NeNe Leakes is a poetess of shade. She can rip you to shreds with a clever and funny rhyme. Her brains, sass, and good heart made her the most popular and consistently likable cast member of her original claim to fame, The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Leakes left the Bravo show in 2015 but returned for its latest season. Through it all, she's maintained her place in the spotlight. She's had roles on Glee, The New Normal, The Celebrity Apprentice, and Dancing With the Stars and even earned a role on Broadway in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella and Chicago.
Leakes is more than just a performer, though. She's a clothing guru too. Her Atlanta clothing store, Swagg, will soon be the first of many, including a boutique that opens this week at the Royal Palm South Beach. She'll be in Miami for that special event and to tout her comedic talents as host of the Ladies Night Out Comedy Tour.
Though her quick wit may be what first comes to mind when we think of Leakes, she says, “I never consider myself a comedian. I call myself a funny lady or a shit-talker." She says that being a comedian is a craft and that her time on tour with the Ladies Night Out crew has shown her the difference. "It taught me a lot about comedy," she says. She's the host who warms up the crowd before comedians Sherri Shepherd, Adele Givens, Loni Love, Melanie Comarcho, and Sam Jay take the stage. "I just wanted to stand onstage and shit-talk to people and make them laugh. Laughing is a healthy thing.
"I’ve always been funny," she admits. In school and with family, "if you ask who inspires me, it's my brothers and sisters. It’s natural for us to get together and laugh. I’ve been around that type of feeling my whole life." She says they did a lot of "laughing to keep from crying." Comedy has gotten her though tough times, she says. '"I’m an open book; I’m not ashamed of anything... I talk about my husband, children, cast-mates, the lady I ran into in the grocery store, and laugh about it without beating someone’s ass!”
And lately, Leakes has found herself in another difficult period. She recently announced that her husband Gregg is fighting cancer. You might remember him as the nicest person on RHOA. From her social media posts, it looks like she has more than just laughter to get her through these tough times. She has plenty of friends, including Real Housewives' executive producer Andy Cohen, to offer support.
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On the Ladies Night Out show, Leakes says she spends her time backstage cracking up with the comedians. Once, at a show in Los Angeles' Kodak Theater, Leakes was picked up by a driver and fell asleep in the car. Loni Love took a "horrible picture" of her and posted it on Instagram. Leakes had to hustle to get it taken down. No big deal, though. “The great thing," she says about the tour, "is we are all women, and we’re all getting along."
She's also working on a new clothing line that hasn’t yet launched. Her Swagg boutique in Atlanta is booming with "on-trend" styles, and this Sunday, she'll open a new shop that caters to a more resort or vacationing crowd — Swaggalicious — at the Royal Palm South Beach. This is the moniker she'll use for her other stores in hotels. They'll carry stuff you'll find at her hometown Swagg shop, but focused on items like bathing suits, flip-flops, and beach bags. Leakes says it's open to the public, and she wants to see you there. And who doesn't want to experience NeNe Leakes IRL? So get yourself in swagger mode; then be prepared for laughter and being starstruck by this comedic Georgia peach.
Ladies Night Out Tour. 8 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at James L. Knight Center, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami; jlkc.com. Tickets start at $39 via ticketmaster.com.
Swaggalicious opening. Sunday, June 24, at Royal Palm South Beach, 1545 Collins Ave., Miami; swaggboutiqueonline.com. Admission is free.