Tiffany Haddish likes to talk to her water. Once a week, before slipping into a warm bath that she’s designed to be equal parts meditative and spiritual, Haddish strikes her Baoding balls and commands the water to cleanse, fortify, and rid her of any ill feelings. Did you hear me, water? she’ll say, as she hovers over her tub. It’s your job to take all the negative pain and suffering away from this body and replace it with love and healing energy. At times, she’ll scream, Water, you are going to take away my bad attitude. Replace it with kindness, humility, [and] funniness. On occasion, she’ll even ask it to help her heal an aching heart. Take this man’s energy off of me. I’m not going to think about this man ever again, water. She then enters the calming soak and allows herself a good cry until all discomfort fades. “I imagine all that pain just going down the drain,” she says. “Sometimes, there’s a little ring around the tub and I’m like, ‘ooh, look at all that negativity.’"
"I call it programming the water,” she continues. “I program the water to get me jobs. I program the water to bring me adventures. Whatever energy you put out, that’s what you get back."
Hollywood has been drinking whatever’s in Haddish’s water since her star-making turn in 2017’s record-smashing comedy Girls Trip. Overnight, the comedian soared to “how have we lived without her?” status, regaling late-night hosts and interviewers alike with elaborate tales of Groupon swamp tours, exclusive soirees, and more. She is bold, bawdy, and undeniably magnetic. On a promo stop for her best-selling memoir—the wildly entertaining and deeply revealing, The Last Black Unicorn—Trevor Noah gazed at the actress and gushed, “I’ve always wondered what the sun would be like as a human being and I think I’ve finally met that answer."
Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2018. She made history as the first Black female stand-up comic to host Saturday Night Live and won an Emmy for her effort (a particularly satisfying victory given she'd auditioned to be an SNL cast member) and released a hit stand-up special, She Ready: From the Hood to Hollywood. And in less than six years, she’s appeared in nearly 50 projects, ranging from the comedies Night School and Like a Boss to music videos. Yep, that’s her in Jay-Z’s “Moonlight” and Drake’s “Nice for What”. She’s also starred in dramas (Self Made and The Card Counter) and sitcoms (The Last O.G. and The Carmichael Show) and lent her voice to a slew of animated series, including Tuca & Bertie and Karma’s World. She may be one of the only actresses on the planet who’s starred alongside Oscar Isaac, Kevin Hart, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Haddish, who only averages a few days off a month, says she works incessantly because, “when I don’t have work to do, I get in trouble.” In addition to curbing her enthusiasms, she’s committed to creating jobs for people who look like her. “You’re putting food on somebody’s table by doing this,” she says. “Yeah, you’re working 15-hour days, but how many people are going to be able to feed their kids?” In addition to fighting for diversity on sets, she’s a blunt negotiator and a passionate advocate for gender pay equity.
In one of several moments that nearly caused me to spit take during our chat on this picturesque spring day, Haddish declared, “I tell people I want to be paid like I got a pink penis from Australia.” Her eyes may be twinkling mischievously, but she means business. “I want to get paid because I know that if I’m getting paid a certain amount, that’s going to raise the price for everybody,” she explains. “And I want to be done by 50. Not done with life, but I want to relax. I want to enjoy all the fruits of my labor. I want to sit back and eat plums and pomegranates. So I got a lot of work to do.” I tell her that I can already see the headline: Tiffany Haddish Talks Plums, Penises, and Pomegranates. Now it’s her turn to laugh. “I should make that a song,” she says, reaching for a pen. "Note to self."
We’ll talk about Haddish’s burgeoning music career in a moment, but for now, let’s focus on her morning attire. She’s holed away in her home in Southern Los Angeles, which she currently shares with her “best friend”, Sleeper, a 14-year-old, Pinterest-perfect Maltese Yorkie with white fur that looks as soft as Charmin. “It’s just the two of us,” she says, pulling in her four-legged companion for a snuggle. “And there’s a cat around here somewhere that I can only find at nighttime.” Lounging in a full-length romper that’s covered in images of the iconic Sesame Street character Cookie Monster, Haddish explains that her look was originally meant to be sexy, you know, for clubs and sky-high heels, not couches and house slippers. The star jokingly warns, however, that this get-up on her curves would be a bit too risqué in the wild. “I’ll be walking by, and guys will be like, ‘can you tell me how to get to Tiffany Street? I heard there’s cookies over there.'"
She’s looking like a snack and she knows it. Haddish’s hair, which she shaved to the scalp on Instagram Live in July 2020, is now platinum blonde and styled in chic Josephine Baker–esque finger waves. A self-exploration journey prompted her big chop, she says. “It’s really important to know who you are, to know every nook and cranny of your body, and that’s the one part of my body I didn’t know.” Her smile beams brighter than a halogen bulb when speaking about her first days without hair. “Baby, best feeling I ever felt in my whole entire life,” she coos. “The most sensations I ever felt. The most alive I ever felt. And then I was jealous of every bald-headed man I’ve ever seen.” She’s slowly swaying now. “When you touch the back of your head, you feel it in the back of your feet. Then you go outside, the sun is shining, and it feels like this warm hug around your head—just deliciousness.” Mississippi raindrops, she rhapsodizes, “felt like a billion, million kisses from God. And I could feel every raindrop go through my whole body."
