Flame Monroe wants you to get one thing straight: she’s not a transgender comedian. She’s a “comedian that happens to be transgender.”
“Because if I wasn't transgender, I would probably still be a comedian,” she says. “My transgender [identitiy] is my afterthought because when you introduce me as a ‘transgender comedian’, or a ‘drag queen comedian,’ most people don't hear the ‘comedian’ part. All they hear is ‘transgender’ or ‘drag queen.’
The result is then continued difficulty for her to be treated like any one of her other funny counterparts. But just one look at her standup set and you know she can hang with the big dogs.
Monroe is one of six comedians featured in Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready, a collection of half-hour comedy specials executive produced by the Girl’s Trip breakout (and legend Wanda Sykes) now streaming on Netflix. She’s joined by Chaunté Wayans, April Macie, Tracey Ashley, Aida Rodriguez, and Marlo Williams.
Her special is the mark of someone extremely comfortable onstage and with lots to say. Out spoke with the comedian about her start in the industry, incorporating jokes about her kids into her set, and those controversial jokes made by fellow comic Dave Chappelle. (Spoiler alert: She’s thinks the LGBTQ+ community is overreacting!)
I’ve seen and heard about you for some time now even though people might just be getting to know you through the comedy special. Talk to me a little about how you got started in comedy.
I was the host and emcee of a drag shows in the underbelly of Chicago for 17 years. I hosted hair shows, I did the radio, I hosted at parties and weddings. We went to a comedy club one night called All Jokes Aside. I was actually on house arrest, had my anklet on my leg and my friends dared me to go up. So the host, whose name is Daniel Williams — I always call my first husband because he broke my comedy virginity — said, “Come up here!” So I went up there. He started roasting me from the stage, but he did not know who he was dealing with. I tore him up from the audience and he asked me to come up and he's like, “So you think you bad.” I pulled up my pants and showed him my house arrest bracelet, “Boy I'm on house arrest. You don't even want to know what for.” And a star was born. I knew then that that's all I wanted to do, make people laugh.
I just kept coming back for the open mic. There were tiny little rooms that had open mics because that's what trains you. But mind you, I was always outside my arena because there were no gay rooms for comedy. There were no rooms were I could go and be openly myself.
So how did you come into the orbit of Tiffany Haddish?
I met Tiffany once I moved to California maybe 11 years ago at the Comedy Union. When she walked up to me, she was so adorable, and she said, "Excuse me, can I ask you a question?" I said, "Yes." She says, "Are you a drag queen?" It was so innocent in the way she asked. I was like, "I am," and I hadn't gone on yet, so she didn't know I was going up. I went on stage and blazed the room and she was like, "Oh my God! One day I want to be as funny as you," I was like, "Girl, one day I want to be as adorable as you," We've been friends ever since.
What was it like then partnering with her on the comedy special for Netflix?
It was amazing. [It] changed my life because I've been in the game a long time. My talent was always there, I knew that; I never doubted my talent. But the other issue I fought against was people not accepting me for just being a comic. They only saw what I look like, they didn't hear what I had to say. There were people in positions of power to get me bookings or opportunities for work, but because I was transgender, you would hear, "Oh, you’re working with Flame? If you’re working with someone like that, you must be attracted to that." So that stopped a lot of work for me.
I never felt threatened as a transgender person in that world. I never felt like they were going to jump on me because I was gay. They never treated me like that, let me be honest and very clear about that. They just were ignorant to what I was because back then, trans visibility was not as prevalent as it is now. You would see me and then you wouldn't see another one of me until you saw me again in two or three years. Now, you can go to the grocery store, to the bookstore, to the alley, to the gym and we all up in there. We’re like Visa, everywhere you want to be.
One of the great things about the special is that you’re contributing to this conversation we're now having around trans representation, because you talk about being a father. Why was it important for you to include that tidbit in your story?
When I talk about my children, no one ever believes that I am somebody's dad. So it was very important for me to have them show that picture at the end [of the special], because truth is always way better than the fake. When you tell the truth and it resonates from you and it's genuine, people receive that better. I wanted people to know that I am somebody's daddy. This is my job. I dress up and tell jokes or do drag shows to pay my bills, to take care of my family. Who decides what a mother or father looks like? If you are honest with your children and very upfront with them and nurturing and present, your children are going to love you because you're their parent. I don't have to look like this or like that. My children are very well aware that when I'm getting in drag, I'm going to make a check which means that they're going to get a new video game, a new pair of Vans, a new skateboard.
So what has it been like being a comedian for you in this day and age?
What I have found is that the censorship in comedy is killing the game. I miss the old days of Redd Foxx, who was my personal, absolute favorite, and Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor, when you could say what you wanted to. Everybody is so butt-hurt, I feel. They get hurt so easily over something that somebody said that it’s ruining standup comedy. And there's too many comics that's just using comedy to get in to do something else. A lot of them are internet sensations. Snatch them off the internet with their six million followers and put them in front of an audience of a hundred people and drive them through the wall because that's exactly what they're going to do. They don't have the tenacity. They don't get out and do the work. I'm a student of this game until the day I die.
