The Flashback Interview: Monique Marvez
I was in a very dark place in the 00s. Trying to figure out life as a twentysomething on the autism spectrum, I was frustrated and angry in many ways. Those ways often made their way into my sleep, so I needed a way to find a peaceful rest every night. Comedy CDs became the way I found that peaceful rest, or something close to it. That’s how I became familiar with comedienne Monique Marvez.
Monique’s style of comedy is risque, yet very comforting and supportive. Her tales of growing up in Miami and discovering all about life and love accompanied me during many stressful nights, serving as a way for me to express feelings that I couldn’t otherwise because of my mother, who loved me as a son, but didn’t like me as a person.
Many years later, I reached out to Monique Marvez about an interview, and she agreed to it. We spoke in Fall of last year, and I invite you today to get to know this wonderfully talented and compassionate person.
Say hello to Monique Marvez!
Johnny: Hello, Ms. Marvez.
Monique: Hello, sir! How are you today?
Johnny: I’m doing good. First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Monique: My pleasure.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go. I’ll start with this: You’re part of what some call Generation Jones, but which I refer to as the BoomXers, the micro-generation born betweeen 1955 and 1963 that, as can be inferred from the name, bridges the Baby Boomers and Generation X. How has being a BoomXer impacted your outlook on the world?
Monique: I love that you asked that question. That’s such a smart question. I’ll tell you how. I love being a BoomXer because the generation right before me is an enormous generation of people who are incredibly invested in prolonging their lives, in looking better and maintaining their sex lives in their old age. I’m living in a time where people would rather eat wet worms than be bald, or not be able to get boners, or not look young.
All of these inventions, Botox and hair extensions and Viagra, organic food and Pilates and yoga, that are now so incredibly commonplace were not in my childhood or adolescence. Every single advantage to prolonging your life in the best possible ways have come in the part of my life where I can benefit and enjoy them.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question, you’ve expressed a like for my Sandahl Bergman interview, and you’ve rocked some rather Fosse-esque outfits on your social media…
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem, so did you start out as a dancer before you made the jump to comedienne?
Monique: No, sir. I’m just an overall appreciator of the arts. I actually saw All That Jazz when I was a senior in high school, and it impacted me profoundly, and then, art imitating life, Bob Fosse died shortly after the film, impacting me even more deeply. It’s one of those movies that I revisit on a pretty regular basis. I own the DVD and the soundtrack, and I used to have it on VHS, because it is such a synopsis of life. Dance is a synopsis of life, and so is art. It’s how we can measure ourselves as a society and as human beings. It’s by the art that’s created around us and that, more importantly, we appreciate and resonate with.
Johnny: Definitely. Art definitely has the power to do that. Switching gears, who have been your biggest influences as a stand-up comic?
Monique: To be honest, the older generation. I’m phenomenally impressed with Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers. Lucille Ball wasn’t a traditional stand-up, but she made a huge impression on me. Carol Burnett, as a comedic actress and performer. Of the younger generation, there’s people I like and admire, but many, many years ago, almost 30, I was blessed to be able to do a guest set when Bill Hicks was in town. Bill Hicks just knocked my socks off as an impressionable open micer.
Johnny: Wow! So when it does come to your comedy, you definitely have a unique way of telling your stories and jokes, a way that’s raunchy yet, in many ways, educational.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, you’re welcome. Where does the educational part come from?
Monique: Well, here’s the thing. You see my club act because that’s what on social media, but I just finished a community luncheon for women in their 80s, a group called Cascades. It was relatively clean, but more than anything, I aspire in every performance to leave people better than I found them. I guess that’s what takes form, whether you call it education or a message or positivity. Whatever it is, it’s because with every performance, clean or raunchy, corporate or comedy club, again, I always aspire to leave people better than I found them.
Johnny: That’s very noble, and I can definitely tell that through your albums that I’ve heard. You definitely do have a way of inspiring people.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: You’re welcome. In your early days as a comic, what was the easiest part of performing and, conversely, what part was the hardest?
Monique: The easiest part was the performance itself because once I’m on stage, there’s sort of a transference of energy where I’m one with the audience and they’re one with me. The easy part is the show. The hard part is always breaking the barriers, getting male bookers that didn’t want to book a female because they thought I was a man-hater, or that I was going to talk about PMS or my idiot kids, the stereotypical material that a lot of women cover. That’s not my material.
