BET has effectively turned Atlanta into its secondary headquarters. The network has taped several reality shows here, its hip-hop awards and now a nightly talk show starring larger-than-life comedienne Mo’Nique.
I attended the 11th taping of the show, which has been shot at Turner Studios the past couple of weeks. They are doing 150 episodes this year at a pace of six a week (and saving them up down the road)
The show I was invited to will the first one to air at 11 p.m. October 5 on BET and has a “Welcome to Atlanta” theme. Guests included her friend and Atlanta-based star Steve Harvey, Atlanta R&B singer Monica (who has a reality show coming up on BET), Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin and singer Jeremih (’Birthday Sex,” “I’m a Star”)
Former Dekalb CEO Vernon Jones was spotted in the audience as well.
The set is impressive. It includes a sizable stage for singers with a large screen behind it on the left, another area for a live band to the right and a center arena for interviews. Over each is a massive chandelier. The focal backdrop is a night-time cityscape from a high vantage point. Thus, Mo’Nique dubs her TV home “the penthouse” and the 135-person audience (mostly middle-aged black women) is there to party.
It takes two hours for the producers to tape a one-hour show. There are plenty of breaks, a few re-dos and extra material likely to be trimmed for airing.
The warmup comic Gerard Guillory told the audience that this is not just a show but a late-night shindig, that they are there to celebrate the new “queen of late night talk.” He even has the crowd tape various reactions such as boisterous laughter and minor chuckle to be used later if necessary.
At about 7:40 p.m., Mo’Nique hit the stage in a tight black dress with red lips emobssed on her right butt cheek, dancing her way down a set of stairs. She starts the show giving props to local civil rights legend Xernona Clayton, who did her own local talk show back in the late 1960s.
During her first commercial break, she threw out a few cuss words (her standup act can get down and dirty), then sang about the fact she was cussing. “Cussing is good, cussing is great,I’m cussing around my plate,” she sang, extemporaneously. She then re-shot her opening closeout because she forgot to introduce her four”big girl dancers.” (Yes, she supports the size 14s of the world!)
Her sidekick is comic Rodney Perry, who just moved to Atlanta a few weeks earlier. He tries to introduce Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin but the teleprompter does not have her name on it. He is fed the line and gets a good laugh before doing it in a second take. The mayor gives Mo’Nique a “Phoenix” award and scotts off the stage before the comedienne gets a chance to ask her any questions.
Mo’Nique introduced her first sit-down guest. Steve Harvey, who like Mo’Nique has found a home in Atlanta. She recounted Harvey encouraging her 16 years earlier at Atlanta’s Uptown Comedy Corner. He predicted at the time that she’ll be a big star in the business. She never forgot that.
And better yet – he got it right. Then she surprised him with an odd request. Harvey had placed her as the opener for the weekend for $250 that day in 1993. People liked her so much, they moved her to the opener, then the headliner. But she only got paid that $250. This night, she demanded a facetious $1.7 million, $1 for each of his current bestselling book in print.
“She’s my girl,” he said later in a brief interview to me. “This is a big moment.” As for the money, “I owe her nothing!”
Her other sit-down guest Monica, in a new ‘do, promoted her reality show. She also sang a bit during the breaks, much to the delight of the crowd. Jeremih then sang on the big stage while Mo’Nique boogied away.
At the end, to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” Mo’Nique feted Xernona Clayton once again.
After the show, she hugged her fans who came up to her, a signature move of hers that goes back years. Overall, it was a good time had by all. It’ll be interesting to see if the goodwill and energy translates on the TV screen next Monday. I’ll be posting my interview with Mo’Nique later in the week or Monday.
If you want tickets, you can call 404-885-4357. The tickets are free and the show will be shot at 12PM and 4PM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.