Friday, June 14, 2024

Tiffany Haddish Reveals Psychic Tendencies, Secret Haunts, Bat Mitzvah Gift From Barbra Streisand

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Back in 2008, LOS ANGELES magazine discovered a bright, young, then-mostly unknown comedic talent from South-Central L.A. whom we were pretty sure was going places. “One second she’s sweet and innocent, and you’d like to take her home to Mom,” we gushed in that year’s Best of L.A. issue, “the next she’s using the mic in ways only your wicked uncle would appreciate.”

Turns out, of course, we were right about Tiffany Haddish. In the 15 years since, she’s shot up to the top of comedy’s A-list, first making a name for herself with TV roles on series like 2015’s The Carmichael Show, then landing a breakthrough big-screen part in 2017’s Girls Trip—after which she picked up an Emmy in 2018 for a gig hosting Saturday Night Live (the first Black female comic to do so) and a Grammy in 2021 for best comedy album.

On the eve of her next big projects—Haunted Mansion, her first Disney movie, which opens July 28, and a second season of The Afterparty on Apple TV+, premiering June 12—we reunited with our old pick for Best New L.A. Comedian to talk about her meteoric rise, her harrowing beginnings growing up “in the poor realm,” and how she ended up taking Torah lessons from Sarah Silverman’s sister.

And, oh, because this is LOS ANGELES’ nightlife issue, we made sure to grill Haddish, now 43 and still living in L.A. (still in South-Central, in fact), on where she spends her nights these days. As it happens, there’s a reggae joint near USC that only a handful of folks know about . . .

LAMag: So, as you know, Los Angeles was the first magazine to give you press back in the day.

Tiffany Haddish: Yes, in 2008, L.A. mag deemed me funniest new comedian of Los Angeles, and it meant the world to me that my own city recognized my hard work and dedication. It was the exact right timing ’cause I was getting ready to get married, and he was talking me out of doing comedy: “You don’t gotta do this, subjecting yourself to getting bumped on shows and having to stay up super late. Nobody even cares that you’re doing comedy.” I’m like, “But I love it.” And then Los Angeles magazine goes, “Hey, funniest new comedian of L.A.,” and I’m like, “Yes! See, somebody does care.”

We are obviously fans of you on stage and screen, but your real life could be a movie. Give us the CliffsNotes version.

Born in Los Angeles. Mom has schizophrenia from a bad car accident. Ended up in foster care. Grandma got custody of me. At 15, I was getting in trouble in school a lot, so my social worker gave me two choices that summer: Laugh Factory Comedy Camp or psychiatric therapy. I went to the comedy camp—changed my whole perspective on life, changed everything. It gave me confidence, communication skills, taught me how to write jokes. Cut to getting emancipated, being homeless for a little bit, getting accepted into NYU—but didn’t know how I was gonna pay that tuition, so went to Santa Monica College and El Camino College. Got a job working at the airlines for some years, got really depressed, and even though it wasn’t court-ordered that time, I went to counseling. The therapist was like, “What brings you joy?” And I’m like, “Hearing laughter, seeing people laughing.” So I got back to doing stand-up, and that opened up my world to where I am today. I had some more homeless incidents, probably about two more times. Got married, divorced, but never gave up on myself.

If you make people laugh, they’ll do anything for you.

What was growing up in South-Central like?

I was actually born at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, down the street from South-Central L.A. Growing up in South-Central was not the easiest. It was drug infestation. We were in the poor realm. My mom got married to my stepdad. We moved to Pomona and then Colton. My mom had the accident, and we came back to South-Central, and that’s when I became a mom, taking care of my sisters and brothers.

You were nine years old then?

Yes. I learned to grocery shop, how to spend food stamps. I cooked. I cleaned. And I went to school. By the time I got to high school, my drama teacher figured out I couldn’t read, and she made me come to her classroom every day at lunchtime and read to her. Within a year, I was reading pretty good. It opened my world to so many possibilities and taught me to dream. But sometimes, I read the comments on Instagram, and I wish I couldn’t read again!

You still live in South-Central, right?

To this day, and I’ve bought a lot of properties. Every time I do a movie, I try to buy or invest in some land in my community. I would love to be the queen of South-Central . . . I want to be an example to the kids. Just because you come from a place, you don’t have to run away from it. You can stay there, and you can make it better.

Early on, you figured out if you could be funny, that could help you avoid abusive situations at home or get you through foster care.