Johnny: Alright. It’s definitely very funny material.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. I would like to do a bit of free association for these next few questions. I’ll give you the name of one of your albums, and I’d like to hear what you were feeling, where your headspace was at, during that time, starting with Built For Comfort.
Monique: Built For Comfort was a name that was told to me by a guy in South Florida who was a huge branding guy. He’s a very big advertising mogul, and he loves jazz. I was heavier at the time than I am now, and he said, “You know, Monique, there’s a guy named Howlin’ Wolf. He has a song called Built For Comfort, and everything about you is comfortable. You’re curvy. You’re kind. You’re easy on the eye. You’re not a mean-spirited person”.
He actually bought me the Howlin’ Wolf album so I could hear the old song, Built For Comfort, and I just loved the vibe. It was New Orleans. It was intimate. It was jazzy. It felt right. I loved the concept of it, every aspect of Built For Comfort, what it meant.
Johnny: It’s definitely a fantastic album, one of the first of yours’ I’d ever heard.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. Moving ahead a few years, where were you at when recording The Reality Chick?
Monique: I was in a very hard place in my life, oddly enough. This was before reality television got big, but it was actually a play on words for “reality check”, which is, “Where are you in your life? What do you want to do? What’s next for you?”. I recorded that in the early 2000s, and it was really about this new world order. The internet was coming into play, and I was just checking myself. “Where are you? What do you want? What do you want to have happen in your life next? Because it’s up to you to make it happen”, and I did.
Johnny: You certainly did. Very fantastic stuff.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. More recently, how were you feeling when recording Sound Advice For Unsound Minds?
Monique: Again, comedy has to be real, and not about, “Oh, I have to fulfill a contract”, you know? I usually reach out to the producers when I have new material, a new take on things, and I’m ready to record. That was a time in my life where I’d already done Latin Divas, and I wanted to get a more mature voice out there. “Hey, I’ve lived a little. I’ve been an artist for almost 20 years, and here’s my perspective. This is some information I’ve gleaned that I think might be of use to you, too”.
Johnny: It definitely was a very good album. I particularly liked how you dedicated the performance to some audience members who’d recently lost their father. I found that very touching.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: I’ve actually been there myself. I lost my dad when I was 12, and my mom when I was 27.
Monique; Oh, what a horror! I’m so sorry.
Johnny: It was rough but, thankfully, I had pop culture to help me make my way through it, and again, it’s the power of art to heal.
Johnny: Returning to you, of all the gigs you’ve played, which has been the best and, conversely, what was the worst?
Monique; The best gig I’ve ever done? (Laughing) This is going to be one of those answers that sounds trite, but it’s true. The last gig. Whatever I just did, I’m always grateful I had that opportunity, like today. Like I said, I was in a room with a lot of older gals, a lot of them Jewish, a lot of them lived challenging lives.
I did my act, and I had an 89-year-old woman who, by the way, looks spectacular for her age, tell me, “I got divorced after 40-something years of marriage because I decided I deserved better, and it wasn’t too late. I want you to know that your comedy really inspired me today that I made the right decision”. When I get those little nuggets like that, what can I tell you? That’s so powerful.
Johnny: It certainly is, and that is a wonderful story. To go to my next question, you’ve gone on USO and Armed Forces Entertainment tours, so what are those like for a performer?
Monique: Amazing. There’s no other word. They are so appreciative of you. They go bananas letting you know how much you mean to them, and it’s such a great feeling.
Johnny; I can definitely see that, and that leads me to ask: As the starting years of your career coincided with the final years of his, did you ever cross paths with Bob Hope?
Monique: Bob Hope? No. I would’ve liked to. I was blessed to have crossed paths with George Burns, and that was pretty unbelievable.
Johnny: Wow! How did that happen?
Monique: He was being honored at the Montreal Comedy Festival. This was many years ago, either ’92 or ’93, and he had just signed a deal that if he lived to be 100, he was going to perform at The Palladium in London on his 100th birthday. He was talking about the contract, and it was the most adorable conversation he had with his audience. What really made it amazing, and the part that I really want you to hear, is that he had an assistant, right?
