The Intern Diary: An inside look at writing for The Mo’Nique Show
I began my journey as a writing intern on The Mo’Nique Show – hosted by the comedian and Oscar-winning actress – last September. To say the least, it’s been a rewarding experience made possible by my professor, Stephanie Leonard. During the internship, I’ve learned skills that I would not have gotten anywhere else. What follows is a typical day in the writers’ room of The Mo’Nique Show, from initial development process to final taping.
The audience members for today’s show slowly file into the cast-loading area before entering Turner Studios where we film the show. The cast of the NBC sci-fi drama The Event are the guests and will be interviewed by Mo’Nique.
I enter the writers’ room on the fourth floor of Turner Studios. A monologue needs to be created as soon as possible for Mo’Nique. The head writers of the show – Mitchell Marchand, Vanessa Fraction, Akintunde Warnock and Elijah Everett – volley ideas back and forth like bombs from two battleships.
“What if we place the cast of The Event in a comedic pre-tape where they are kidnapped by aliens?” One of the writers chimes in from the cubicle space, “Okay, if the The Event is centered around an alien invasion, what if we have Mo’Nique save the cast from being attacked by random monsters?” Everyone nods in unison, but something else is needed. There has to be a “button,” or something that the audience can relate to and cause them to erupt in uncontrollable laughter. The audience cannot turn the channel before the monologue is finished. We need them to stay tuned.
We have to run downstairs to the studio to have Mo’Nique approve the monologue. The entire writing staff crams into the elevator, still discussing ideas for the show and how to tighten the script. It’s all a part of the creative process and the only way that we can create a strong narrative. We enter Mo’Nique’s dressing room, where she he has been working hard since 5 a.m.
BET’s crew call times can start anywhere from 6 to 10 a.m. Sets must be ready to go and all camera and sound components must be put in place. Mo’Nique starts her day at 4 a.m. and usually doesn’t end until 9 p.m. On top of that, she does two shows a day while balancing home and work life. She embodies the definition of the daily grind.
We all gather around anxiously awaiting her suggestions and feedback. “My sugars,” she says to us after hearing and reading the pitch ideas, “I like this, but it needs a little more kick. How about we try trimming this concept down?” Her suggestions are always spot on and give us new perspectives into the monologue.
Forty-five minutes before show time, there is no time to waste. The “split” occurs at this point. We call it the split because we have to somehow be in five different places at once: the directors’ room, the teleprompter set up, the main stage, Mo’Nique’s dressing room and the writers’ room. Each production assistant leaves with a writer and we go about our business. One of us finds a glaring mistake in the monologue. “Move the commas!” “Fix the bullet points!” The whole dynamic of the monologue can change in the blink of an eye. The beats have to hit or it’s lights out.
Zero hour. Mo’Nique is about to exit the dressing room and perform her daily ritual of reading a Bible passage before going on stage. One more mad dash to give Mo’Nique a copy of the script for final approval. She scans the monologue quickly, looking for specific changes. “Let’s get it,” she says. Boom. A weight has been lifted. The show can go on.
We run the monologue one more time, making changes and small edits. Treniece, the teleprompter typist, expertly makes the changes without a moment to spare. Mo’Nique comes out of the elevator onto the set and all of the pre-components – music, lighting and set up of the monologue – go off without a hitch. Mo’Nique enters the center stage and the writing staff, producers and audience all anxiously await the run through for the first monologue.
Mo’Nique and her co-host Rodney Perry hit beat after beat as the audience falls into fits of laughter. The writing team exits after the first segment and goes back upstairs to prepare for the second show. Another round of feverish brainstorming is about to take place. Our next show will feature the cast of the new film Fast and Furious Five and we only have two hours to prep. The Write Squad, as it’s affectionately known, all sit around the table jotting down notes preparing to do our job of making people laugh.