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Tiffany Haddish: Why The ‘Girls Trip’ Star Is This Year’s Comedy Wonder Woman

The hilarious actor and comedian, who's taking over Hollywood one breakout role at a time, reveals where she got her confidence and what's next.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Performers onstage during Comedy Centrals 'The Comedy Jam' held at The Fonda Theatre on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

Getty Images for Comedy Central

To watch Tiffany Haddish is to get the vicarious sense that you, too, can do anything, be anything, including yourself. It comes down to just two words: “She ready.”

You hear Haddish say “she ready” a lot, in interviews, in her upcoming Showtime stand-up special — Haddish’s production company is even called She Ready Productions. When she says it, don’t think of it as a catchphrase. Really, it’s a mantra.

“Me and my cousins, we came up with it when we were young and trying to sneak into clubs,” she told IndieWire in a phone interview. “When we would come out of the house and you looked cute we’d be like, ‘Yeah, she ready.’ And if you looked bad, we’d be like, ‘Uh uh, she not ready, go back in the house.'”

However, since then, Haddish has found a deeper inspiration in it. “It kind of just stuck with me, through everything,” she said. “Like before I get on stage, I’m like, ‘Yeah, she ready, you got this.’ It’s a confidence booster. She ready for what? She ready for success, she ready to win, she ready to spread love, she ready to make people laugh, she ready for joy, she ready to get this job.”

“We’re Going to Make This Happen”

Haddish is currently working on the upcoming TBS sitcom “The Last O.G.,” in which she stars as Shay, the ex-girlfriend of Tracy Morgan’s character. “Girl, I ain’t never looked for work. I just pray that it comes to me, and this happened to fall in my lap,” she said.

It’s Haddish’s first role as a leading lady in a sitcom, but in 2017, Haddish has been everywhere — playing a guest bailiff on Doug Benson’s “The High Court,” singing “Proud Mary” on Comedy Central’s “The Comedy Jam,” winning a bicycle on “Talk Show: The Game Show,” and providing the voice of Tina the Brain Coral on Animal Planet’s “Animal Nation.”

All that, plus her series regular work on “The Carmichael Show,” the critically acclaimed NBC sitcom (that, it was sadly determined a few weeks ago, would end with Season 3), and “Girls Trip,” the hilarious Malcolm D. Lee-directed comedy in which she teams up with Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall for a wild ladies’ weekend in New Orleans.

Haddish has been called the breakout star of “Girls Trip” by more than a few people, and while she’s been told that before, this time feels different — if only thanks to the “Girls Trip” publicity.

“People been telling me that for years, like, ‘Your turn is coming, you’re about to blow up,'” Haddish said. “But now that billboards are all over the city and stuff, it’s so funny because all those guys that I used to date that were like, ‘I don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this comedy stuff. It’s never going to pan out. You just need have a baby.’ Now they’re all like, ‘Hey girl. I’m so proud of you. I knew you would make it.’ I just laugh at them.”

“Don’t Give Me An Opportunity, Because I’m Gonna Snatch It”

Haddish might say that she’s never looked for work, but her recent roles have come through sheer perseverence. Take her landing “The Carmichael Show,” for which she was not originally cast. But creator Jerrod Carmichael told IndieWire during an NBC press event earlier this year that “Tiffany yelled at me, ‘Find something for me to do,’ and so I did.”

Haddish’s version? “I didn’t tell him to put me on the show, but I told him, ‘Congratulations on everything, I’m so proud of you Jerrod.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, thank you. Thank you.’ And I was like, ‘I think it’s real messed up how you tell me think I’m funny and you think I’m so talented, but you didn’t even let me come audition. That’s messed up, Jerrod. I really think it’s messed up, but if you need help with anything just let me know. If you need a PA, somebody to run lines with you, you need somebody to be an extra, whatever. I am here for you, because I am unemployed this summer.'”

This apparently had an impact — two weeks later, Haddish got called to fill in for a “Carmichael Show” table read, because the original actress cast as Nekeisha was doing a play. “Don’t give me an opportunity because I’m gonna snatch it. I’m going to bring the best Tiffany Haddish you can see,” she said. “I did the table read, and then two days later they asked me if I could come and rehearse with them because the young lady was still doing the play, and I said, ‘Okay, no problem.’ I came in there and I brought my funny. They all fell in love with me and I got the job.”

That did mean the actress originally cast lost her job, but according to Haddish, “She’s doing good.”

THE CARMICHAEL SHOW -- "Lesbian Wedding" Episode 305 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tiffany Haddish as Nekeisha Williams, Nathan Owens as Todd -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

Haddish brought a similar level of persistence to joining the cast of “Girls Trip,” which she found out about through unconventional means. “I had done the movie ‘Keanu’ in New Orleans the year before, and a lot of the crew members from ‘Keanu’ ended up on ‘Girls Trip,’ and they had got the script, and they were reading it and were like ‘Oh my God, this is Tiffany,'” Haddish said. “They started emailing me the script and saying, ‘This is your part. You have to get your agents and get an audition. They haven’t casted it yet.’ So I sent it to my agent like, ‘Yo, all these crew members are saying I should do this movie.’ I read the script and I thought it was hilarious. I’m like, ‘I need to be in this movie. Whoever wrote this movie has partied with me. Like they know me.'”

