It’s hard not to know Tiffany Haddish. After years on the comedy circuit, Hollywood’s “it girl” shot to superstardom in 2017 with her scene-stealing role in the Will Packer hit movie Girls Trip, which made more than $140 million at the box office. Since then, she’s managed to captivate audiences with her charisma and humor, hosting Saturday Night Live, winning an Emmy Award and writing a New York Times best-selling memoir about growing up in foster care and how comedy saved her life.
Even with her popularity, Haddish is not without her critics: a fact of which the comedian is very aware. When Shadow and Act sat down to chat with Haddish about her role in the new CG animation movie The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, the interview evolved into a revealing conversation about the woman behind the laughs.
“The character [that Haddish plays in The Lego Movie 2, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, a misunderstood ruler of a rival empire], she’s really a good person. But everybody thinks she’s evil, which, you know, I’ve had that experience in my own life,” Haddish says, leaning back on a chaise lounge in the junket hotel room. “Where everybody’s like, ‘Oh, she’s ghetto, she’s that, she’s this.’ But when you get to know me, you’re like, ‘Oh, wait she’s really a sweet, nice, kind, caring, loving person and not as ghetto as I thought she was.’” She laughs and then stands in her truth: “But I am a little bit ghetto.”
It’s Haddish’s refreshing openness and comfort with herself that has endeared her to audiences during her rising career. “I don’t know how to be anything else,” Haddish says. “I can’t be anything that I’m not. I mean I can do it for like 5 minutes, that’s it. I can be fake for ‘bout 5 to 10 minutes and that’s it. Then the real Tiff gon’ come out.”
The real Tiffany, according to Haddish, is not someone who speaks “in immaculate English and someone else’s words, or is super depressed—” Haddish catches herself. “Well, no. Sometimes, I am actually depressed…” She trails off.
Haddish had a rough start to 2019. She made headlines when she bombed at a New Year’s Eve performance, and the industry that had celebrated her a year earlier seemed ready to turn against her—an unfortunate truth about Hollywood. However, her heartfelt and honest apology turned the tide as her fans rallied behind her.
“I’m going to make mistakes,” Haddish tells Shadow and Act. “I’m a human being, I’m not perfect and I never sold myself as being perfect. I never came out like, ‘I’m the most dopest, most wonderful.’ You’ll never hear me say I’m the funniest person alive; you’ll never hear me say any of those things because I know there’s always somebody better. I’m always going to be learning, I’m always going to be growing and every human should think that way.”
When asked what message she has for Black creatives who look up to her, at first Haddish stares, incredulous. “They do?”
“I couldn’t tell. I seen some of the stuff people been saying, they be saying some mean stuff and I just be like, ‘Well you know, y’all can’t be meaner than my mama!” She laughs. “So, say what you want to. I could care less.”
But as she continues to speak about the criticism, particularly from Black men, Haddish sits up for the first time in our conversation.
“I saw a lot of Black men talking mess,” Haddish says. One of her vehement critics, comedian Katt Williams, is a Black man. In a viral interview on radio show Frank and Wanda in the Morning, Williams infamously said of Haddish: “She has been doing comedy since she was 16; you can’t tell me your favorite Tiffany Haddish joke.”
He insinuated that she had built her career by pandering to white audiences. Though Haddish responded at the time by “shower[ing]” Williams with “real love,” and the two took a photo together after their Emmy wins, Williams hasn’t been the only man to come for Haddish and her talent.
Controversial figure Dr. Boyce Watkins has also been extremely critical of Haddish and her comedy, tweeting that: “Tiffany Haddish is exactly what white supremacists want to see. She would have been the most famous slave on the plantation.”
“I think [that’s] hilarious,” Haddish says in response to people like Watkins saying she “sets back the Black community 100 years.”
She says, “I don’t get offended by it. I just think, ‘You guys, think back 100 years ago. A Black woman like me, 100 years ago, would be dead.’ And anybody who— any other Black person— who wanted to speak their mind and be open and out there and be an inspiration to other Black people would be dead,” she says.
“I want to be an inspiration to all people—especially people who have been abandoned and abused and hurt like I have. So, if me being myself is setting the Black community back 100 years, well dammit, I don’t wanna be there, ‘cause a person like me would be dead already. Period. I think I set us forward 100 years. And not just the Black people, all people.”
As for why she thinks this critics are coming for her, she offers some speculation:
“I think a lot of them [Black men] talk mess because I inspire Black women to be great, to be themselves, and they’re like ’Ahhhh, I can’t control her anymore! Tiffany Haddish, you ruined this for me, ahhhhhhhh!’” Haddish laughs, “I don’t know.”
Before our conversation ends, Shadow And Act circles back to the question about her message for Black creatives who look up to her, assuring her that even with the critics, it’s all love in the Black community. Haddish responds:
“My message to them would be don’t worry about what other people say or think about you. Believe in yourself more than anybody else does, not to the point where it’s like, ’I’m the best,’ all the time. But just believe that you can achieve whatever it is you’re trying to do,” she says.
“Do something everyday towards that and never give up on your dreams—unless you completely suck at it. And even then, you have to give it at least three to four years to see if you really suck. But you probably suck because you’re not putting in the true effort to do it ‘cause you can do anything. Period.”