I had watched this movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There was a scene where the detective says to the rabbit, “Why are these people doing all these nice things for you?” And he says, “Because I make ’em laugh, and if you make people laugh, they’ll do anything for you.” And I was like, “That’s the ticket. That’s how I’m gonna get people to help me do my homework, how I’m gonna make it through school, how I’m gonna make friends. I can get all the help I need, ’cause I need help.” So I started being silly and trying to make people laugh. I just didn’t know when to do it and when not to do it—I’m still learning that. What is crossing the line? In this day and age, you can’t even pass gas without somebody saying you’re offensive: “You’re being rude to the people that don’t pass gas.” It’s like, “I’m human. I didn’t mean to just do it in front of everybody, but I couldn’t hold it anymore. I’m sorry.” Am I gonna be canceled for eating bad broccoli?

You have some big TV and film roles this summer. In Haunted Mansion, you play a psychic.

Lord, I went down a rabbit hole that I wish somebody would hurry up and pull me out of . . . I started watching YouTube videos of tarot card readers and mediums, a freaking whirlwind that keeps showing up on my dang algorithm.

Do you believe in psychics?

I probably am a psychic ’cause I do have dreams, and those dreams always come true.

What sort of dreams?

One dream, I give birth to three fish that have legs, and two men fight over us—both thinking they’re the father, and me believing neither one of them is. To be honest, I don’t know who the father is. But they’re fighting so viciously that I’m like, “Come on, kids, we gotta get outta here!” I take them to this beach, and then my half-fish children attack my mother and eat her alive—and I can’t stop them.

That’s a full-on nightmare!

A nightmare that keeps reoccurring, and I don’t know what that means. I asked ChatGPT what it means, and ChatGPT just said it’s an interesting story.

What about ghosts?  Do you believe in them?

I feel like there are spirits. In 1994, my grandma gave me this autograph album, and she goes, “When you meet people that inspire you or that you admire, get them to sign this book.” I thought she was bananas: “Ain’t no way in hell I’m gonna meet anybody. I’m never gonna meet Roger Rabbit.” Cut to I forgot about the book, and I did meet the guy, Charles Fleischer, who did the voice of Roger Rabbit. I did meet Halle Berry. Thirty years go by, and my grandma passes away. We’re in her attic, cleaning it out, and there’s a box labeled “Tiffany.” This autograph book was at the top, like my grandma tapped into me: “I gave you an assignment, and you haven’t done it. Do it.” So I’ve been carrying this book around for the past few months, and I’ve gotten some pretty amazing autographs: Michael B. Jordan, Nas, Trevor Noah, Peyton Manning, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Julia Roberts, Laura Dern, Steven Spielberg, who was encouraging everybody else to sign it.

You’ve done your grandma proud.

Yes, I have. Ava DuVernay, Ali Wong, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake—some really cool people have signed this! Chris Rock signed it, “You’re funnier than you think you are.” Antoine Fuqua gave me his phone number, and Judy Blume gave me her email address and told me to come visit . . . It’s freaking awesome. I’ll be looking at this book before I go to sleep and feel my grandma’s sitting at the foot of the bed, like, “I’m so proud of you, Tiffany.”

You’ve also got a second season of The Afterparty coming up. You play a detective on that show. Did you go down a rabbit hole for that role as well?

I’ve never been a detective. I’ve interviewed with a lot of detectives; I’ve met detectives. I’ve even dated a couple of detectives. So, with that character, I went for what I wished a detective would be, how I wish detectives would carry themselves. I’ve also watched a lot of The First 48 to see how they move. And from my personal experience and from watching 48, I realized they’re just regular people who are curious. So I made sure my character, Detective Danner, was very curious. She wants to help; she wants to solve it. But she doesn’t want to be accusatory. Some detectives I’ve met in the past are like, “You’re guilty till you show me you’re not guilty.” But for my character, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

You volunteer at the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp, and you have your own foundation . . .

She Ready Foundation. I started it because I was in the foster care system, and it’s kind of horrible. The average foster kid transfers to three houses a year—that’s a lot. And you don’t get to take your stuff, or you do, but it’s all in garbage bags, and that makes you feel like garbage being passed around. I remember the day someone gave me a suitcase—it made me feel like a person, like a traveler. To be able to have that changed my perspective. I said to myself, “If I ever get any kind of power, I’m gonna make sure kids don’t feel the way I felt.” I don’t want them to feel like garbage. They should feel like they’re on an adventure. So I started giving out suitcases.

And fans donate suitcases?

If people wanted to take pictures with me at my comedy shows, I would make them bring a brand-new suitcase. So we started making people pay for the meet-and-greets. All the money, all the merchandise I sell goes directly to the foundation. We collaborate with the Department of Children’s Services, and wherever I go, those kids are gonna get suitcases or etiquette classes or life-skills classes or scholarships. The number one crisis in Los Angeles is homelessness. Most people that are homeless come from the foster care system. I’ve been renting the properties I’ve been buying to different organizations that provide housing for foster kids that are getting emancipated.

