Working with family can be a tricky thing. Personalities clash, relationships outside of work boil into the workplace, and next thing you know you’re in the middle of a 20-year standoff over something that no one can remember.
Fortunately for comedians Ci Ci and Khadijah Cooper, their place of business is big enough for the both of them.
Ci Ci has been a staple of the Twin Cities comedy scene since getting her start back in the early ’90s. When she was first cutting her teeth at open mics, her nine-year-old daughter, Khadijah, was getting her first taste of stand-up. “I used to drag her to all of the open mics with me,” Ci Ci laughs.
While most open mic performers are simply doing their best to plow through a few minutes of material without being ignored or booed, for daughter Khadijah, it was like watching a superstar on stage.
“I remember us going to the open mic at Pepitos and just thinking, ‘My mom is famous!’” recalls Khadijah. “People are laughing and she’s controlling the room and commanding attention. I’m just watching like holy cow, my mom is amazing. She was fearless and it made me fearless.”
Despite being around stand-up for the majority of her life, Khadijah didn’t make the move toward the spotlight herself until just last year. “I wanted to do [comedy] for like 25 years,” she says. “Watching my mom do it, seeing other people do it, I really wanted to try it but it was just never the right time.”
Finally, she decided to sign up for an open mic night at the Comedy Corner Underground’s Friday night showcase. But unlike other would-be comedians, who bring along a posse of friends to pump them up on stage, Khadijah only told one person about her plan—her mom.
“I thought it was really cool that she was going to try it,” Ci Ci recalls. “I told her to go for it. She’d been talking about it for a while, and I was really happy she asked me to come with her. She took to the stage like it was a second language.”
As for why she was so selective in talking about her first foray into comedy, Khadijah is quick to point out that she knew she could count on her mom to be her number one fan. “My mom has always been supportive of the things I wanted to do,” she says. “I didn’t want to tell someone who was going to try and talk me out of doing it, or convince me that I shouldn’t.”
Since that night, Khadijah has been one of the most active comedians in the local scene, performing three or four times each week, including regular appearances on shows like People of Comedy at Sisyphus and Pssy Ctrl at Comedy Corner Underground.
While Khadijah began to blaze her own trail, Ci Ci says she was inspired by her daughter to get back on stage herself. “I hadn’t performed in a little while, but seeing how passionate she was made me want to get back up Ci Ci says.
Adds Khadijah, “I was worried that no one was going to care about me if she got back into comedy.” She laughs, but there’s a hint of seriousness in her tone. “It took about four or five months before people noticed that I was her daughter. Then people would say things like, ‘You’re Ci Ci’s daughter? I have a story about her.’”
Despite the mother-daughter connection, Ci Ci and Khadijah for a long time kept their comedy careers fairly separate, with Ci Ci focusing more on corporate events and private gigs, while Khadijah began working the clubs and open mic nights. Ultimately, however, their mutual love of comedy brought them together on stage. “The Royal Comedy Theatre asked me to headline, and I thought it would be cool if Khadijah could feature for me,” Ci Ci says.
Despite the opportunity, Khadijah says she was hesitant about—literally—sharing the spotlight with her mom. “I was hesitant because I didn’t want people to think we’re a mother-daughter act,” she says. “We’re two comedians who happen to be mother and daughter. I don’t want people thinking we’re up there doing a bit together.”
In addition to that night, they have gone on to share the stage on a few other occasions as well. “It’s cool because we have different styles but the same demeanor,” Khadijah continues. “I can make jokes about my mom, and it’s fine because the audience is going to get her side in just a minute.”
Whether they continue to work together or find their own respective paths in comedy, both women are extremely complimentary of each other and thankful for the opportunity to bond over laughs. “When she started, people called her Ci Ci’s daughter. Now people ask me if I’m Khadijah’s mom. It makes me very proud,” says Ci Ci.
Khadijah echoes her mom’s sentiments. “How many people get to say they can go on stage and tell jokes with their mom?”
Khadijah Cooper is performing her first self-produced show, a Harlem Nights–themed show at Al’s Place on May 23.