Full disclosure: I get nervous before doing every interview. Whether it’s a pop star with a household name or a local business person, I get butterflies in my stomach. What’s strange is, the butterflies instantly disappear when my subject says, “Hello.” They earn extra soothing points if they use my name. I’m not sure if Tiffany Haddish knew this when she agreed to speak with Submerge, but she’s one of comedy’s most sought-after voices right now, and her star seems to be ever-rising. I mean, she’s famous. That must mean she has super powers, right?
There was a long pause as I waited for her management to connect our phone call, and then, a booming voice, seemingly out of nowhere exclaimed, “Hi! How you doing, James?”
Instantly, I was at ease, like magic. Maybe she really is “The Last Black Unicorn” that she claims to be.
Possible mythological connections aside, two things are certain: First, Haddish is hilarious. For evidence of this, see her breakout performance in Girls Trip or her Emmy-winning turn as host of Saturday Night Live (she was the first black comedienne to host the venerable variety show). Second, she’s becoming ubiquitous—so much so that she said in a June 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter (who dubbed her “Hollywood’s new comedy queen”) that, “It’s exhausting. I’m tired of hearing my own name.”
Regardless, you’ll be hearing a lot from Haddish in 2019. She has a new animated series for Netflix in the works with fellow comedienne Ali Wong called Tuca & Bertie, and later this year, she’ll be starring on the big screen alongside Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss in The Kitchen, which will be something of a departure for Haddish. She’ll also spend much of early 2019 on the road, returning to her first love, stand-up comedy. The She Ready Tour will kick off in February, landing in Sacramento on the 28th.
We spoke to Haddish as she was finishing up re-shoots for The Kitchen in New York City. She talked about her love of stand-up, growing up as a foster child and explained why her highly publicized bombing at a recent New Year’s Eve performance shouldn’t deter you from checking out her act live. Spoiler alert: You might want to wear a diaper.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I’m enjoying life. Busy as hell, though.
I was looking at all the stuff you’ve got coming out this year—movies and television and stuff—and I was surprised you even have time to do a stand-up tour.
Well, I’m filming something right now, but these were just re-shoots. I’m focused on comedy right now—after Wednesday [laughs]. But I am going to do some comedy tonight. I’m going to hit up a comedy club in New York. I’m in New York right now.
Are you just going to pop in, or is it something you had planned?
I’m just popping in. I’m trying to flex my muscles and see if they’ll let me get on stage, seeing as I’m a celebrity, you know. I did it when I was in Atlanta. I walked into this place called the Laughing Skull in Atlanta. I was like, “Yeah, I wanted to see if I can get some stage time,” and they were like, “We’re shut down, but if you want to tweet and see how many people come, we’ll pay you whatever the door is.” I was like, “Alright, let’s see.” We sold out in 45 minutes. It wasn’t a big place, only like 80 seats and it was 11 o’clock at night, but it was pretty dope.
You’re playing larger venues on the upcoming tour, but it must be cool to still be able to play smaller shows like that.
Yeah, those are really my faves, but I’m not gonna lie to you: I like bigger venues because the laughs are bigger, and the adrenaline rush is bigger, but the intimate rooms are really fun, because I like to talk to the audience. You can’t really do that at a big venue. I learned that on New Year’s … We live and we learn! Every loss is a lesson, honey!
I’d read about your New Year’s Eve performance. I thought it was cool that some comedians came out to defend you. Marlon Wayans said that New Year’s Eve gigs are especially tough.
They’re always hard. People are usually drunk, or they expect you to have fireworks shooting out of your ass. I was like, “I came into your city last night, and everyone took me out … I’m going to try to shoot a firework or two, but I don’t know!” I had a plan, but I came out and I saw phones everywhere. I was gonna do my Netflix set, but I didn’t want that on the internet. That threw me for a loop, because I’ve never done a show where I saw two or three thousand cell phone lights pointing at me. … She wasn’t ready that night, but don’t worry. She ready now! Don’t worry, everybody’s going to get every dollar’s worth. They’re going to need panty liners, because they’re gonna pee on themselves. Bring Depends, because it’s gonna happen!
You mentioned you didn’t want certain material to end up online. Is that a big concern for you and other stand-up comics in the social media age?
Yeah, stand-up comedy isn’t like music. It’s not like you can keep saying the same thing over and over it ends up online, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s a hit, I’m gonna try that every day.” People are like, “I heard that shit already! Tell me something new!” It might have taken two years for you to write that and perfect it so that the first time they hear it, they laugh, and the second time they hear it, they laugh, but the fifth or sixth time, they’re like, “I heard that already.” It’s very precious. Like, if I’m dancing or something, I don’t mind that, but the actual material, the meat of it, you don’t want to give that away.
I saw that for your upcoming shows, you’ll be donating a portion of your ticket sales to your charity, the She Ready Foundation. I was wondering if you’d like to talk about the foundation for a bit.
Well, I grew up in foster care, right? And when I was getting moved around from house to house, they would put all my clothes in trash bags, and I felt like garbage. I told my little 13-year-old self, “If I ever get any kind of power, if I ever get to do anything, I’m going to make sure other kids don’t feel the way I feel right now.” It’s the worst feeling in the world feeling like you’re a piece of garbage getting passed from house to house. So, what I’m doing is giving suitcases and necessities for kids, so that when they move or go into the system, they have a suitcase. So instead of feeling like they’re a piece of garbage when they get moved around, they feel like travelers. They have some sense of ownership. “This is mine. This will go with me everywhere I go until it falls apart.” I think that’s really important for children. I see kids walking around the airports, and they’re pulling their bags with Minions or Strawberry Shortcake on them, and they look so proud because they have something that’s theirs. All kids should have that, especially if you’re moving from house to house.