All the things you learned when you were nine.

Exactly. That’s part of why I’m opening this grocery store, Diaspora Groceries, in South-Central. It’ll open in a year and a half and is gonna cost, like, $25 million. I’ve been saving for a long time, and I put money aside in a trust for the community. They closed three grocery stores in South-Central that each served 50,000 people. How many people are without proper food right now? This is my way of tackling systemic racism. At the grocery store, I want at least 85 percent of the products to come from Black vendors and Black farmers. I want financial literacy classes and cooking classes taught there. Once I learned how food and money works, I became a happier, more productive human being. And when I’m happier and more productive, my family and the community is happier and more productive.

Here’s something I did not know about you: You’re Jewish.

Yeah! My grandma always told me I was Jewish, and I did not believe her. I was performing at all these bar and bat mitzvahs for years—emceeing, dancing. I probably did 550 of them. Who knows, I probably did yours! When I finally reunited with my dad, he’s telling me about our culture and our people in Eritrea, and it resonated with me. I was already going to Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. He told me before he passed away, “Honor your ancestors. Whatever you do, you gotta tell people about our people.” I felt compelled to learn more, to grow up. I want to be an adult, not only in my eyes or society’s eyes but also in God’s eyes. I want to make a commitment between me and God. I started studying with Susan Silverman, Sarah Silverman’s sister, who’s a rabbi. Every time I go to temple, every time I hear the Torah read, hear a prayer, every cell in my body, every fiber in my being feels like it’s being healed. It feels like I’m finally where I’m supposed to be.

So you had a bat mitzvah?

Yep, and that party was off the chain! That bat mitzvah [in 2019] was a definite coming to womanhood, a celebration of life. I have never been in a room where I felt that much love, energy, and positivity, not just for myself but for everyone. Billy Crystal was there, Sarah Silverman, Giancarlo Stanton. Jimmy Kimmel thought I was joking, thought it was a bar mitzvah-themed 40th birthday, so he showed up in some jeans and a windbreaker jacket. Barbra Streisand presented a gift, this beautiful Star of David. It was the most magical, amazing experience. Chelsea Handler was like, “Girl, this party. I wanna be negative, but it’s impossible!”

It sounds like a great night.

It was the best night! We never stopped partying. That was the party of a lifetime—someone from every aspect of my existence was there. It was beautiful. And to see my mom smiling the way she was smiling, so much joy on her face, which we barely ever get to see . . . I felt like that was all God. It must be how they party in the heavens.

Speaking of partying, this issue of L.A. mag is our Nightlife issue. Do you like going out?

I love going out! I’m a Sagittarius. I love to be out at night with my girlfriends, going to some lounge or restaurant that has live music, dancing, and partaking in libations and good food. Food is everything—especially at nighttime. That’s when I like to eat the most.

Is going out now any different from going out in your twenties and thirties?

Way different. In my twenties, I was going out every single night, and it was difficult to get into clubs. I had to make the bouncer laugh to get in, or I would make up stories. My number one go-to story would be, “Halle Berry’s my auntie,” and they’d be like, “No way she’s your auntie.” I’m like, “Yeah, she’s my auntie, and she told me to come up here and check out the place and make sure that it’s cool. I’m supposed to call her and let her know.” And then I would be like [pretending to talk on the phone], “Halle? Halle? Yeah. I don’t know—he’s not letting me in. OK, I’ll tell him.” . . . [speaking to the bouncer] “She said her manager is gonna make a phone call if you guys don’t let me in.” And they would let me in. I would dance till the club was over. I used to get the press and curls, and I would walk out with a little Afro ’cause I would be sweating. My makeup would be all gone ’cause I danced it all off.

What’s your favorite bar or club to go to now?

The clubs be changing so much, but I love going to the District on Crenshaw and the Dime on Fairfax. You will also catch me at Hyde [on Sunset]. There’s also this place in Echo Park—they do Motown on Mondays. It’s all old-school music, grown folks and young people dancing, and that’s where I want to be. And there’s this super-dope place in South-Central, this reggae club that is off the chain. But I don’t think I’m supposed to tell people about it. It doesn’t start till midnight, and it isn’t over till about four or five o’clock in the morning. You gotta know somebody who knows somebody to get in. When you see it, it looks like it’s a repair shop for appliances until you walk through the door. I’m not supposed to tell people exactly where it’s at—but if you know where USC is, and you know where 54th Street is, and you know where . . . but I’m not going to say the other street because then you’re gonna find it. But it’s off the chain. You might get pregnant—you might leave there pregnant. I’m just saying it’s super fun.

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