The wildly spontaneous performer turned her darkest experiences into comedy gold. Friends worry she works too hard, but ‘it would be a disservice to my soul’ not to seize every opportunity in her late-blooming career.
“Well, I’m going to be honest with you,” she tells the nurse, who is asking her thoughtfully if she’s okay. “This would be my eighth one. I’ve got a uterus shaped like a heart. It just won’t keep anything in.”
Haddish, 43, took parenting classes last year so she could adopt, but she still wavers on the potential of motherhood. She thinks of her childhood: the abusive adults, the foster homes. She thinks of her current life: the schedule so bursting with opportunities she doesn’t dare pass up in a late-blooming career that she worries any child of hers would do long hours with a nanny. Maybe it would be selfish to have a baby. Wouldn’t it help more to take in a 5-year-old?
This hasn’t been an easy time for big decisions, after a year that brought a TMZ nightmare over a lurid, bizarre lawsuit and the loss of her beloved Grandma Alice. Haddish talks about the miscarriage with one close friend but keeps it from others, for now. “I don’t want people saying: ‘Are you okay? Are you all right?’” she says. “Like a wounded animal, I just rather go in a cave by myself. Lick my wounds.”
And yet for Haddish, such a retreat is barely a pause, perhaps a night or two at most of lights out before 1 a.m. Just as she learned to spin her darkest experiences — homelessness, a violent ex — into comedy-club gold, she has managed throughout her life to channel sadness into a kind of energizing fuel. From her chaotic youth to her post-“Girls Trip” fame, disappointments drive her to engage rather than withdraw; they feed into her insatiable desire to connect, contribute and complete everything she possibly can.
This summer feels like some kind of payoff, as Haddish is slated to deliver a slew of projects that see her branching out ever further from her roots in stand-up comedy. There is her first Disney film, the horror comedy “Haunted Mansion,” out July 28, in which she plays a dithering medium named Harriet alongside LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson and Danny DeVito, arriving on the heels of her second season as Detective Danner on Apple TV Plus’s “The Afterparty.” But Haddish is also working on a Broadway play with Whoopi Goldberg that is based on her own best-selling 2017 memoir, “The Last Black Unicorn.” She is even set to make her music debut, having recorded an album that her longtime friend, Snoop Dogg, plans to release on Death Row Records.
“I watched her hustle, struggle to get to the top of the mountain,” Snoop says. “I watched her take a couple of hits and then find herself climbing back. Now music is another mountaintop she wants to try to climb.”
Haddish’s most ambitious project is the one you haven’t heard about. She is raising $25 million to build a healthful food market as part of an educational and commercial complex on a dusty swath of scrubland in Los Angeles’s Crenshaw neighborhood.
“I’ve always dreamed of being in a Disney movie, and this is the biggest movie I’ve ever been in,” Haddish says of the $160 million “Haunted Mansion.” “But it’s not as important as the grocery store. I don’t know if movies change people’s lives.”
She confirms her OB/GYN appointment and hangs up the phone. Haddish gives a tour of her backyard garden, showing off the collards she’ll cook for lunch, her plum tree, her aloe. She likes the idea of growing her own food, though she isn’t about to give up on red meat or the Ethiopian place around the corner. For someone who has made millions since her breakthrough, Haddish lives modestly. Yes, she drives the 2018 Tesla that was a gift from Tyler Perry, but she only recently got rid of her red 1995 Geo Metro, the car she lived out of when she was struggling. Some of her friends grumble about her remaining in the same single-level house she bought in 2015, when she finally had enough steady work to get out of rentals. There’s no gate, no way of keeping people from walking up to the door. But there’s no chance of her moving.
“It’s the dream house I always wanted,” says Haddish. “I just wanted something comfortable for me. And it has a tub I want. Everything I wanted. I thought somebody like read what’s on my mind.”
The now is everything. Haddish sometimes decides onstage, with one peek at the audience, to abandon her planned set for something that she thinks will work better for that very moment. Sometimes that’s even true when she’s making a movie.
In “Girls Trip,” the 2017 smash that launched her to fame, one of Haddish’s many scene-steals comes when her character, Dina, pulls down her shirt to flash P. Diddy from the front row of his concert. That part was scripted. What comes next was not. Dina clambers onstage, even though there’s an enormous speaker between her and Diddy — a joyously awkward moment made all the more so when co-star Queen Latifah, falling into the improv spirit, scrambles up from behind to give her a push over the top.
