When comedian Tiffany Haddish was 9, her stepfather tampered with the brakes on her mother’s car, hoping to kill his partner and her four children. Rather than going out with her mom that day, Haddish asked to stay home and look after her younger siblings—sparing her from the horrific accident that left her mother mentally impaired. As the oldest child, Haddish did what she could to help for three years, from tying her mother’s shoes to paying bills, but eventually Haddish and her siblings were placed in foster care.
Haddish used the trauma and tragedy of her upbringing to ignite what is now a blazing comedy career. As a child, the Girls Trip star was teased for being a foster kid, but Haddish has also talked about maintaining a strong sense of self worth in her recent Showtime standup special, She Ready!: From the Hood to Hollywood. “The state of California paid so much money to make sure I don’t die ‘cause they knew I was gonna be special,” Haddish tells her audience. “They knew it. They was like, ‘This one right here, she gonna be a unicorn.’ And they was right. I’m the last black unicorn, bitch!”
Haddish’s ascent in recent years—debuting on NBC’s The Carmichael Show in 2015 and appearing in the 2016 action comedy Keanu and the summer hit Girls Trip—is a testament to her talent and resilience. But her story also offers insight into what it takes for a black woman in comedy to become successful today. Haddish’s rise points to where systemic roadblocks still lie for performers of color, particularly women, when they first enter the business—and how some barriers to entry may be falling as comedy enters a new golden age, with fewer gatekeepers and more platforms for artists to reach their fans.
Even though Girls Trip has a black director and writers, Haddish faced questions about her low profile. Her agent initially told her that studio executives were looking for someone with a bigger name to play her character, Dina. Haddish told her agent to tell them, “I’ve had a name since 1979. Okay? I was born with a name.” In the end, her rare comedic gifts won out, and reviews of Girls Trip regularly singled Haddish out for praise. Continue reading “FEATURE: ‘Girls Trip’ Star Tiffany Haddish’s Remarkable Rise”→
When Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show got canceled last year, many fans were understandably frustrated. Wilmore’s was one of only two programs in late night to feature a black host—and at the time, it was the only one with a female head writer. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Wilmore’s head writer herself, Robin Thede, has moved on to host her own late-night show.
The Rundown with Robin Thede premiered Thursday night on BET, and although it’s got a few kinks to work out—as any new show does—its host has already honed a distinct comedic voice and spirit. And that sensibility gives her program must-watch potential, even in its first week. Thede’s series opened with a tone-setting sketch: Thede spotting an extremely attractive man . . . who is, unfortunately, wearing a Trump/Pence T-shirt. She then embarks on an ill-fated quest to win his attention—first by wearing a Make America Great Again hat, and eventually by getting a Confederate flag tattoo on her bicep. Then she spots his wedding ring and scolds him for wasting her time before turning to her tattoo artist and asking, “Can you turn that into a Kaepernick jersey or something?”
The Rundown is true to its name; it’s a beat-by-beat recap of the week’s news, as curated by Thede and her team. Naturally, their curation yields a different mix of stories from those chosen by the various Jimmies on network TV.In her premiere episode, Thede zoomed her way through several topics, including Eminem’s anti-Trump rap, Jemele Hills’s suspension from ESPN, and a fireman who was dismissed from his predominantly black fire station after he brought a watermelon with a pink bow on it as a gift.
“It’s no surprise that Trump came for Jemele,” Thede said as she wrapped up her opening monologue. “Remember how he attacked Ms. Texas when she criticized him for not calling out the white supremacists in Charlottesville? Of course you don’t, because he didn’t. Trump likes his targets like we like our Magic Johnson theaters: black and loud.” Thede’s show is undeniably guided by her outlook as a black woman, which enables and guides her to tackle topics other programs might ignore.
As the comedian recently told Variety, “I’m going to be able to give a perspective that’s definitely not happening simply because I am a black woman, but I don’t want people to watch just because of that. If that’s the reason you tune in, that’s great, but the reason you’ll stay is because of what I’m saying,” she says. “The jokes will be pointed. The jokes will be sharp.”
Take, for example, this moment during her opening monologue, in which Thede introduced a viral video of one man’s confrontation with local police in California: “Does anyone else feel like they’re watching a magic show happen when white people interact with the cops?” Thede asked. “Well, abra kadabra, here’s a trick you haven’t seen before—and don’t worry, he lives!” The twist? The subject of the video actually was not a white man at all; he was later identified as 22-year-old Yaroub Assad. “He’s brown!” Thede said incredulously. “This cop thought he was letting a white guy work through a temper tantrum, but he was actually proving a great point: cops aren’t afraid of brown people—just brown skin.”
The Rundown could easily shoot to the top of late night’s must-watch list. Its success could come down to how the show uses its digital platform, which will likely attract fans who might not think to turn on BET for their late-night viewing. With a weekly podcast already set to launch Friday, though, it seems Thede and her staff know the game they’re playing—though as of Monday morning, it’s surprisingly difficult to find clips of the show anywhere but BET’s own Web site, which could hinder the show’s growth.
Once the network expands The Rundown’s web presence, though, it seems only a matter of time before a clip from it goes viral—which will go a long way toward establishing this show as the must-watch it looks like it’s going to be.
Making it in Hollywood is no easy feat, and doing so as a woman is even more difficult. If that woman is black — or Latina or Asian or otherwise nonwhite — the odds just aren’t in her favor. But with the release of “Girls Trip,” four black women — Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish — attempt a takeover of the buddy comedy, possibly the first time black women have led such a picture.
