As soon as she walked in, Retta began joking about the radical transformation Duke has undergone since her graduation in 1992. The audience was entranced by her confident and comedic presence, transforming Penn Pavilion into a comedy club.
On March 2, Retta (born Marietta Sangai Sirleaf) came to Duke to give a talk with members of Penny Pilgram Women’s Leadership Initiative and the rest of the Duke student body. Speaking on topics such as Galentine’s Day and being kind to yourself, Retta engaged the audience with humorous commentary on her impressive career.
Graduating in 1992 from Duke as a pre-med student with a degree in sociology, Retta spent her first few years out of college working as a chemist while doing stand-up at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh. She soon realized that a career in science was not for her.
After making a drastic career shift and moving to L.A., Retta found her passion for comedy and acting. She decided then to go by Retta, a nickname given to her by an ex-boyfriend, rather than having to explain her lengthy name before every show.
When discussing this time during her life, Retta insisted on doing only things her mother would approve of. She had turned down roles playing mediums, whom her mother claimed worked with the evil spirits.
In 2009, Retta appeared on “Parks and Recreation” as Donna Meagle, perhaps best known for her classic line “Treat Yo Self.” As of late, Retta stars beside Christina Hendricks and Mae Whitman in the NBC series “Good Girls,” a crime comedy show following the lives of three suburban mothers struggling for money.
When thinking about her two most famous characters, Donna in “Parks and Rec” and Ruby in “Good Girls,” Retta claimed each gave her unique lessons about life. Donna taught her to always have the best time, as long as everyone walked away smiling. Ruby taught her loyalty, particularly through her commitment to her family.
One of the most important parts of her success has been Retta’s friends, a group chat called “420guccigang” — named after a favorite Vine. She talked about remembering to celebrate one another and always being on call. Retta even recalled a time recently when, after shattering a glass vase, she slipped and fell. She texted her group chat and they came to her assistance almost instantly.
Reminiscing about her time at Duke, Retta insisted on taking advantage of all the opportunities available on campus. She claimed she ran into Clint Eastwood, who had recently spoken at Duke, while walking to class, and missed a Jerry Seinfeld show at Gilbert-Addoms, which she has continued to regret.
Her favorite Duke tradition was attending Duke sports games back in the late 1980s. In fact, during a Duke football game, Retta says she started the famous #DDMF chant that has since continued at all sporting events.
At the end of her talk, Retta mentioned that her dream role would be a femme fatale who stars alongside Meryl Strepe, Louis Gossett Jr. and Viola Davis. She said that working with such individuals would be, above all, an educational experience, transformative for her own career.
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