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Tiffany Haddish: 'I Know What I'm Supposed To Do Here On This Earth'

Dec 14, 2017
Originally published on December 19, 2017 12:01 pm

In Tiffany Haddish's new memoir, The Last Black Unicorn, she writes "I know that a lot of these stories will seem unbelievable. I look back over my life and I'm like, 'For real, that happened?'"

You could just look at Tiffany Haddish's career this year and ask that question. She was the breakout star of this summer's raucous hit movie, Girl's Trip, and last month, Haddish became the first African-American woman stand-up comedian to host Saturday Night Live.

On the day Tiffany Haddish swung by our New York studio for this interview, she confessed that she was flat out tired.

"I gotta go do The View and then I get to go to sleep." Haddish said. ... "And I'm going to meet Whoopi, and then I'm going to be so happy and then I'm going to have the bestest of dreams!"

And that's the thing about Tiffany Haddish. From the outside, she's arrived — a full-on celebrity. But inside, she still kind of seems like the girl from South Central Los Angeles who's super excited to meet Whoopi Goldberg.

"Life happened for me," she says. "But I just kept pushing 'cause I know what I'm supposed to do here on this Earth."

You read her memoir, and you start to understand why Tiffany Haddish had to keep pushing — through a marriage that she says turned violent and before that through years in foster care and group homes. Ultimately, it was a challenge from a social worker that put her on the path to a career in comedy.

"I was getting in trouble in school," Haddish says. "She was coming up there all the time, and she was like 'You got two choices this summer, Tiffany. You can go to the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp or you can go to psychiatric therapy — which one you want to do?'"


Interview Highlights

On the advice Richard Pryor gave her at the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp

He said, 'Look, people don't come to comedy shows because they want to hear about your problems, or politics or religion. They come to have fun, so when you're on stage, you need to be having fun. If you're having fun, the audience is having fun.' And then as I got older I started realizing, 'Oh man. I'ma try to do this in everything in life because once I started having fun onstage, you know, people were nice to me. People were kind; it was easier to move forward.

On the her mom's traumatic car accident and how it led Haddish to comedy

Yeah, it changed my life tremendously. I mean, but at the same time like ... I was with her for a few years before we got taken away from her, so that's where I feel like I really developed my comedy chops because I figured if I make her laugh, you know, she won't hit me. You know, when you have a brain injury it's very hard, and especially if before the injury you were a very intellectual, intelligent person that has an excellent vocabulary, and then you can't pull your words anymore and you get frustrated. And she would hit and stuff, and like I would just try to — if I could make her laugh then I probably won't get hit. But I'm grateful for the experience though. You know like, I've built a whole career off of being funny, trying to, you know, keep from getting punched.

On a part of the book that she couldn't make funny

That marriage, man, which I didn't — I was like debating, like, going back and forth like maybe we shouldn't even put that in there ... I was there for some years. It wasn't always bad, also you know this could probably help someone who's going through some relationship like that. I mean, it is what it is.

On what she hopes readers will take away from The Last Black Unicorn

I hope a little girl or little boy reads this and be like, 'My life is hard, but it ain't that hard. If she could survive that, I could survive anything.' Because I honestly believe in my heart that it's all about how you think, like your thoughts are what either have you excel in life or have you fail in life. I just feel like it'll really help somebody, and if not, it'll give people something to talk about.

This story was edited by Shannon Rhoades, produced by Justin Richmond, and adapted for the Web by Sydnee Monday and Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And our next guest - well, this is how she introduces herself in her new memoir.

TIFFANY HADDISH: Hello, my name is Tiffany Haddish. I would like to invite you to read about a few of my experiences in life so far. I know that a lot of these stories will seem unbelievable. I look back over my life and I'm like for real? That happened?

GREENE: I mean, you could just look at Tiffany Haddish's career this year and ask that question. She was the breakout star of this summer's raucous hit movie "Girls Trip."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GIRLS TRIP")

HADDISH: (As Dina) Can you go ahead and make some Patron shots for everybody up here, on me? I'm going to take care of everybody in first class because (singing) I'm every woman.

GREENE: Then last month, she hosted a little program maybe you've heard of.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DARRELL HAMMOND: Ladies and gentleman, Tiffany Haddish.

GREENE: Haddish became the first African-American woman stand-up comedian to host "Saturday Night Live." In her monologue, she addressed the topic of the moment - sexual harassment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

HADDISH: Listen, fellas, listen. OK? If you got your thang-thang (ph) out, and she got all her clothes on, you're wrong. You're in the wrong.

(CHEERING)

GREENE: On the day Tiffany Haddish swung by our New York studio for this interview, she confessed that she was flat-out tired.

Do you get to go to sleep or do you have to do, like, seven more interviews?

HADDISH: Yeah. I got to go do "The View" and then I get to go to sleep.

GREENE: Oh, that'll be fun, right?

HADDISH: And I'm going to meet Whoopi, and I'm going to be so happy. And then I'm going to have the bestest of dreams (laughter).