Monique: …And George Burns, let’s just say for the sake of this discussion, was 95 or 96 at the time. His assistant was 75, and every single time they would pose a question to him, it was so cute. They would ask the question of George Burns, who still had good hearing, by the way, and the assistant would yell, “What?”. They’d repeat the question to the assistant, but George had already heard the question.
The funny part was that the assistant was hard-of-hearing, but not George, so the entire interview was something of a Who’s On First?. It was so funny. It was this magically hilarious moment that you can’t imitate or make up, and the fact was that George loved this man, and kept him as his assistant for many years, and George was in better shape than the assistant.
Johnny: That’s a fantastic story, and how lucky you were to see that.
Monique: Yes, I believe that.
Johnny: Switching gears, you’ve spent a lot of time in radio, so do you find terrestrial radio to be stifling compared to podcasts and satellite radio, or have you been able to work within its’ constraints well?
Monique: Here’s what I will tell you. Every media has its’ pros and cons, every single one. The job of the performer who has taken the gig, and if you don’t want the gig, don’t take the gig, is to make the most of the medium.
Johnny: Alright, and you certainly have done that with your work.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. With the radio work you’ve done, what have been your proudest moments, whether it’s a joke you told or a question you asked?
Monique: Oh, this is a great question. Thank you. The proudest moment was that I was at a dinner party with some important performers. It was a politically based party, and I’m not a political person at all, but a girlfriend invited me to this party. Carole Bayer Sager was there. Stephen Stills, Lisa Bloom (Gloria Allred’s daughter)…It was a really tony crowd but, clearly, the most important person at the party was Lily Tomlin because, you know, she’s Lily.
Monique: …And everybody was sort of orbiting her. You can tell at parties in L.A who the important person is because people circle them like satellites. Everybody’s circling Lily, and then we sit down to dinner. It’s a small party, only about 12 people. We sit down, and I had to do my radio show that night on KFI, so i tell Lily, “Forgive me, but I have to do a show tonight”.
She said, “Oh, are you a performer?”, and I said, “Well, predominantly, I’m a stand-up, but I need to get to Burbank to do my radio show”, and she says, and I quote, “What’s your name?”. I said, “Monique Marvez”, and she said, “Oh, my god. I listen to you every Saturday night. You’re a genius. I love your work!”.
Monique: You can’t beat that with a stick, my friend.
Johnny; Definitely not. When this interview goes up, I’ll have to share it with my friend Kat Kramer, who’s a big fan of Lily Tomlin’s work and has worked with her several times.
Monique: I will send you the picture of her hugging me.
Johnny: Oh, wow! That’s fantastic. That will be a great illustration for the interview.
Johnny: Switching gears, I saw on your website that you’ve done some writing for Dick Wolf and Wolf Films. Was it for the Law And Order franchise or the Chicago franchise, and what went into the process of writing for Mr. Wolf’s company?
Monique: Actually, it wasn’t for either. How it worked out was I had a talent holding deal to develop my own show for Dick Wolf Productions. We made it almost to pilot, and it was a wonderful experience writing for the company because they gave me carte blanche to create my version of Everybody Loves Raymond for me.
Johnny: That would’ve been a fantastic show because you are a fantastic talent.
Monique: Thank you. I think it would’ve been darn good, but you know what? You never know what the future holds.
Johnny: That’s certainly true. Switching back to stand-up, you worked with my two-time interview subject and Facebook friend, the late, great Judy Tenuta on several gigs.
Monique: Aww, I loved her!
Johnny: What are your favorite memories of working with Judy?
Monique: How generous and kind she always was. She always tried to make other people look good. She never tried to have the spotlight on her. She just didn’t. She wasn’t that person.
Johnny: After her passing, I saw how many people talked about how loving and supportive she was, and I could definitely tell that from the interviews I did with her. She just kept fighting all the way to the end, and was making funny videos and posts practically to the end. That was very inspiring, and she was definitely a fantastic talent. Speaking of which, did you ever cross paths with the late Robin Williams during any of your travels?
Monique: I did. He was wonderful. I was at Comic Relief in the Spring of 1998, one of the last times they actually had the three of them together, Whoopi, Billy and Robin. He was such a nice man, and I remember Robin smiling at Billy, as he won Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting, and he said, “Hey, since last you saw me, I won an Oscar!”. He said it very lightheartedly and sweetly, and the reaction he got from Billy Crystal wasn’t one of congratulations.