Well now I have to ask about Dave Chappelle and his special. A lot of people think some of his jokes are transphobic or otherwise problematic.
Let's remove the faggot word, let's remove all the expletives and let's listen to the message that he said about the pecking order of the LGBT community. When are we going to fight over what's important and unimportant because what Dave Chappelle said, as I said on the D.L. Hughley show, was nothing but fact. There is a pecking order in the LGBT community because a gay white man in America is still a white man in America. The lesbians are in the passenger seat, the bisexuals in the back, and the trannies are actually outside — I can say “tranny” because I’m of the community. But that's where he got it wrong because we're actually on the outside, in their sidecar while you all are upfront. You all only pull us out when it’s time for entertainment, a benefit, or a march, but we're not allowed to be put in the boardroom where they're making decisions on us, about us. We can't be there to talk for us. Maybe what he said was not a lie, it was very factual and I am team Dave Chappelle and I love my community but we are overly sensitive about the wrong thing.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is now trying to make those laws where you can lose your job for being transgender. All this stuff that Barack Obama and so many others fought for is going away. We mad about a pronoun or a bathroom, right? But you know when the LGBT community is going to get fixed? When we stop asking for inclusion to the outside world and fix our own stuff.
Would you say people are misinterpreting what Dave Chappelle said?
I think that they're so in an uproar about the comments that people have put on social media that they have not taken the time to sit down and look at what he said and listen to the content. Remove the F word, remove any profanity words, and all he said was that there is a pecking order in the gay community and it was funny the way he set it up. We're just in an uproar because he's not part of our community. But had I said it, what would be the difference?
I still feel like that on stage because I see the real of the world. I'm for my community but when we're wrong, I'm completely against it. So, what would be the difference? He didn't call one person a faggot, he said it as a group. When Isaiah Washington was on Grey's Anatomy, he kept calling that one guy the F-word; that was at a person. Here's the biggest kicker, as part of the LGBT community, and don't tell me you haven't, you have been out and heard two gay boys argue or a drag queen and a boy argue and first thing they holler, "You fucking faggot!" Am I lying?
Points were made.
So what is the difference? See, we make a big todo about the wrong thing. Meanwhile, this current administration is trying to erase the transgender community off the map, not the LGB just the T. I seriously believe that Donald Trump had an affair or was tricked by a tranny in his youth and he has a vendetta against the girl. [laughs] I believe that, because there's too much rage there and hate for the transgender community. You're kicking people out of the military who got 20 years. It feels like we're not fighting over that. Ed Buck killed two Black boys, and I'm sure there's another one lined up soon and they'll do another one and a half day rally and then you won't hear about it anymore. We're not fighting over that!
That's my problem with the community. We don't speak up. We keep begging, and begging, and begging, and begging to be accepted. Understand that if you force-feed anything to anybody, it makes them hate you. We can coexist in this world and just be neighbors… Let people come to us. If I didn’t want to deal with all of this from the comedy game with the straight people years ago, they would have been put me out. I waited for people to come to me. It might take my lifetime, it might take somebody else's lifetime, but when you force things on people, it leaves such a disdain in their heart and in their head.
From your perspective, are there things that you do in your comedy that lets you know that a joke is good, particularly around trans issues?
No, I just told you this. What would have been the difference with me saying that there is a pecking order in the gay community as opposed to Dave saying it? Because I am a part of the gay community, and that's only when they feel like they want to deal with me. I've been blacklisted in the Black gay community as well as in the white gay community here in California. I understand that because I'm not going to say what you want me to say or what's politically correct. My problem with our community is we're always looking for a saving grace. That's what happened in the trans community. We were looking for someone to save us, but let's save ourselves… We keep begging for the wrong thing but we can't get into the boardroom to make decisions about us having the right thing. We're putting out the little fires when we should be fighting the war.
What do you hope people get from watching your special and learning more about your story?
My job in my life is to teach the world. Because it's never my message [that confuses people]. Sometimes it’s my delivery. I can get a little hostile. I can get very passionate about something I believe in, but I give the message to you and I don't give it to you soft. I just want people to know, if you do what you do, you don't even have time to worry about what the next person is doing. My motto, my mantra that I say everyday is, "Can't no bitch do what I do.” Do you know who I'm in competition with right now? The bitch in that blue dress from the special because when I get my hour special from Netflix, I'm going to have to slay her because she was pretty good. [She’s talking about herself.]
And I know I will ruffle some feathers in my community. I have so many hats that involve so many different communities because I am a transgender, I am Black, I am four hours of the day gay, I am part of the PTA, my children do go to school with little white kids, and I live in a very white, upscale neighborhood. None of this changes who I am as a person. All of these are just parts that are in me. If we realize what we are and who we are and just try to express love to each other and stop begging for inclusion and just let people meet us where we are, the world will be a lot better place for real.