GREENE: And that's the thing about Tiffany Haddish. From the outside, she's arrived - full on celebrity. Inside, she still kind of seems like the girl from South Central LA who is super excited to meet Whoopi Goldberg. And you read her new memoir, "The Last Black Unicorn," you start to understand how hard she had to push to get here, through a marriage that she says turned violent and, before that, three years in foster care and group homes.

It was really a challenge from a social worker - right? - who helped put you on the comedy path.

HADDISH: Kalita Lewis, and I'm still looking for her, and I'm going to tell her thank you.

GREENE: Maybe she'll be listening to this.

HADDISH: I hope so. But she - I was getting in trouble in school. She was coming up there all the time, and she was like, you've got two choices this summer, Tiffany. You can go to the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp or you can go to psychiatric therapy. Which one you want to do? And I was like...

GREENE: Those two choices.

HADDISH: Yeah, those were my choices.

GREENE: Bringing up the Laugh Factory, I mean, this famous comedy club in LA - I mean, you went to that comedy camp, and it was Richard Pryor who gave you some advice. What did Richard Pryor tell you?

HADDISH: (Laughter) Richard Pryor - I was on stage telling jokes and he goes, stop, stop, what are you doing? And I was like, I'm telling a joke. He goes, no, you're not. I said, yes, I am. He goes, no, you're not. He said, look, people don't come to comedy shows because they want to hear about your problems. They come to have fun. If you're having fun, the audience is having fun. And then as I got older, I started realizing, oh, man, I'm going to try to do this in everything in life because once I started having fun on stage, people were nice to me. People were kind. It was easier to move forward.

GREENE: Which is extraordinary to think about because a lot of your life was not fun.

HADDISH: Yeah, it's not fun, but I made it fun for me.

GREENE: Because I think about - I mean, the reason that you were even talking to a social worker was, you know, your mom, I mean, no longer able to take care of you after this horrible car accident. I mean, she sustained a serious brain injury. And I just - I wonder, how much did that change your life? It led to time in foster care and without her.

HADDISH: Yeah, it changed my life tremendously, I mean - but at the same time - like, OK, because I was with her for a few years before we got taken away from her, so that's where I feel like I really developed my comedy chops because I figured if I make her laugh, you know, she won't - she won't hit me. Because, you know, when you have a brain injury, it's very hard and especially if you were - before the injury, you were very intellectual, intelligent person that has an excellent vocabulary and then you can't pull your words anymore and you get frustrated. And she would hit and stuff. And, like, I was just trying to - if I could make her laugh, then I probably won't get hit. But I'm grateful for the experience, though. You know, like, I've built a whole career off of being funny, trying to, you know, keep from getting punched in the end (laughter).

GREENE: Well, you talk about what you explore in your comedy, and it can be dark and it can be so personal. Was there an example in the book where you felt this is just too much? I actually can't make this funny.

HADDISH: That marriage, man, which I didn't - I was, like, debating, like, going back and forth. Like, maybe we shouldn't even put that in there. We shouldn't even - just let that go.

GREENE: And we should say, this was a marriage - I mean, you were - we should just - I mean, it was abusive and terrible (unintelligible).

HADDISH: Yeah, but you know what? The thing about it is like it wasn't all bad. I was there for some years (laughter). It wasn't always bad. Also, you know, this could probably help someone who's going through some relationship like that. I mean, it is what it is, and I'm sure there's people that are very upset with me, but - for even writing it, but...

GREENE: Why do you think they'd be upset?

HADDISH: Oh, well, wouldn't you be upset if somebody put out your faults (laughter)?

GREENE: Oh, you mean your ex-husband would be upset at this.

HADDISH: I would think. I would think. I mean, I don't know.

GREENE: The words that really stuck with me - I didn't know any other way to be loved.

HADDISH: I didn't. I mean, it was like living with my mom all over again, you know? So...

GREENE: I - you said this is not the book you expected to write. What did you mean?

HADDISH: I expected to write a hella funny book (laughter). I expected to write a book that was just like every page you're busting up laughing. But this book is like - it's a little bit of a bipolar book (laughter) I think. I don't know. You go through everything in this book. Even when I was doing the audiobook, I was like, we have to stop. It's emotional. I'm having too many emotions.

GREENE: And you did write, if she can do it, I know I can.

HADDISH: Yeah. I hope a little girl or a little boy reads this and be like, my life is hard, but it ain't that hard. If she can survive that, I could survive anything. Like, it's just 'cause I honestly believe in my heart that it's all about how you think. Like, your thoughts are what either have you excel in life or have you fail in life. I just feel like it'll really help somebody. If not, it'll give people something to talk about (laughter).

GREENE: Tiffany Haddish, it has been a real pleasure, and I hope we get to talk again sometime.

HADDISH: I hope so, too. I'm going to take a nap.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: You deserve it.

HADDISH: I'm so sleepy.

GREENE: You deserve it. Thank you so much.

HADDISH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M EVERY WOMAN")

CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) I'm every woman. It's all in me. Anything you want done, baby...

GREENE: Her new memoir is called "The Last Black Unicorn." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.