Janel Dyan

Women Crushing It Wednesday

#WCIW: Tiffany Haddish

Wickedly Witty.  Overwhelming Grit.  The Last Black Unicorn.

If the name Tiffany Haddish doesn’t ring a bell, do yourself a favor and check out her outstanding and side-splitting performance in last year’s Girl’s Trip with Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith. The comedian and actress is quickly becoming one of the most talked about up-and-comers in Hollywood. With her quick wit, outrageously outspoken demeanor, and spitfire personality, Haddish sent shockwaves through the industry and has become a refreshingly honest, open, and real voice in entertainment.

In January, after receiving the award for Best Supporting Actress at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, she proceeded to deliver an uproarious 18-minute-long acceptance speech that, shockingly, was not met with rolling eyes, labored applause, and cut-off music, but with gut-busting laughter and a standing ovation. Haddish’s star is on the rise, but her life has not been without adversity.

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When Tiffany was nine-years-old, her step-father cut the brake lines on her mother’s car in an attempt to murder her and her four children. At the last minute before the fateful car trip, Haddish decided to stay home and babysit her three younger siblings. Her decision may have saved their lives that day, as her mother was involved in a serious accident and never fully recovered.

Suffering from brain damage and schizophrenia, Haddish’s mother struggled to care for herself and her children. Tiffany did what she could to help keep the family together — working, paying bills, cooking, and caring for the kids — but she and her siblings were eventually taken into state foster homes.

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Haddish found herself living in South Central LA and bussing to Woodland Hills for school. She found making friends difficult at first in the predominantly white high school. To cope with the loneliness she invented imaginary friends and performed comedic bits for them. Before long her fellow students discovered her sense of humour, and liked it. But her teachers and dean did not.

Her social worker was constantly called into the dean’s office to deal with Haddish’s behaviour, finally offering an ultimatum: go to psychiatric therapy, or to a comedy camp put on by the Laugh Factory for underprivileged youth. Haddish chose the camp, and set in motion events that would ultimately transform her life.

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At Laugh Factory Academy, Haddish found mentors in established comedy greats like Richard Pryor and Dane Cook. It was also the first time Tiffany could remember being told she was beautiful, smart, and talented by men and not feeling a sense of danger in their words.

The camp changed her outlook on life and the way she performed her comedy. Haddish recalled in an interview a particular encounter with Richard Prior:

“This is 1997. He rolled up in a wheelchair and I was onstage, telling my jokes. He stopped me and was like, "Stop, stop, stop! What are you doing?" I said, "I'm telling jokes." He goes, "No, you're not." ... I said, "Well, what am I doing then?" He said, "You're getting on my … nerves. That's what you're doing." I'm clutching my palms. Then he said that people don't come to comedy shows because they want to hear about your problems or politics or religion or what's going on in the world. They come to comedy shows to have fun. So when you're on stage, you need to be having fun. I took that philosophy with me and I do that in everything that I do. No matter what the situation, I try to have fun. I get pulled over by the police, I'm like, "Oh, this going to be the best arrest ever." [laughs] And I end up making friends with these police officers.”

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As an amateur comedian, Haddish struggled to find gigs, often facing rejection because of her sex and her race. She lived in her car for the first couple years of her stand-up career, and credits comedian Kevin Hart for getting her off the streets (he loaned her $300 one night at a show so she could stay in a hotel). Haddish has repeatedly tried to pay him back, but he always refuses.

Her career has been mostly small, if memorable, guest spots on television shows, and small parts in movies. Her major break came in Girls’ Trip, where her standout performance nearly stole the show. Since then, Haddish has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stars. She is set to star opposite Melissa McCarthy in the mob-drama The Kitchen, with Kevin Hart in the comedy Night School, and with Tracy Morgan in the tv series The Last OG. Haddish has often said that the state of California put so much time and money into her because they knew she was special, “a unicorn... the “Last Black Unicorn, bitch!”

True to that title, in December 2017 she published a book of memoirs entitled The Last Black Unicorn, and released a comedy special for Showtime called She Ready: From the Hood to Hollywood that is now touring.

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For her wicked wit, her overwhelming grit, and her killer confidence, Tiffany Haddish is this week’s #WCIW.

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