Tiffany Haddish has spent the last serval years making her mark as a dynamic force in comedy. By pouring her heart and soul into her work, she has established herself of one of the most exciting and authentic comedians in the game. It is that authenticity which has continued to turn the heads of Hollywood decision-makers, creatives and comedy fans alike. 2015 was a breakout year for Haddish as she scored a co-starring role on the NBC comedy “The Carmichael Show,” where she plays the outspoken, no-nonsense Nakeisha, alongside the show’s creator and star, Jerrod Carmichael. The series premiered to rave reviews and was the most-watched summer comedy on the Big 4 networks over the past eight years, capturing 4.7 million viewers. The highly anticipated series returns to NBC on March 13th for a second season. 2016 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for Tiffany as she will star alongside Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Nia Long in the feature film, “Keanu,” set release on April 29th. She is a woman on a mission and she will be the first to tell you there is no stopping her now! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tiffany Haddish to discuss her amazing journey as a comedian, the challenges she has faced along the way, her exciting roles as a multi-faceted actress and what the future may hold for this star on the rise!
You are known for your unique brand of comedy. What are your first memories of making people laugh or discovering the world of standup comedy?
The first time I ever tried comedy was kind of crazy. My social worker made me get into it. I had been in trouble in school and she gave me the choice of going to The Laugh Factory Comedy Camp or psychiatric therapy. I chose to go to the comedy camp and it really changed my entire perspective. I learned how to talk to people and it taught me confidence. It taught me how to put together a joke and how to communicate. I remember watching “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and thinking to myself, “Man, I want to be like that rabbit!” There is a scene where the detective says to Roger Rabbit, “Why are people doing all of these nice things for you?” He says, “Because I make them laugh, Eddie! If you make people laugh, they will do anything for you!” I thought, “Wow! That is me! That’s really me!” I started being silly and goofy and, the next thing you know, here I am on a network show! [laughs]
Was there a moment when you knew standup was your calling and something you had to pursue professionally?
I guess it was one of the very first times I played a gig outside of The Laugh Factory. I was 22 years old and my auntie had booked me to do a show at a regal hotel. She told me it was a special event for her friends. That was also the day I found out she was a lesbian! I had no idea! She booked me and told me they would pay me $50. I thought that was so amazing! I was going to do 20 minutes of work and I was getting 50 bucks! I was on top of the world because up until that point I was only getting 10 or 15 dollars to do a 10 minute set. I walked up in there and I saw it was all these women. I was like, “What the heck?” I started telling my jokes and they were laughing but they were making fun of me and picking on me. Afterwards, this guy said to me, “Well, you just got your cherry popped! You killed it in a lesbian room! Now, you can do anything because if you can make a lesbian laugh, you can do anything!” That experience, along with the 50 bucks, made me know comedy was going to be the thing I would do for the rest of my life! [laughs]
What went into the process of finding your comedic voice?
What went into the process? Oh my gosh, a whole lot of failures! Not even as a comedian but trying to figure out who you are as a person is very important. You find yourself wondering who you are and why you are here on the planet or how your point of view matters in everyday life. Once you figure that part out, it becomes pretty easy to figure out what type of comedian you are. I know that my experiences being in foster care and paying all kinds of crazy dues really molded me into the type of woman that I am today, which is very dedicated to what I love and only what I love. That is all I want to do, what I love to do! And that’s talk! [laughs]
Standup has gone through a revival over the past few years. What is best part of being a working comedian in this golden age of comedy?
The best part is getting to express yourself and getting to be who you are. It is so funny to me when people put on these gimmicks and be something they are not. You see pretty quickly that it doesn’t really work the way it used to back in the day. Back then, there wasn’t much access to you as a person but now that there is so much access to who you are, it is best to be that. I think that is the best thing because that is all I know how to be.
You have become a very familiar face in television and film. One of the biggest projects you have going is “The Carmichael Show.” How did you get involved with the show?
Initially, I was just helping out! The young lady they had originally cast in the part was doing a play, so they needed somebody to do the table read. Then they needed somebody to rehearse because she hadn’t come back from the play. I was just there being of service and helping out. She came back to work and then they asked me if I wanted the job because they had all fallen in love with me!
That is the best way to do it, isn’t it?
Yeah! Just being of service! You know, when I am doing my standup, I feel like I am providing a service, not only to the audience but to myself. I am relieving some stress for all of us. If you can do that with everything you do, it makes everything that much better!
The series has been well received. What is it about the show that resonates with fans so much?
I think that it resonates so well because it is so honest and it is really talking about the things families are discussing. Our first episode is about fallen heroes, which is basically about Bill Cosby. It addresses the humor that we had over the years and how someone has fallen out of grace because they have done something that maybe for the Internet or social media, we would have never heard about. Today, thanks to modern technology, we know everyone’s business and it is hard to hide and, really, should we be hiding? The show touches on a lot of topics friends and family are discussing. We are talking about religion, abortion or a family member passing away who may not have been the best family member but you have to say something nice at the funeral because that is what everybody does! [laughs] I think that is why it resonates with people so much is because, like that situation, we are discussing situations that are very real. Protests are another good example. Some people protest because they want things to change, while other people protest because they want to be on TV!
The show features an amazing pool of talent. What is the biggest thing you have taken away from the experience so far?
Oh my goodness! Working with Loretta Devine has been amazing. She is always on point and always ready. I have learned so much from watching her and her techniques. David Alan Grier is amazing as well. His comedic timing is amazing. I feel like I am learning a whole new level of comedy, delivery and timing through working with him. His timing is impeccable. Those are just a few things I am taking away from this experience! I’m going to be a beast after working with these people! [laughs]
What elements of your own personality might shine through in this character?
