Comedian Queenie TT is back to driving herself to gigs. That’s not due to her limo driver’s quitting; it’s because she can finally fit behind the steering wheel of a car once again.
Since she started performing stand-up comedy about three years ago, Kamane' Malvo Marshall a.k.a. Queenie TT has lost weight the equivalent of an entire other person.
But lymphedema—a disease resulting in severe tissue swelling and fluid retention—and thyroid disease have not kept the sassy TT off the stage and on to headlining clubs.
Kamane’ was dubbed “TT” by her family. It stands for “Tremendous Tail,” an endearing reference to her always-pronounced booty. “Queenie” has been her nickname since Girl Scouts, as she’s always been fabulously adorned in flowing frocks—and usually be-wigged.
I saw Queenie TT just tear up a sold-out crowd at Comedy Off Broadway in Oakland, where she exploded raw humor, emotion and sexuality—and then she had a breakthrough on stage. More on that in a minute.
TT is headlining at the famed Purple Onion in San Francisco on August 25, so we chatted about that and the continuing evolution of her comedy as she side-steps jokes about her weight, and, of course, we had an Oprah moment.
Corey Andrew: Some folks would be hiding their ‘before’ photos but not Queenie TT. You’re not hiding a thing from before your bariatric surgery!
Queenie TT: No. No! I was sexy before and sexy after, OK? People think it’s strange that I’m not ashamed of my 455-pound self, but they don’t understand it was that woman who got me here.
I miss big TT. I mourn her. She still is my big girl hero. I don’t ever want big TT to die. I want to develop a one-woman show. I want to have someone make me a really cute fat suit when I get down to my goal weight, which is supposed to be between 150 and 175 pounds.
At my intermission, I want to come out as big TT and do all my old jokes. That’s my dream, seriously. Some people think that’s crazy, but I think it’s fabulous.
Corey: No, that’s fantastic. You’ve got the big, headlining show at the iconic Purple Onion. Are you getting excited?
Queenie TT: I’m so excited! My God. I bought three new wigs (laughs). I found this Web site called Hair-sisters dot com, where you can find these fabulous wigs for like 75 percent off. And because I’m a long-term customer, I get free shipment, OK! Holla! I’m trying to figure out my outfit.
I have my monologue down. I always let the spirit of comedy flow because every audience has its own life, its own personality. I tap into that to make sure I have something new and fresh and nuanced for that audience.
Corey: Since this is a big show, is there something out of the ordinary you have planned?
Queenie TT: Yeah, I am going to tackle politics. I hate politics, but I figured out a clearer way of showcasing my take on what’s going on in politics right now. My thing is going deeper than just the big girl story.
A year from now, that story’s gonna change. The weight loss has made me brave enough to talk about something else. I’m not 400 pounds anymore. There’s definitely a difference between a 200-pound woman and a 400-pound woman, how you’re received, perceived and everything else. For me, comedy is definitely cathartic, definitely my therapy and everything.
I’m challenging myself to deal with topics my audience will be surprised to hear from me. That’s my big sh-boom boom.
Corey: You’ve got to keep evolving, right?
Queenie TT: Exactly. It’s evolution, that’s for sure.
Corey: The Oakland show I saw you at, with the Comedians of Disabilities Act, that was an emotional one for you.
Queenie TT: Yes, it was.
Corey: How did that show get to you?
Queenie TT: That was the first time I did my reveal. My reveal, showing my leg, is showing what the disease of Lymphedema does. It has deformed my legs, especially my left leg. It’s very prominent. That was a very special and unique night. I was personally going through some things, accepting my slimmer body and accepting the fact I would no longer be able to be the same type of advocate for the big people community.
When I walked onstage, the amount of love and immediate acceptance I received from what I call a mainstream audience was amazing. I’m used to performing for an urban audience, people of all colors. This was basically all-white with a sprinkling of color.
I have performed for that type of crowd before, but it was not necessarily a positive experience (laughs)! This crowd was like, ‘Bring it. Whatever you got, we want it.’ I was able to really share my story, really be Kamane’ on stage and not necessarily Queenie. It was life-changing. I literally have not been the same type of comedian since that performance. I did a performance right after that at the Black Repertory Theatre in Berkeley. I opened for Donald Lacey. He did a one-man show called ‘Sexphobias.’ After that, I did the Punchline. I got booked at the Improv. I’m mainstreaming. My last performances have been mainstream to all-white crowds. That mainstream voice was a challenge for me, but it’s not any longer.
Corey: What is it doing to your material?
Queenie TT: Most of my material was centered around weight and had a very, very urban flaire. Kind of sexually charged. That’s fine. One of the first things they want to attack as a big woman is your sexuality. That’s why I would be very sexual. I have so much more in me than those two topics. It’s been an evolution. I used to be able to hide behind the 455 pounds. I’m not able to do that anymore.
That Disabilities show was kind of like a test. I passed that test within myself. That’s like my new chocolate. Seriously, every time I take the stage, I want to be able to take a roomful of strangers on a journey and, at the end, have them have a sense of who I am. They get my comedy. They get why I have great jokes about my vagina.
They also get why I have great jokes about God, and they don’t judge that, because I have those two dynamics in my act. They get it.