It was a little bit less than I would’ve expected from a guy who appears as jovial and delightful as Billy Crystal, but it was a good-natured tease. It was so him, and you could see that he was genuinely proud that he won this, something that wasn’t just a rant or a voice or a cartoon. You could also tell from the way Robin treated the camera people because during set-up and rehearsal at Radio City, you could see that Robin was just a nice man.
Johnny: That’s lovely to hear. I’ve heard a lot of good things about him from talents I’ve interviewed over the years. It’s definitely a testament to his goodness. Returning to you, though, and for a bigger picture question, what, in your opinion, goes into good comedy writing?
Monique: Thoughtfulness and truth. What are you trying to say? I never, ever set out to write a joke. I set out to write something I want to say, and then I wrap it in bacon so people will eat it. I make it funny, but I always want to say something. I don’t want to waste people’s time. If they’re listening to me, I want to say something.
Johnny: Well, it’s definitely good stuff you say.
Monique: Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. Speaking of which, some comedians have said that the current stand-up climate is too restrictive, while others feel that the changes are a good thing, so what’s your take on it?
Monique: Number one, I never worry about cancel culture or woke because, call the whatever you want, I call them the kids, but the younger generations are all about the experiential and feeling, and I tell my fellow comedians and performers, they’re a sniff test. They pick you up and sniff you, and you either smell right or you don’t. If you smell right, you’re good, and if you don’t, they put you down and that’s the end of it.
I’m like catnip to the kids because cancel culture isn’t about words or specific jokes. It’s about intentions. You can say whatever you want if you’re well-intentioned, but if you’re out there just trying to get a cheap laugh, or say something unauthentic, or try to retread an old joke, or not checking your intention for whose feelings could be really hurt by telling this cheap joke, then they’re not going to like you.
Since I’m not that person, and I don’t launch from there, I never give it a second thought. In fact, during COVID, the kids discovered me, and I’m delighted at how young and devoted my fan base is.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear, and a very interesting outlook on the subject. Jumping back for a question to your journeys with fellow comedians, did you ever cross paths with Gilbert Gottfried?
Monique: I did, again, at the Montreal Comedy Festival. He was an extremely peculiar man. If he were a food, you would say he was an acquired taste. I wasn’t left with any lasting impression as it was a comedian group with a lot of camraderie. He was definitely a peculiar man.
Johnny: Yeah. I met him at the Chiller Theatre convention in 2017. He was friendly, but he was the total opposite of his on-screen persona, a very quiet guy. Speaking of comedy, and talking in a big picture question again, it’s now endemic as opposed to pandemic, but how has COVID impacted the way you perform?
Monique: Well, it affected me *during* COVID as I had to master the art of Zoom, and that was bizarre, but I did it. I think I was luckier than most comedians since I’ve done so many things because Zoom is really a combination of radio, stand-up and public speaking. It’s not like anything else. You can’t say, “It’s just like blah blah” because it’s not. It’s a thing unto itself. I was lucky because I think I mastered Zoom better than most comedians. I was able to adapt because of my radio background.
Afterwards, i felt enormous gratitude when I could perform in front of people. First, it was half-empty venues, and then there were people wearing masks. You had spaced-out people, and you couldn’t really see their faces, so you couldn’t see if they were laughing. You could hear it and feel it, but you couldn’t see beneath their masks. Now, when I’m in a full room and I can see everyone’s face, I’m very, very grateful.
Johnny; Me, too. I mean, we are going to have to live with it for a long time, but I’m glad that things are relatively back to normal now.
Monique: I agree. I think so, too.
Johnny: To go to another question related to your comedy, you came of age in Florida, and you currently live in California, so which do you feel is more conducive to comedy, the southern East Coast or the southern West Coast?
Monique: Oh, for sure, the southern West Coast for comedy. The capitols of comedy are Los Angeles and New York. I mean, that’s just a fact.
Johnny: Alright. I guess I was asking that question because I know a lot of people online get a lot of comedic mileage out of Florida.
Monique: Oh, no. Florida is hilarious. There’s just not a lot of places to perform. In fact, if you want a laugh, I’ll give you a little funny exercise. Put in any date at all, “on this day in Florida”, and read the headlines. It’s a Google theme I taught my friends, and it never fails to delight or horrify.