“We were rejoicing so much when we got that moment,” says director Malcolm D. Lee. “It was so spontaneous.”
Watching Haddish offstage is just as engaging. She rarely takes a break; when she delegates, it’s with extreme supervision. She will be on her phone, haggling with one friend, who is organizing her charity dinner, about the cost of the brisket. She’ll be meeting with a contractor to find out why he’s taking so long to renovate a house she just bought to serve as an audio studio, salon and fitting room. She’ll then call Kevin Hart, one of her closest friends, asking how she can sign on to endorse the Black-owned Bleu Vodka brand when her agents want her to promote Smirnoff, which she doesn’t drink.
All of it is assisted by the network she has amassed, a borderless community that can get her anywhere.
That might be a resort in Hawaii with Kodak executive Steve Bellamy and legendary comedian Albert Brooks, or a dinner party in L.A. with Britney Spears, Casey Affleck and James Marsden. She’ll be twerking with Lizzo at Cannes one day, in New York the next to launch TheBizio, what she hopes will become “Black Zoom.” And the connections seem to accrue by the day.
“It’s really a beautiful gift,” says Jada Pinkett Smith, her “Girls Trip” co-star who has remained a close friend. “She comes right up on you, and you have to let your guard down because she’s so real. It’s very refreshing in an industry where people can become so guarded. And that’s why she’s been able to make so many friends in so many different kinds of circles and create all different opportunities.”
At a pre-Oscars party for Jamie Lee Curtis in Marina del Rey, Haddish runs up to blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a total stranger, to tell him she’s so eager to be in one of his movies that she’ll even do script doctoring or work as his assistant director if that’s what it takes. Everybody laughs. About three weeks later, Will Smith calls offering her a scene in the new Bruckheimer-produced Bad Boys movie.
That’s basically how she got “Girls Trip.” At the time, Lee knew Haddish from her fourth-billed role on NBC’s “The Carmichael Show,” but he had no plans to cast her. Then he arrived at the premiere of his “Barbershop: The Next Cut.”
“I stepped out of my car by the red carpet and she was there and was like, ‘Oh, I want to be in your next movie,’” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’”
Her close friendship with Britney Spears’s manager, Cade Hudson, began with a simple meeting at Creative Artists Agency five years ago. She didn’t sign with him, but he would go on to introduce her to his bestie, Paris Hilton, who signed on to do a special DJ set at Haddish’s gala for her She Ready Foundation in June. The event raised more than $250,000 for the charity.
Haddish met Bellamy, Kodak’s president of entertainment, at a premiere, and they’ve become travel buds. And through him, she met real estate magnate Andrew Segal and added him to the board of what is called the Diaspora Groceries project.
“Nobody does what Tiffany does,” Bellamy says. “So she wants to start a grocery. To help grow the local businesses in her community. So I was going to dinner the other night with the founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, and I called her and said, ‘You want to come?’ And she already goes, ‘Okay, maybe knowing the founder of Whole Foods is not the worst thing in the world.’ And it’s just done. ‘I’m coming.’”
At Hudson’s for dinner on this Monday night, she pulls up a few of the tracks she’s recorded, blasting them on the stereo speakers. First, there’s a collaboration with Snoop and Lil Wayne called “Look Like,” a banger she’s been using to open up her comedy sets.
“This what fame looks like,” Haddish raps along to the playback. “This what success looks like. This what money looks like. It’s what it looks like, what it looks like.”
Then she’s up in the living room dancing to “Pick It Up,” a grind that features her and rapper E-40 doing a call and response of “left cheek, left cheek, right cheek, right cheek.”
“I already took this to a strip club and got the DJ to play it,” Haddish shouts. “He’s like, ‘Who’s this? It sounds like you, Tiffany.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s me. Get them dancing.’”
Haddish grew up in South Central L.A., not far from where she now lives. Her father, a refugee from Eritrea, left when she was 3. In 1988, when Haddish was 8, her mother, Leola Haddish, suffered serious brain damage in a car accident, and after that became physically and emotionally abusive. When she was 13, Haddish and her younger siblings — two half-brothers and two half-sisters — were placed in foster care.