The thing that is most like me in this character is the fact she says what she thinks. She just says exactly what she thinks and that is basically me! That has probably been my biggest downfall! [laughs] I am just too honest! I feel like that is how Nakisha is. She is very honest and if she doesn’t like something, she doesn’t like it and you are going to know she doesn’t like it! If she does like something she will tell you! That is definitely me! There are no secrets!
You have been hard at work shooting Season 2 of “The Carmichael Show.” What can we expect for the new season and what excites you the most about it?
I am most excited about where the relationships are going in the show. I am excited about the relationship between Nakisha and Bobby and its outcome. They have been getting divorced now for the longest because she has been waiting for him to get his money right, so she doesn’t have to pay for alimony! [laughs] I am really excited about the growth of everybody. Families grow and I am excited about that!
You will also hit the silver screen very soon in “Keanu” from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. How did you first cross paths with them?
I auditioned! I actually got called in to audition for them. Mind you, I had been trying to get on their series for the longest and it never worked out. I went into the audition and gave 110%! I basically compounded every gangster and gangbanger I ever met and put it into that one character and they loved it! That is how it started!
What was the biggest challenge you faced on the project?
The heat! We shot the movie in New Orleans and the heat was incredible! I was telling my skin not to get bumpy! [laughs] The other hard part was to remember to stay hard and in a badass gangster, thug-like state of mind. I remember being in my trailer and looking into the mirror. I was saying, “Yeah, you a badass! You the hardest!” Trying to maintain the intensity of the character was a big challenge. Once you see it you will really understand why it was so difficult for me to do that! I mean, you are working with super funny people! It’s Key and Peele! They are comedy geniuses! You can’t laugh! My character is a badass, she can’t laugh at this! [laughs]
Did you get a chance to do any improvisation in your scenes?
Yes! The script for the film is really good but we did play around a little bit. There is a scene where we are in a van and there was a lot of improv happening there. It was so much fun! Like I said, the only drawback was it was so hot! [laughs]
You are continuing to build an awesome resume with each new project. Looking back, what are your biggest creative milestones?
I am especially proud of a movie I did for Lifetime called “Racing For Time.” With that role, I was able to play someone who is completely different from who I am. Another moment that stands out, I might cry, is my very first time doing standup comedy on television. I did a show called “Who’s Got Jokes” and I won the Los Angeles portion of it. A lot of people had said to me, “You are so pretty. You shouldn’t do comedy.” That show really validated everything I had been doing over the years. My mom is a schizophrenic/depressive and not really present. I showed her that and it was the first time I felt that she was proud of me. She still made it all about herself but I knew she was proud. She was like, “Oh look at that! I make stars! My coochie makes stars!” I was like, “Uh. Yeah, mom. It does!” [laughs] That was the first time that she said anything that she recognizes what I am doing. I am really proud of that. I am also really proud of my HBO Def Comedy Jam set. I also got to work with Danny Devito, which was a dream come true for me. There are a lot of things I am proud of but those are the ones that hit my brain first!
Is there a dream role you have in mind as an actress?
I would love to do a movie where I am the lead and Amy Schumer is in it too. I kinda wrote something about it but I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I would love to be a lead in a movie with her. She reminds me of a Cabbage Patch Kid! She is just so fuckin’ cute! [laughs] I want her to be my life-sized Cabbage Patch doll! [laughs]
You stay very busy both on-screen and off. What can you tell us about Chuckles Not Knuckles?
Basically, I go around to different schools. I don’t know if you know this about Los Angeles but there are a lot of race wars going on. Kids are being kids and they are mean and bullying but this is on a different level. Knowing this, a friend of mine and I got together with the LA Unified School District and started doing comedy shows with different schools. We would do an hour show with five or six different comics of different nationalities to talk about their experiences in school. We wanted to make it funny but also talk about the racial tension, experiencing that and how it has impacted all of us. It has been really successful and the kids really love it. I have been doing it for about eight years!
That is awesome! Is it difficult for you to find a balance with your personal life and career with so many irons in the fire?
It has almost become second nature but, at the same time, I do sometimes feel like I miss out on a lot of little things in life. For example, going to my sister’s college graduation. I helped pay for her college education. I didn’t get to go to college because I wanted to be around and available for my siblings. I really wanted to go to her graduation but I was shooting a TV series, so I wasn’t able to go. It was frustrating and having a busy schedule can make you miss out on some of those moments. I feel like that is the worst part about juggling your personal life and career.
Being as busy as you are with television and film, where are you in regards to a full length comedy special? Is there anything in the works?
Yeah, I am working on that. I have about four hours worth of material, so there could very well be four specials coming out one after the other. We are definitely working on that! “The Last Black Unicorn” will be headed to your television soon, I’m sure!
Great title! Perfect for an autobiography as well!
Yes! The book is coming too!
Speaking of books, what is the best lesson we can take away from your story so far?
I think the best lesson you can learn from my journey is … well, first off, people are going to say really mean things to you in life and will try to deter you from doing what it is you dream of doing. Just take whatever they are saying and flip it on them. It’s like the classic “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Just flip it on them. I have a very positive outlook on life. Do one thing everyday that helps you work toward your goal and you will accomplish it, no matter what it is! That is what I’ve been doing!
Yes! It has been working out great for you!
Thanks for your time today, Tiffany! I know we will be seeing more and more of you in the future! Can’t wait to cross paths with you again!
We definitely will! Thank you, Jason!
Be sure to catch Tiffany Haddish on ‘The Carmichael Show’ when it returns to NBC for it’s second season on Sunday March, 13th at 9/8c. See she in ‘Keanu’ when it premieres nationwide on April 29th!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.