She credits Vitafusion gummy vitamins, tons of water, and daily sweat sessions for her physique and enviable skin. A coconut oil–and–baking soda concoction she mixes is perfect for exfoliating away dead skin, she reveals. Laughter at dawn is another must for the actress. “The first two hours is when you really get everything done for the day,” she says. “So if you [can] laugh them first two hours, you’re going to have a great day."
Haddish, 42, speaks at a rapid clip, and interviewing her feels like a game of verbal double Dutch; jump in during a rare lull, pose a question, and watch her go. The New York Times once dubbed the comedian “an emissary of realness”, and she more than lives up to that distinction. There isn’t much she feels uncomfortable discussing—her miscarriage, her “heart-shaped uterus”, and even her stint as a phone sex operator. “It changed my perspective on men, because they really nasty,” she says. “And it also helped me realize how lonely they are and don’t have nobody to talk to.” She pauses for a beat. “Because they so nasty.” Discretion and understatement are not her strong suits, and she acknowledges that some may find her distinct brand of living out loud off-putting. “People get so mad at me because I’m being myself. They’re jealous,” she says with a dismissive wave. “How does she get to be doing all this cool stuff just being herself?” Encountering someone this genuine—and genuinely unfiltered—is as rare as, well, a black unicorn sighting. Most celebs of her ilk stick to predictable talking points prepared by cautious publicists and rarely veer from the script, while an increasing number of us off-camera civilians now also feel the need to perform for likes, clicks, and fluctuating metric scores.
I asked Haddish how it felt to be free to be exactly who she is. “It’s way easier than being fake. I tried to be fake,” she replies. “When I was trying to be something I wasn’t, my soul was screaming at me. ‘What are we doing? This is not who we are. Stop it!’” Living inauthentically, she argues, is bad for the soul.
"Stop pretending bitch,” she later adds, warming to the subject. “Be you. You might actually find somebody that really loves you."
Fans fell even harder for Haddish earlier this year after she checked a red-carpet reporter who dared to refer to her custom gown as “a little costume change”. The actress was not amused. The word “little” in front of a noun can be very triggering in the Black community and is often viewed as a slight, she explains. It’s tantamount to a white southern woman saying, but bless her heart, after delivering a blistering insult. Dealing with condescending press comes with the territory, she concedes, and she usually lets snide comments slide, but that night, she’d had enough and chose to politely eviscerate said reporter. “It’s called an evening gown, darling,” she stated, before adding, “This is not an act. This is my life. This is what fame look like. This what success look like. This what money look like.” Naturally, the exchange went viral.
Haddish, who has quietly contributed music to several of her movie soundtracks over the years, has now turned her pithy takedown into a fun-loving dis track featuring verses from Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg, which she excitedly plays for me. Like the comedian herself, the bop is infectious, and before you can say “dis what it look like”, our interview has dissolved into a full-on party. I drop all inhibition and begin to dance with wild abandon (well, as wild as one can get in an ergonomically designed swivel chair). Haddish has jumped out of her seat and is now twerking like a pro. Cookie Monster’s never had it this good. Three minutes later, we’re both panting and giddy.
"I have music coursing through my veins. I love it," I tell her.
"High vibration, right? We success, girl,” Haddish crows. "We woke up successful today."
Haddish has plans to invite Paris Hilton and Cardi B to also guest on the track and she’s already workshopping ideas for a prom-inspired music video. “I’m just thinking outside the box right now,” she says. “My imagination’s all over the place."
At this moment, one would never guess that Haddish has spent a significant portion of our interview in tears. Her grandmother’s recent death has left her utterly bereft, and she’s been inconsolable for months. “I lost the love of my life,” Haddish says, sobbing. “I worked my ass off to keep her alive, and it didn’t work. I know that we’re not all supposed to be here forever, but I needed her a little bit longer. My first best friend was my grandma, and she was my hero.” Just prior to losing her grandmother, her blue nose pit bull, Dreamer, had to be put down. “I thought all of my organs was going to fall out when the dog died,” she says. As she wipes away tears and I fight back my own, she recounts her final moments with her beloved pet. Only Haddish could make a moment that’s so desperately sad truly funny. “I tried to be all strong in front of the people at the veterinarian place,” she says, shaking her head. But when the doors closed, she burst into over-the-top hysterics that surprised even her, she recalls, pantomiming falling to her knees. “Lawwwd, not the dog. Wake up, Dreamer! Wake up! Wake up! I was like, ‘Why am I acting like this? Oh my gosh.'"