The other thing is I’m healthy enough to let that creativity flow. Before, when I was really sick and heavier, I used to have to choreograph my steps so I could get through my material and still breathe. I can breathe now. I can move now.
Corey: As this evolution has continued, was there a moment where you were scared that you weren’t going to be able to hide behind the weight anymore?
Queenie TT: Oh, yeah, I’m still scared. I’m still that little girl (starting to cry). I’m gonna get myself. I’m cool, though. That little girl, 8, you know, dealing with weight and being different from everybody, she’s still there. And, I’m fighting for the quality of my life, and I’m fighting for the quantity. When you are in the midst of that type of struggle, when she still acts to entertain and make people feel good, there’s always a level of fear. You don’t want your pain to interfere with your job. Where I still deal with fear is, you know, pain with who I am. My message is self-love. That’s for me first. I just happen to be the translator of that message for the masses, but that’s for me first. I think I will always have to deal with self-esteem issues because there’s damage there. That’s just something that’s what I have to deal with. Where I become fearful is that I’m not going to be able to deliver. I have such a passion and drive for people and such a love for people. Such a love for hurting people. I know what that feels like, to feel like you don’t have a voice. I just want to do a good job.
Corey: When did that little girl discover how funny she was?
Queenie TT: I have been making people laugh for as long as I can remember. My mama told me she loved my childhood. She said, ‘I don’t like to choose favorites. That’s not what I’m trying to say,’ but, of all her children, I made her laugh the most. She liked to hang out with me (laughs) because I would make her feel good and make her laugh.
That’s an African-American tradition, because being marginalized against society, we have to escape. Our homes are our escape. We can be ourselves. We don’t have to put on what we call our ‘white voice.’ We can take our wig off and be ourselves.
In the context of that, we would tell stories, we would sing, we would dance, we would act. One would try to outdo the other one, and I would always win! Some of my best material is based on my actual life with my family. We are insane. I don’t have to go far for my material, let’s put it that way!
Corey: Are you treated differently now within the comedy community?
Queenie TT: Oh, yeah. I’m respected now by both men and women. Some of the men didn’t quite take me seriously. I think it was pity. They would say, ‘She’s getting laughs because they feel bad for her because she’s morbidly obese.’ I was super morbidly obese and visibly sick. I feel a level of respect amongst my peers.
There’s a lot more gossip around me. I can do one thing; then the rumors spread. I heard that I’m gonna have my own reality show deal. No, I’m trying out for reality shows. When you try out, they have you tape a day in your life. I do have a TV appearance coming up, but it has nothing to do with comedy. It’s a reality-based show.
They were so into my story, they’re having me come out and my husband. I don’t know all what’s going on. They’ve been talking to my husband a lot. I don’t know what all I’m walking into in New York in August!
Corey: If you were to have your druthers, would you do the acting thing or a one-woman show?
Queenie TT: Right now, I would love to do both. For me, the sky is the limit. If I had to choose where I am on this journey, I would love to tour with a one-woman show to be able to pull off an acting role. I definitely need to study more. I am taking acting lessons now, and I am developing that craft.
Corey: It’s like the journey Mo’Nique has been on—not afraid of talking about sexuality onstage. You can watch her for five minutes, and it doesn’t have to all be about weight and sex. She’s a storyteller. It’s a very exciting time for you.
Queenie TT: I’m excited. What excited me the most is I’m healthy enough to do it all and take on the pace. Things people take for granted. Putting clothes on. Walking to the car. These things used to be difficult to the point of impossible for me some days.
In some ways it’s like I’m a little kid again. The reason I say that is before I was filtering emotion through food and sickness. That is now being filtered through a healthy woman, who is no longer allowed—I’m incapable of excess food. Many of the mobility issues I once had, they’re gone.
Even though I still have the swollen legs, it’s just the legs that are swollen, not the whole body. As far as I’m concerned, I’m past the surgery. I see myself posing for Playboy right now. I see myself signing that contract for that show called ‘Queenie.’ It was that vision that kept me going, that raised me off the hospital bed when they said, ‘You can’t do that.’ ‘Watch me.’
It was just that, the passion—that’s God-given—that drives me and definitely my love and support system from my husband, Steven, and my momma and my dad. My husband came home working a double shift and is in there sleeping right now. That Irish man loves all this here!
Corey: Do you have a timetable for the surgery for your legs?
Queenie TT: Not yet. I’m seeing a second set of surgeons today. The other surgeon out here where I live in Modesto didn’t want to touch me. Literally. I told him, ‘I want this off my leg.’ I went through a couple doctors to get to him. He did not touch me. He had me stand across the room, looked at me and said, ‘No. You’re still losing weight.’ I said, ‘I understand that, but I’m also to my plateau.’
Almost 100 pounds that I’m carrying right now is on the legs. That’s not me. You can look at my upper body and look at these things on my legs. You can’t use that weight against me. I need you to cut that off. I’m 20 pounds away from goal when you cut that off. He was very arrogant. I’m going to the second set of doctors at the bariatric center in Richmond. I tell my husband, ‘I’m not going in there to get a boob job. I’m going to save my life.’
Visit www.facebook.com/QueenieTTComedy for more information on Queenie’s August 25 show.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. In 2011, he published the book, “Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians.” Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe, The NonProphets, before moving to the Bay Area with his family a few years ago. If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at twitter.com/coreywrites.