Mo'Nique was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of engineer Alice Imes and drug counselor Steven Imes, Jr. She is the youngest of four children: sister Millicent is her personal assistant; brother Steve is her manager. Mo'Nique graduated from Milford Mill High School in Baltimore County in 1985 and attended Morgan State University. She is a 1987 graduate of the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland.
Before she was an actress, Monique worked as a customer service representative at the phone company MCI in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She got her start in comedy at the downtown Baltimore Comedy Factory Outlet, when her brother Steve dared her to perform at an open mic night.
During a 2008 Essence magazine interview, Mo'Nique revealed that she was sexually abused by her brother Gerald from ages 7–11; he went on to sexually abuse another girl and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. After her twin boys were born in 2005, Mo'Nique cut off all contact with Gerald. On April 19, 2010, he admitted on Oprah to sexually abusing her over several years. He himself was abused by family members and struggled with substance abuse.
Mo'Nique portrayed Nicole "Nikki" Parker on the UPN television series The Parkers from 1999 to 2004. She was featured on many leading stand-up venues such as Showtime at the Apollo, Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam, and Thank God You're Here. Monique tackles race issues in her stand up routines, for instance at the Montreal Just For Laugh Festival in 2000: white and black people, we're just mad at each other, we don't know why we're mad at each other. We're not each other's enemy. We're not the enemy. It's the Chinese people we need to watch out for”.
She was also named hostess of Showtime at the Apollo. She is currently the hostess and executive producer of Mo'Nique's Fat Chance, a beauty pageant for plus-sized women, on the Oxygen cable network. She hosted the first season of Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School on VH1, where she crowned Saaphyri as the winner.
Mo'Nique's 2007 documentary I Coulda Been Your Cellmate!, focuses on incarcerated women. In interviews with individual women, she touches on the common factors that bring many women into the penal system. The documentary was related to her filming a comedy special at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, also known as The Farm. In 2007, Mo'Nique had a guest-starring role on the hit television series Ugly Betty as L'Amanda, Mode's weekend security guard.
Mo'Nique starred in The Mo'Nique Show, her own late-night talk show. Taped in Atlanta, the show premiered October 5, 2009, on BET.
Mo'Nique has had a number of supporting roles in film. She appeared in the 2008 comedy film, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins with Martin Lawrence. She has had roles in Beerfest, 3 Strikes, Two Can Play That Game, Half Past Dead, and Garfield: The Movie, in which she voiced a CGI character but her role was cut from the movie. She also appeared in Soul Plane.
In 2005, Mo'Nique played a significant role in the Tony Scott bounty hunter thriller Domino, co-starring Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke. In 2006, Mo'Nique was cast as the lead in Phat Girlz, a comedy about an aspiring plus size fashion designer struggling to find love and acceptance. The film was met with lukewarm response from critics and fans. It did earn back its $3 million production cost in its first weekend of release.
She was featured in soul singer Anthony Hamilton's video "Sista Big Bones", the second single from his Ain't Nobody Worryin' album. She plays the role of a beautiful plus sized woman whom Anthony secretly admires because she has always loved herself.
Mo'Nique hosted the 2003 and 2004 BET Awards and appeared as the host again for the 2007 BET Awards. She received positive responses in July 2004 with her opening performance of Beyoncé's single "Crazy in Love"; as well as in 2007 by performing her "Déjà Vu".
Mo'Nique claimed on the January 28, 2008, Oprah Winfrey Show that Martin Lawrence gave her invaluable advice about show business: "He pulled me to the side and he said, 'Listen, don't ever let them tell you what you can't have.' Since that day, I've made some of the best deals I've ever made in my career because it keeps ringing in my head. ... It will stay with me forever."
In 2009, Mo'Nique appeared in the film Precious, directed by Lee Daniels, portraying an inner-city teenager's abusive mother. She won the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for her critically acclaimed performance in the film. The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) awarded Mo'Nique with the Best Supporting Actress Award in December 2009. They also announced that Mo'Nique received the AAFCA's first ever unanimous vote in an acting category. Moreover, she received "Best Supporting Actress" awards from the Stockholm International Film Festival, the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Online, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Southeastern Film Critics Association, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, the Utah Film Critics Association, the Detroit Film Critics Society, the Indiana Film Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, the National Society of Film Critics Awards, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and the Critics Choice Awards. Time magazine ranked Mo'Nique's outstanding performance as the "Best Female Performance of 2009," beating performances by Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Carey Mulligan, Julianne Moore and Marion Cotillard. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, beating Penélope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick along with a Golden Globe Award, beating Penélope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Julianne Moore, a Screen Actors Guild Award, Independent Spirit Award, and the BAFTA Award.
In November 2009, Mo'Nique said, "I own the rights to Hattie McDaniel's life story, and I can't wait to tell that story, because that woman was absolutely amazing. She had to stand up to the adversity of black and white [society] at a time when we really weren't accepted. Mr. Lee Daniels is going to direct it, of course, and I'm going to be Miss Hattie McDaniel. I really hope I can do that woman justice."
In 2014, Mo'Nique starred in Patrik-Ian Polk's drama film Blackbird as Claire Rousseau.
Mo'Nique's first play was Eve Ensler's Obie Award-winning production of The Vagina Monologues, in March 2002. Mo'Nique, along with Ella Joyce (Roc); Wendy Raquel Robinson (The Steve Harvey Show and The Game) and Vanessa Bell Calloway (What's Love Got to Do with It), were the first all black celebrity cast to perform The Vagina Monologues. Executive produced by YYP & Associates, LLC, the show was executive produced and directed by noted theater producer/director, Yetta Young, and co-produced by Kellie R. Griffin, Lisa D. Washington and Anita M. Cal.
Mo'Nique is the author of the best-selling book Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Bigg Girl in a Small-Minded World. She also released a 2006 cookbook called Skinny Cooks Can't Be Trusted.
Mo'nique was part of the Washington, D.C. WHUR radio show with George Wilborn.
In 2006 she occasionally filled in for afternoon personality Michael Baisden when his contract with ABC Radio was in the process of getting renewed.
In 2008, Radio One inked a deal for her to get her own radio show, Mo'Nique In the Afternoon (or The Mo'Nique Show) which premiered on several Radio One-owned Urban Adult Contemporary-formatted R&B/soul radio stations in July 2008. It mainly aired on those stations that had a local lineup as some Radio One stations did not carry it due to their contracts with Michael Baisden. The show lasted until March 18, 2009, when Mo'Nique decided to leave to "further her career in television, film, and comedy."
Mo'Nique was briefly engaged to accountant Kenny Mung.
From 1997-2001 she was married to Mark Jackson. They have a son named Shalon Jackson.
Mo'Nique gave birth to twin sons Jonathan and David Hicks in October 2005, which was 2 months early. In 2006 she married their father, Sidney Hicks. In a New York Times profile, she mentions that she and Hicks have an open marriage:
She repeated this view later on the January 28, 2008, episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. She told Oprah that in her prior marriages, she was constantly searching for "that extra oomph". Mo'Nique explained, "When I said I had an open marriage, people automatically jumped to sex. They automatically went there. But I've been best friends with my husband since we were 14 years old. When we say open, we're very honest. There are no secrets. Oftentimes you have people that are married, but they're strangers, and we refuse to be those people". She concluded, "I've had to sneak and I've had to lie, and I don't want to do that any more. But my husband is so awesome and so fine and so—oh, girl....No other man can compare".