I’m sure you’ve been asked about it a lot, but it’s such an inspiring story that you grew up in foster care and have reached the point where you are now. Was comedy something that got you through the tougher times when you were younger?
Comedy kept me from getting beat up all the time—or getting beat up real bad … Like my mom, she might say, “When we get home, I’m gonna beat your ass!” but if I made her laugh, that might make her forget about it. I’ve always come up with ways of not getting abused. If I can make them laugh, they might forget how mad they were. That was my thing. It’s a survival technique.
You said you were filming some reshoots in New York. Those are for The Kitchen, right?
Yeah, with Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss … It’s coming out in September.
It’s an awesome cast, and it’s based on a comic book …
Yeah, it’s pretty dope. I hunted down the director to do this. I got attached to it, and then when she got Melissa, I was like, whaaaaat?! It’s a gangsta movie, honey.
Is this a darker movie? It’s not a comedy?
Oh yeah, it’s very dark. It’s not a comedy at all. It’s in the vein of Scarface … but it has its moments where you’re like, “Ha ha, that’s crazy.” You know what I hope happens?
You know, now I’m telling you too much. Never mind. I gotta edit myself. I gotta edit myself.
Oh OK …
Ah you know what? Fuck it, I’m gonna tell you. You know that movie Belly?
Yeah, I remember it.
So back in my early twenties, before marijuana was legal, I used to have to go to the dope man’s house to get some weed, right? Belly would always be playing on the TV. It would be Belly, Friday, Next Friday, Boyz n the Hood and Scarface. Those movies would always be playing. So my hope is, when you go to the marijuana dispensary—even though it has nothing to do with drugs—I hope that The Kitchen is playing.
How did you hear about the project? Were you familiar with the comic book?
My manager’s assistant, the script had come across her desk, and she suggested it to my manager. My manager said, “Oh no, that’s not a comedy. That’s not for Tiffany,” but the assistant thought I’d do really well in it. I’m one of those people who talk to everybody, and I was talking to [the assistant], and she said, “I found this script. I really think it would be great for you, but nobody here thinks it would be good.” I said, “What is it?” She said, “It’s like a gangster drama.” I was like, “Gangster drama? Let me read it!” Then I read it, and it was a page turner. A lot of times I’ll read something for an hour and put it down for a few days and then go back and finish it, but with this one? Mm mmm. I read the whole thing and went, “This is my part!” I was calling all my friends, and finally tracked [the director, Andrea Berloff] down … She couldn’t get away from me. When I set my mind on something, that’s how it is.
It must be pretty nice to be at a point in your career where you can pretty much call dibs on the parts you want.
That is the best. I remember in the beginning, I was like, “I wanna do this movie,” and they’d be like, “You’re too dark,” or, “You’re too ghetto,” or, “You’re not ghetto enough” … That part of the business sucks. But once you get passed that part, the business is pretty awesome!
What kept you going through those times?
What kept me going was that I was always in good company, and watching my friends succeed always made me feel good, because if they were winning, it meant eventually I was gonna win. But it was getting on stage; being on that live stage doing stand-up comedy is everything to me. I remember one time I was gonna quit and move to Georgia, and my agent was like, “No, Tiffany, you need to get on TV. You’ll get paid more money to do stand-up.” I was like, “What? I can get paid more than $100?” … I feel like I’m going to be the oldest lady on earth doing stand-up comedy. Like, no teeth—it’s going to be roll-up comedy. I’m going to be in my wheelchair and roll up there, because it’s my favorite thing in the world.
How long have you been working on your material for the upcoming tour? Is there a lot of current events material?
Yeah, I’ve been working on it for a year. I’ve dropped a lot of current stuff in there. I mess with Trump occasionally, but I try to stay away from that because he’s constantly doing something and it makes me really upset. So there’ll be a little bit. I give him a minute or two. I talk about what’s going on in my life and what’s going on in the world, and I hope I can make a difference. My childhood prepared me for this life right now. All those things I was going through as a kid, I was like, “Why does God hate me so much?” I was like, “No wait. God was preparing me for this.” I’m just super grateful.
I was wondering about stand-up in the age of Trump. It’s nice to hear that you touch on it and move on to something else. It must be hard not to talk about it, though, because it seems like that’s all that’s going on sometimes.
I have no problem paying taxes. It actually makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to my country, but these are astronomical prices, and now that the government is shut down, why am I still paying if y’all not working? What am I paying for? Y’all better be doing some magical stuff when you get back to work. I better be seeing roads and glimmering buildings. It better be like the Emerald City up in here, because I’m trying to understand what’s going on. It bothers me so much. I turn on the news, but I don’t turn up the sound. So I walk into the room, and I’m like, “Is that an alien? Oh no, it’s Trump, looking like a damn Cheeto.”
See Tiffany Haddish live at the Sacramento Community Center Theater (1400 J St.) on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. It’s a good bet that this show will sell out, so act quick. Get your tickets at Communitycentertheater.com.
**This piece first appeared in print on pages 16 – 17 of issue #283 (Jan. 16 – 30, 2019)**