Attempting to regain her emotional balance after being dealt back-to-back blows has required intense therapy, she reveals. She compares the pain she’s currently feeling to a torn muscle meeting a deep pregnancy contraction. “That shit hurt,” she shares, as tears slowly march down her cheeks. “It ain’t killing me, but boy does it hurt.” Self-care is expensive, she admits, and she’s told her therapists as much. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m paying to entertain them,” she says with a rueful chuckle. “The money that I was spending on my grandma I’m now spending on my mental health. I was already spending on my mental health before she passed, but now it’s like, ‘I need you all on call because I need to understand these emotions.’” Writing has helped her process her overwhelming grief, as has radical honesty. “If I feel like crying, I just cry. It scares people sometimes, but I’m not keeping secrets either,” she states. “I don’t have the capacity for keeping secrets. If somebody ask me, I’m telling. Period."
Haddish’s true superpower may be her ability to ferret out humor in the direst of situations, to locate the comic silver lining in a tempest of tragedy. Laughing to keep from crumbling is a skill she was forced to master early in life. She was born in Los Angeles to an American mother and an Eritrean immigrant father who bailed when Haddish was three. When she was eight, her mother was involved in a car accident that left her with a severe brain injury, a violent temper, and mental illness. She learned to make her mother laugh to avoid being pummeled. “It was a defense mechanism,” she explains. “If I’m funny, then I won’t get whooped as much.” By 13, Haddish and her four siblings were placed in foster care, where she was molested. Four years later, she was date-raped by an acquaintance who posed as a police cadet. All the while, she struggled academically, reading at a second-grade level in high school. But what she lacked in book smarts, she more than made up for in cunning and a dynamic personality.
"People was always calling me stupid in school,” she says. “I was always figuring out ways to cheat, ways to get around certain things. Defeating enemies, bullies, by making them laugh. It was a lot of work.” She discovered her calling after a teacher sent her to a Laugh Factory comedy camp for troubled youth. While working a series of odd jobs—everything from “energy producer” at bar mitzvahs and beyond—she pursued stand-up gigs at local comedy clubs. She had trouble making ends meet and fell into homelessness on three separate occasions, fronting like all was okay, but living in her Geo Metro hatchback. Things finally began to turn around after she landed her first big break on the competition series, Bill Bellamy’s Who’s Got Jokes?, which led to an emotional reconciliation with her father, who reemerged shortly after her appearance. “I had gotten over the ‘hate’ part or the ‘how could you?’ part and was more into the ‘where were you?’ and ‘what happened so bad in your life?’” she says. “There was a lot of me being forgiving and him asking for forgiveness.” She worked steadily for the next decade, but she struck gold playing Dina, Girls Trip’s sexually adventurous, absinthe-swilling sidekick. Girls Trip grossed more than $100 million at the box office, making it the first Black film to achieve that milestone.
Success has brought her tremendous financial security, but Haddish continues to monitor her accounts closely. “I’ve been through enough shit to know that you can’t trust everybody, especially when it comes to money,” she says. “So I check everything.” These days, a sizable portion of her income goes to paying for top-notch medical care and nutrition for her mother, who now lives in one of Haddish’s homes. “Before the accident, she loved to hug and kiss and loved to dance and sing,” she shares, her eyes welling once again. “I am a reflection of her and I need to give her back what she gave me—minus the pain."
Haddish is far too busy to be bogged down by bitterness. Her latest action comedy, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, is currently in theaters and her children’s book, Layla, the Last Black Unicorn hit bookshelves in May. Due out later this year, I Curse You With Joy, the follow-up to her gripping 2017 memoir, is meant to serve as an antidote to the toxicity that permeates media. “Words are like magic, and a lot of times, people put out a lot of horrible things,” she says. “You watch the news, and it’s like they’re putting a spell over your existence, and it’s never positive. Where’s the good shit that’s happening in the world?” In a few weeks, she’ll be back on set filming Season 2 of the Apple TV+ murder mystery The Afterparty. She also has plans to release more music, launch a media empire, and move into the agriculture sector. “I got some land in Eritrea. I’m about to be a full-blown farmer,” she says excitedly. “About to open this grocery store in South Central [Los Angeles]. We’re going to have Black-owned products from Black farmers in there. That’s going to be dope.” And it will be the first of many, she promises.
By the end of our chat, I feel like Haddish and I have spent days bonding at sleepaway camp. We’ve spoken long past our allotted time, and her otherwise patient handler is imploring us to wrap it up. I tell her that she’s been great, and in a genuine moment of self-deprecation—not one played for laughs or punchlines—she replies, “I’m just a human being, just here to have an experience and learn like everybody else. I can’t stand people that make it seem like life is always so great, because it’s not,” she says. “But you can learn how to take the not-great moments and make them awesome."