestselling tome, “The book—in which she hilariously riffs on business dinners with vegetarians and the perils of plus-sized togs—is a fluffy read. But it’s also filled with the staunch determination that’s been vital to her success in Hollywood .”
The Parkers ended its run in May of 2004, with Mo’Nique’s character marrying one of her love interests. The actress was philosophical about the show’s end. She told Jet, “It was just time . The Parkers went out at the top of the game. We don’t want nobody to send us away ‘like we are tired of them.’ I think we did what we were supposed to do. For five years, we made you laugh and now you can laugh for 50 years.”
After the end of The Parkers, Mo’Nique continued to tour as a comedian as well as take on more film roles. In 2004 alone, she had significant roles in Soul Plane and Hair Show. In the latter film, an independent production, Mo’Nique played a forthright hair-stylist named Peaches Whitaker who is estranged from her more successful sister because of a disagreement over an inheritance. The sisters reconcile amidst the humorous action of the film which culminates at a hair show. Mo’Nique drew on her own experience hosting hair shows in Baltimore early in her career for the film.
Mo’Nique’s ventures outside of television and film also played into her career. Though her own BBLI line had failed, she returned to fashion in 2005 as the Just My Size spokesperson and the brand’s face. As part of this collaboration, she had a special on Oxygen, Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance. This program focused on a beauty pageant, hosted by Mo’Nique, for full-figured women. The point of Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance was to celebrate women as they are.
Expanding her own acting career in 2005, both of her films that year displayed Mo’Nique’s acting chops. In Shadowboxer, she played a junkie named Precious. Mo’Nique also had a dramatic role in the thriller Domino as Lateesha Rodriguez.
Mo’Nique’s family also expanded in this time period. The mother of two sons, one from each of her first two marriages, Mo’Nique gave birth to twins in late 2005. Their father was Sidney Hicks, a childhood friend whom she married in May of 2006. Taking some time off from her acting career, Mo’Nique continued to tour as a comedian. She and her coauthor also collaborated on a second publishing venture, a cookbook. Published in 2006, Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted emphasized cooking with hearty ingredients such as whole milk, butter, cream, and sugar. Mo’Nique also included her own childhood food memories in addition to recipes.
Returning to the big screen in 2006, Mo’Nique lent her voice to the animated Farce of the Penguins and appeared in the comedy Beerfest. She also was both the star and executive producer of Phat Girlz. In the comedy, she played Jazmin Biltmore, a department store worker who comes to fully embrace her plus-sized status though American society does not. The film is ultimately a celebration of accepting who you are, especially if you are full-figured. Reviewing Phat Girlz in the San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub commented that “Mo’Nique, whose previous film roles have been mostly loud, over-the-top cameos, shows more range here, and her likeability in the quieter moments makes her violent outbursts that much more funny.”
In 2007, Mo’Nique came back to television with two off-beat projects. The Showtime special Mo’Nique: I Coulda Been Your Cellmate chronicled her stand-up performance at the Ohio Reformatory for Women on Mother’s Day 2006. The program also featured the comedian talking with some of the inmates about their lives. Of the affecting experience, Mo’Nique told the Star-Ledger, “When you hear their stories, it allows you to quit being judgmental. You can see through it all, they could smile. It was incredible . As much as I thought I was going in there to do something for those women, they did so much for me.”
Later that year, Mo’Nique played a key role in Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School, a reality transformation show on VH1. Taking contestants rejected on previous editions of the popular reality show Flavor of Love, Mo’Nique guided the often indelicate women through etiquette and manners training as well as other areas of self-improvement. Highlighting the women’s infighting as well, Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School was also a competition with a contestant eliminated every week. When the program began airing in April of 2007, it instantly became VH1’s most popular program. Mo’Nique also began filming roles in two films that were scheduled for release in 2007 or 2008: Steppin: The Movie, and The Better Man.
In all that she did, Mo’Nique remained committed to being true to herself and not an unreachable “star.” She told Marti Yarbrough of Jet, “I thank God for the blessings, for the talent and for using me to make people laugh. I never want to be a ‘celebrity’ where people feel like I’m untouchable. I want people to know that I’m just like you are.”
(With Sherri A. McGee) Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big-Girl in a Small-Minded World, Atria, 2003.
(As Mo’Nique Imes Jackson; with Sherri A. McGee McCovey) Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted, Amis-tad, 2006.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 2, 2001, p. 1L; August 6, 2005, p. 3C.
Brandweek, May 16, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, May 2, 2003, pp. 34-35.
Jet, November 11, 2002, p. 58; May 10, 2004, p. 54; October 25, 2004, p. 56; August 8, 2005, p. 60.
New York Times, May 12, 2007, p. B14.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), January 13, 2006, p. 33; November 1, 2006, p. F1.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 2006, p. E1.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), April 29, 2001, p. 5; March 30, 2007, p. 43. USA Today, April 27, 2007, p. 7E.
“Mo’Nique,” Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0594898/ (August 1, 2007).