Eventually, they landed with Haddish’s grandmother, who was working so much that it was left to the oldest child to take care of the younger — cooking their meals, getting them to school. Her brother, Justin, now 32, would occasionally see Haddish crying, but most of the time, he saw her busily working to keep the family together.
“My sister was a very good example for all of us that terrible things can happen to you, but you can’t let them define you,” he says. “You have to overcome that to find a way to keep doing what you want to do. She always made us laugh. She always kept it light.”
At El Camino Real High School, Haddish became the school mascot, sprinting through the gym during basketball games in her conquistador costume, tossing candy to the fans — useful practice for her later career as a professional party motivator, hyping up shy middle-schoolers at bar mitzvahs. At 16, at the suggestion of her social worker, Haddish rode the bus to the Laugh Factory to do her first stand-up sets. Whatever pain she felt at home was not going to hold her back.
In fact, she would later mine the hard times for her best material. In the 2017 “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig that won her an Emmy, she merrily referenced her years in foster care in her monologue: “I want to say thank you to anyone who paid taxes between 1990 and 1999,” she told the audience. “Because if you wouldn’t have paid your taxes, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
“I hate to generalize, but I feel like Black people just kind of deal with our issues,” says Selena Martin, a friend since high school. “It’s like, okay, here’s the next moment. Here’s the next day. What you going to do about it? Are you going to sit there and sulk and feel the feels, or are you going to keep on pushing?”
Crenshaw, where John Singleton filmed “Boyz N the Hood,” has been on a long, slow upswing since it was devastated by the 1992 L.A. riots. Haddish bought her three-bedroom house in 2015 and keeps investing in real estate.
She walks two doors down and shows off another house she just bought, also a single level, this one beautifully renovated with a luxurious walk-in shower and a garage turned into a “man cave.” She owns a house on the corner, a pair of larger houses about a half-mile away and two properties not far from Inglewood that are used to house foster children who have transitioned out of the system. She also helps support her mother, who lives with one of her half-sisters. Their relationship is healthier now that Leola is properly medicated, she says.
“I don’t use my money to show off,” Haddish says. “I use my money to do stuff in the community. I’ve been stacking paper for that.”
The sprawling open lot down the street is framed on one side by the brutalist concrete shell that once served as a community bank and on another by bare concrete that served as the foundation of a church. That’s where her family used to pick up free groceries distributed by the government WIC program. Haddish sprinkles bamboo seeds as she walks. She bought the plastic packet online after hearing they help offset soil contamination.
Over the years, Haddish says she has put away several million for the supermarket project. In June, just before the Season 2 premiere of “The Afterparty,” Haddish headed to the Cannes International Festival of Creativity to raise more. The plan is for an alternative to chain markets and fast-food franchises.
“There will be specialty things and a normal market and a nonprofit-like educational component, where people can take cooking classes and a financial literacy class,” she says. “I’m a firm believer that once you understand how money works, once you understand how food works, you become a healthier, happier human being. And when you’re healthier and happier, the family’s healthier and happier, and the community’s healthier and happier.”
Tiffany, you have to slow down. She hears it from her managers, her advisers, from her perpetually grumpy friend Dave Chappelle. Focus on movies, they say. Or focus on comedies. Or just: Get some sleep.
But then she will find herself rolling into New Hampshire via bus, signed on for a 15-minute spot on a couple of stops on Bert Kreischer’s Fully Loaded touring comedy roadshow. Kreischer, a shirt-averse, beer-guzzling frat favorite, has been a friend for years. She knew his wife years before either of them made it because LeeAnn worked with Haddish’s Grandma Alice at a restaurant in L.A. Earlier this year, Haddish saw Kreischer at the Daytona 500. He told her about his summer plans. She said she’d love to come along.
“So we sent her an offer,” Kreischer says. “I was f—ing shocked she said yes.”
On a Saturday night in June, just before the start of heavy promo for “The Afterparty,” Haddish is sitting at a table eating shrimp backstage at an amphitheater on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee, kibitzing with the other touring comics: Tammy Pescatelli, Rich Vos, Jim Norton. She waves off the suggestion that this detour distracted from her escalating career.
“I want to have fun with my friends, I want to laugh really hard and enjoy myself,” she says. “I want to be a farmer. I want to be a horse trainer. I want to own a Snickers factory — I love Snickers. I am a jack of all trades, and it would be a disservice to my soul not to take advantage of that and do things that make me happy.”