Johnny: (Laughing) Indeed. For my next question, in addition to your next comedy gigs, what’s next for you?
Monique: Well, I’m going to be producing a one-hour special. That’s in the works, and that will be fun. I’m also working with some tech companies about safer and better places for comedians to post their intellectual property so they get paid, and they are respected a little more than the usual suspects do now. In a weird way, I feel like I’m entering a new and second phase, you know? The first 30 years went great, and now I want to see what the second thirty years bring me.
Johnny; Fantastic. Speaking of which, that leads me to my final question which, in a way, is sort of a follow-up to my first one. You have a very youthful spirit about you, so how are you able to maintain that?
Monique: i think a short answer is faith. When people say that, it’s not church faith or Bible faith or Christian faith. I don’t like to be labeled those things, so when I say faith, people want to project onto it their own misgivings, and it’s not that. I have faith in my fellow man, and I have faith in the goodness of the zeitgeist, the energy.
I always ask people, “Do you believe in something bigger than you?”. Almost 85 percent of people do believe in something outside of themselves, and I say, “If you bother to think of something bigger than you, and believe that it exists, why don’t you take five more steps towards it and believe that it’s on your side? That it’s benevolent”.
If you’re not going to believe that the universe is conspiring for you, what’s the point in believing at all? You might as well be an angry atheist. As long as you’re believing, believe in good. I just believe in good. I have faith in the goodness of the universe, of the energy force of my fellow man.
Johnny: That’s a very good outlook to have, and I can definitely relate to it. It took me a long time to get there. As this interview is wrapping up, and as I mentioned in my introductory e-mail to you, I first found your work during a very dark period of time in my life.
The 00s were a very bad decade for me. I was screwed up by the 9/11 attacks into voting against my interests and being a very angry and bitter person. It’s not the person I am now, but I was in a very dark spot, and I sought out relief wherever I could. While I primarily got it from the pop culture of the 80s, I also got it from some pop culture of the 00s as well, which is how I came across your comedy.
I’ve always listened to stand-up comedy CDs when I fall asleep, and I just bought some of your CDs on a whim, The Reality Chick and Built For Comfort, and I liked what I heard. You had a very positive outlook on things, and if I may be frank, the adult parts of your comedy allowed me to express myself in a way that I couldn’t as I was under the thumb of a mom who didn’t understand my autism spectrum disorder, not did she allow me to express myself in a lot of other ways.
Your comedy helped me to express things I really wouldn’t be able to until her passing, and until I reached the age of 30, so you definitely played a large part in offering comfort to me during a very dark time.
Monique: Well, thank you for letting me know that. When somebody says something to me like autism, it’s the same as saying brown hair. All it means to me is that you have something that I don’t. Whether it’s because you’re a boy or have blonde hair, it’s just another part of the human experience. I don’t judge any condition to be any better or worse than any other condition.
You saying you have autism is like me saying I’m terrible at math. It doesn’t make you any less wonderful of a human being, and I’m so careful, when I get an opportunity, to let people know, “Call yourself something by way of explanation”. It’s like when I say I’m Latino or I’m female, but in no way should anyone take any descriptor and turn it into a point of judgment, or negativity, or perjorative. It means nothing. All it means is that you’re explaining to me a little more about you so that I can get to know you better and thus, almost always, like you better.
Johnny: That’s a very noble outlook to have, and I’m glad we had this time to talk. I know my questions may not exactly have been the funniest, but…
Monique: No, I like them. You’re a very good interviewer. You asked very appropriate questions that allowed me to talk about things that matter to me, so you did everything right on your end, and I’m very excited to see what you do with it.
Johnny: Thank you very much, Ms. Marvez, and I hope you have a good evening.
Monique: Thank you, Mr. Caps. I already did. You added a lot to it.
Johnny; Thank you. Be well.
Monique: You, too.
I would again like to thank Monique Marvez for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more about Monique’s life and work, you can visit her official website, which has links to all her social media.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with Oscar-winning makeup artist Kevin Haney, dancer/singer Deborah Jenssen, two-time Oscar-winning sound designer Russell Williams II, Oscar-winning hairstylist Anne Morgan, and actress/musician/writer Michele Levy.
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