At that point, the role of Dina was the only role left uncast, but when Haddish told her agent about it, he told her that the production was “looking for someone with a name.” Her response? “You go back to them and you tell them that I’ve had a name since 1979. Okay? I was born with a name. You tell them that,” Haddish said.

Thus followed a pre-read and a few more auditions, including a Skype session with Lee, who was already in New Orleans. “When I go to auditions, I try to always make sure I go in prepared,” she said. “I always think to myself, I’m here to provide them with a service. They need me, and if they decide to hire me for this service I’m going to give them the best they’ve ever paid for and if they don’t, they’re dumb. That’s on them. You know?”

Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifa and Jada Pinkett Smith BET Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 25 Jun 2017

That said, using Skype threw her off a bit. “I’ve never auditioned on Skype before, ever. I’ve only done Skype sexing, and I was hella uncomfortable,” she said. “I had to tell [Lee] straight off the top, look, the lighting in here is very sexy. I’ve never done anything like this before, except with my boyfriend, so if I start to take off some clothes or start veering away from the script just reel me, okay? Just reel me in.

“He died laughing and he was like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.'”

Lee, reached by phone, said that “She just always made me laugh, no matter what,” adding that “Dina is that one who will say or do just about anything and you want someone who’s as fearless as Tiffany is to play her. She doesn’t have any filter and she doesn’t put any limits on herself.”

“What we set out to have with this kind of character — you’ve seen it over the years in movies like Zach Galifianakis in ‘The Hangover’ and Melissa McCarthy in ‘Bridesmaids,'” Lee added. “They were just made to do those roles and showcase their talents. I think Tiffany is in that same category.”

How Roger Rabbit Changed Everything For Her

Haddish has not had an easy life, something she does not shy away from expressing. After a childhood which included several years in the foster system, her 20s also included a period of homelessness which she spent sleeping in her car. These are stories she tells in her upcoming Showtime stand-up special.

“I’ve always been outwardly personal. I’ve always been that chick. A lot of my friends be like, ‘TMI Tiffany, TMI,'” she said. “I just feel like it’s important to share your experience on this earth, because you never know who’s watching, who might be going through the same thing, who might feel devastated. Then you share your story and they’re like, ‘Oh wow, if you can survive that, then I definitely can survive this. If you can still smile about that, well then I don’t know what I’m feeling sad about.'”

Talking to Haddish, the word that comes to mind most is “confidence.” But don’t think that’s something she came by naturally: “When I was younger, I barely talked, I was scared of people. I had to learn how to cultivate that confidence,” she said.

Here’s what made the difference: the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” “There’s a scene in that movie where the detective says to the rabbit, ‘Why are all these people doing this nice stuff for you?’ And the rabbit goes, ‘Because I make ’em laugh, Eddie. If you make people laugh they’ll do anything for you.’ And I’m like, that’s the ticket,” she said. “That’s how I’ll get people to help me do my homework. That’s how I’ll keep from getting in fights. That’s how I’ll keep from getting picked on. That’s how I’ll be successful. I’ll make people laugh.”

Haddish’s belief in herself as a comedian got a boost when, as a teenager, she attended the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp. “Once I went to the comedy camp, men like Richard Pryor, Dane Cook, Charles Fleischer, the Wayans, all these great comedians were telling me, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re talented. You’re smart,'” she said. “This was the first time I ever heard these things and didn’t feel like something bad was going to happen. It started to grow. It was like a seed planted in me, and it started to grow into this thing of, ‘I am beautiful. I don’t have to be afraid of being silly or dressing crazy, or not having the best stuff or whatever. Because I’m smart, I’m this, I’m that.'”

It took several more years, but Haddish now describes her self esteem as “a full grown tree, fruitful and everything.”

What Comes Next?

Tiffany Haddish Animal Planet's 'Animal Nation' Panel, TCA Winter Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA - 14 Jan 2017

Playing Shay in “The Last O.G.” is a notable move for Haddish as, per Variety’s reporting on her casting, “When Tray is released, he finds that Shay has transformed from a tough girl from the streets to an ultra-refined socialite who is now married to a white guy.”

It’s a role that Haddish described as an opportunity to “show that I’m not just this ghetto chick or this fun party girl… I’m an onion that keeps getting peeled back, and this is a character I get to display that in. I’m very excited about it.”

“Sky’s the limit,” Lee said about what he sees coming next for her. “I think everyone’s going to want to work with Tiffany Haddish.”

“The Last O.G.” will premiere this fall on TBS — also on the horizon is “Tiffany Haddish: She Ready,” her Showtime stand-up special, which premieres August 18, as well as plans for a comedy album she’s tentatively calling “All Funny Music.” (She’s already asked Maxwell and Craig Robinson to sing on it.)

And she also wants to do a period piece — specifically on Amelia Bassano, aka Emilia Lanier, the 1500s-era poet who was the first Englishwoman to be published. “I’ve been taking English dialect classes, and trying to learn some Italian, because she spoke Italian and French fluently,” Haddish said. “Maybe one day, in the next like two years, I’ll get to portray her. I would love to do that. If I can get Will Packer to produce it and Ava DuVernay to direct it…”

Haddish added, “Look, I’ve already got a plan. Because every good farmer has a farming plan for the next year or two. You have to know your ground, what you’re sowing. I’m planting the seeds now to make beautiful Amelia Bassano trees later.”

Hearing her talk about it, you believe it could happen. Because in general, if you want to believe in a better 2017 — hell, a better world — you could do worse than believing in Tiffany Haddish.

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