Comedian Jo Koy, a friend for years, recalls Haddish showing up to film a short spot for his mid-level comedy “Easter Sunday.” She had to be on camera Saturday and Monday, but, unbeknownst to him, she had also signed on to host Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.
“I came back from my shoot or whatever, and she was wet in the hallway,” Koy says. “I said, ‘Did you go swimming?’ She tells me that in order to do Shark Week, she had to take scuba classes and get her f—ing license on Monday. Then she goes on set and crushes in front of the camera. Unreal.”
Billy Crystal was shocked by how easy it was to recruit her for “Here Today,” a comedic drama he directed and starred in two years ago.
“I had not seen ‘Girls Trip,’ but I saw her host SNL and thought, ‘Who is this?’” Crystal says. “And we met. She had just flown in from Africa after taking her dad’s ashes there. And I was moved by that. For someone who is as brash as she is onstage and free-spirited, she was very simple and very compassionate to talk to. And came in jet-lagged and not looking great, which I loved, and I started explaining the characters, and she actually said: ‘You don’t have to say anything more. I’m going to do it.’”
Filming eventually came to a pivotal scene in which Haddish’s character weeps while talking with Crystal’s, an accomplished comedy screenwriter grappling with early-stage dementia. Haddish is emotional in real life, prone to tearing up, particularly when talking about her grandmother, who died last year at 86 — but as a consequence, it’s the one thing that this most spontaneous of performers struggles with on camera. She hesitates to cry on the set, “because I can’t control it sometimes and can get physically sick,” Haddish says. “I mean, I’ll throw up.”
“She said, ‘I can’t do it,’” recalls Crystal. “I said, ‘We’re going to do it. I need it. Your character needs it. And you need it.’ I had the camera behind me and I’m telling her the story, and then I went off-book and I just tried to describe the sadness I needed her to get to. And the only way I could get it was talking to Tiffany, not to the character. I just talked and talked to her, and she kept getting closer and closer, and I just whispered, ‘You’re there. Just let it go. Let it go.’”
In the car, heading to a voice-over session for the Disney Plus animated series “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” Haddish gets a call from Chris Spencer, the comedian and writer she calls her unofficial big brother, checking about a weird text thread.
It’s from another comedian, a former friend at the center of Haddish’s scandal last year. The woman’s daughter briefly accused Haddish and comedian Aries Spears of child abuse in connection with a skit that she and her brother performed in a decade ago, at ages 14 and 7. Titled “Through a Pedophile’s Eyes,” the short film was mind-bogglingly tasteless, an ill-advised comedic misfire where the ostensible laughs were based on Spears’s character ogling oblivious children. Haddish said she “deeply regret[ted]” her involvement, and her lawyers denied any abuse or misconduct.
The daughter, now in her 20s, withdrew the suit weeks later and issued a statement saying that Haddish “would never harm me or my brother or help anyone else do anything that could harm us.” The mother, though, had started texting Haddish and posting YouTube videos demanding a public apology for statements that the star and her representatives made during the height of the scandal asserting that the mother was the driving force behind the lawsuit and claiming that she had tried to “shake down” Haddish for years. (The mother denied this to The Washington Post.) At one point, the woman gave my phone number to Haddish’s ex-husband, who was arrested in 2011 after Haddish accused him of beating her during an argument. (He was never charged, according to a law enforcement spokesman in El Monte, Calif.) He writes me to offer to “clear up any lies” and sends a link to his self-published book, “Trust, Lies and Deceit: The Real Tiffany Haddish Revealed.”
“I’m about to take this to the police,” Haddish tells Spencer on the phone. “I’m about to get a restraining order.”
Yet she finds herself unable to simply cut off her former friend. She cries about this on a cross-country flight. For Haddish, the world can be both unlimited and suffocating. You can be on a yacht in Hawaii or a comedy tour in New Hampshire and still be battling haters on your iPhone.
“I probably should block her,” Haddish says. “But then I also won’t know what the f— she’s up to.”
These are the damages of a childhood of abuse and betrayal, her friends say. Vanessa Spencer, who is Chris’s wife and the executive vice president of Haddish’s She Ready Productions, says Haddish had tried to help her former friend in the past, giving her opening-act gigs and sending her money, as emails viewed by The Post confirm. “And I think she just can’t believe at this point somebody could do that to her,” Spencer says.
This dysfunction extends to her romantic relationships, says Elliott Connie, a friend who is also a therapist.
Haddish has a long list of bad boyfriends. She’s used them for comedic inspiration. In “Girls Trip,” Dina suggests defecating in a cheater’s shoes. Well, as Haddish revealed in her memoir, she did exactly that in real life with one boyfriend’s Air Jordans.
But Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory, also remembers Haddish arriving at a showcase years ago with a black eye and a swollen lip. She insisted on going on that night. Masada let her stay on a couch at a house owned by the club for a few weeks for her safety. Another boyfriend, whom she met while filming “Girls Trip,” regularly went through her phone and, at one point, sneaked onto the set of “The Carmichael Show” to monitor her. One of Haddish’s co-stars asked: Is that your boyfriend behind that shrub?
“If you think about how you learn what a healthy relationship looks like — as a young child, you watch your father go into the kitchen and say, ‘Sweetheart, I’m going into the kitchen, would you like anything?’” Connie says. “Tiffany didn’t see any of that. She had been abandoned, hurt and abused by her parents, her husband, the people that are supposed to be unconditional in their delivery of love.”
The closest she may have come to a proper relationship was with Lonnie Rashid Lynn, the rapper and actor known as Common. They met on the set of “The Kitchen,” which Haddish co-starred in with Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss.
It was “the healthiest, the funnest relationship I’ve ever had,” she says. “It’s where I felt safest out of all the relationships I’ve ever had.”
And yet he began to withdraw. There was a series of events — a concert in New York, a birthday party for Barack Obama, and Common’s own birthday — for which she says he didn’t invite her. Eventually, he called to break up over the phone.
“It wasn’t mutual,” she says now. “It was more him saying, ‘I think this relationship has run its course.’ And I was like, ‘Okay. Like you gonna be a 50-year-old single man. Okay?’” (A rep for Common said he was unavailable for comment.)
She still holds out hope she’ll find the right man.
“I’m a pretty positive person, and I’m here to have an experience,” she says. “I would love to have a partner to experience it with. But also, I guess I’ve been alone for so long. And so used to being abandoned, I expect it. Which is sad, right?”
Back in L.A., after a day of activity, Haddish is ready to make plans. She has decided to talk about her medical situation. The OB/GYN has told her that she probably has endometriosis, an extremely painful condition in which tissue similar to what lines the uterus grows outside the organ. It’s a revelation. Since she was a teenager, Haddish has suffered through pain and intense bleeding. Maybe publicizing her condition will help others.
That night, Haddish goes out to dinner with a local comic, Nasty Nate, who has been pleading with her for a date. There is no chance it’ll lead to anything. He’s nice, offering to take care of her, drive her anywhere, provide protection. But she’s looking for a partner, not a security guard. There is another man she’s been into, a handsome investor, but for whatever reason, he has refused to get physical. She’s done waiting.
So she takes the stage unbilled at the Three Clubs, a spot on Vine Street, to build on a bit she’s been working on for months. In its latest form, it’s clearly related to the events of the past week. Not that anybody would know.
“My jokes are my babies,” Haddish tells the room. “They are my children. And just like my children, jokes take time to develop. And just like babies, I really want to make it work.”
“But just like a baby,” she continues, “some of these jokes will miscarry.”
The audience laughs, oblivious to the personal connection with this metaphor.
“And you’ll be saying, ‘That joke is great!’ and you’ll watch my special and you won’t see it all,” Haddish says. “And you’ll be like, ‘Where is my favorite joke?’ And you’ll run into me somewhere, probably at the gynecologist or something, and you’ll be like, ‘Tiffany, oh, my God, I saw your special and I’m really upset because you didn’t do this joke.’”
She pauses here for the build.
“And I’ll look at you in your eyes and I’ll tell you straight up: ‘I love that joke, too, but I didn’t want the responsibility that comes along with that. So I may have aborted that joke, because this is California and I can do that here.’”
The crowd is laughing, and she delivers the punchline before slipping into her next bit.
“I’m pro-laughs tonight,” Haddish says, bringing it back home. “My joke, my choice.”