One reason as to why? The number of black women thought to be able to carry a studio-backed film is slim, and there hasn’t been a bona-fide black female comedic superstar since Whoopi Goldberg. We spoke to 18 funny black women about their industry experiences. Below are their thoughts:
Tracee Ellis Ross
While most probably know Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow on the hit “black-ish,” others see Joan Clayton of “Girlfriends,” the early 2000s show almost no one would argue about rebooting.
While most probably know Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow on the hit “Black-ish,” others see Joan Clayton of “Girlfriends” — the early 2000s show fans would love to see earn the revival or reunion treatment.
Regardless of her career experiences, Ross is just beginning to get her due recognition. In addition to nabbing a Golden Globe earlier this year, she’s earned her second consecutive Emmy nomination. Some might say she has all the makings of a comedic superstar.
But when she takes a moment to ponder other black women who fit the bill she’s forced to think hard.
“Regina Hall … Issa Rae … Jessica Williams,” she said after a moment, “but I shouldn’t have to search to come up with those names. The difficulty is, and I think what happens is, you might see somebody in a role and you’re like, ‘Holy …! She is so funny.’ Then she doesn’t get another opportunity, but she needs those roles because they help you build a career so everybody knows your name and knows what you’re capable of.
“And it’s not just black comedic women. There are, I’m sure, a lot of very funny Asian women and Latina women, and we know some of them, but it’s not because the talent doesn’t exist. The other thing is, the talent exists, but [performers] need the experience to keep getting better and have more depth.”
Ross is encouraged, however, by the likes of Rae.
“I think Issa is a beautiful example of ‘You’re not going to give me any real estate? Fine. I’m going to make it,’” she said. “There is revolution going on.”
How did you settle into comedic acting?
I loved making people laugh when I was younger. It was frowned upon during dinner time but I thought it was hilarious to make my sister laugh. It was often the thing that got me kicked out of class because I was always silly. It was one of the ways my shyness manifested and the way I protected myself and kept people at bay. And I’ve always been a very physical person so when I experience a feeling, I experience it in my entire body.
As I look back, it was a natural progression into the physical comedy and the ways I use my body. In terms of my career, I don’t know that it was a conscious choice that I moved into comedy, but it was an authentic choice. I don’t consider myself funny. I consider myself silly. I just tell the truth and my truth comes out in a way that makes people laugh. My goal isn’t to make people laugh, but I enjoy that exchange.
I think the difficulty for actors of any kind is when you get stuck with what other people assume is who you are. We’re actors and we can do anything.
— Tracee Ellis Ross
Who are some of your comedic inspirations?
I was a Carol Burnett, Lucy [Ball], Lily Tomlin type of girl. They were the three women that etched it in for me. I remember looking back and seeing Goldie Hawn in “Private Benjamin.” I was drawn to all of that growing up. Those were the women that defined freedom and courage [for me]. From there so many funny women like Julia Louis-Dreyfus — I don’t even understand [how she does it].
And then Whoopi Goldberg did the Moms Mabley documentary, and I was so grateful that she did that because it really showed me that Moms Mabley is specifically one of the reasons I can do what I do. She carved something out and did something so consciously that allows me to be a black woman in comedy.
Tiffany Haddish is legitimately having a moment. As a star of “Girls Trip,” opposite industry vets Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall. Based on her performance, and with an upcoming Showtime comedy special, she’s on her way to household-name status.
But what else would you expect from “the last black unicorn?”
How did you get into comedy?
My social worker. [laughs] I was living in South Central L.A. and was being bused to Woodland Hills. I was getting in trouble because I was not sure how to make friends. So I made this imaginary friend up because I thought I was at the Nickelodeon Awards — I had never been around this many white people. I thought I was at the Nickelodeon Awards every day so I thought I needed to be all creative and entertaining because I thought white people lived in TV — my concept of people was really messed up.
I remember going to court and seeing the judge. I thought he was the judge from “People’s Court.” [laughs] By the time I got to 10th grade, it was bothering my social worker that she was getting called to the school every week. I was getting sent to the dean’s office for being racist because I had this bird named Cracker. It was this imaginary bird, and I would be like, “Cracker want a Polly?” And I would take actual crackers and break them up on my shoulder. Kids would laugh and stuff. We’d be taking a test and I would be like, “What’s the answer to number seven Cracker?” And they’d be like, “Go to the dean’s office!”
So my social worker was like, “You have two choices this time. You can go to Laugh Factory Academy Camp or you can go to psychiatric therapy. Which one you want to do this summer?” I was like, “Which one got drugs?” and I went to comedy camp. It was the first time a man ever told me I was beautiful and I didn’t feel like I was going to be hurt in some kind of way. They taught me confidence, communication skills, how to write, how to have stage presence.
While promoting her new film “Ghostbusters” on ABC’s “The View,” comedian and “Saturday Night Live” cast member Leslie Jones spent several minutes paying homage to “View” host and lifelong inspiration Whoopi Goldberg. She holds herself back from tears as she thanks Whoopi for being someone who she could watch on TV as a young woman who finally looked like her, who she could look up to, and one day emulate. It is a beautiful, sincere and poignant moment and we wanted to share it. Watch below:
Leslie Jones is looking fierce with her signature spiky hair on July’s cover of Elle, which celebrates women in comedy.
Jones, who is starring in the upcoming Ghostbusters remake, made mention of her Elle cover at an impromptu stand-up appearance.
“I ain’t used to that (crap)!” she said, adding that her recent fame has inhibited her love life. “I used to be able to be on those sites, you know Tumblr, Grindr, Tinder. Yeah, I said Grindr, I ain’t passed trickin’ a gay man into (having sex) with me,” she joked.
“I just knew that I was funny, and I knew that it was just a matter of time. I didn’t know what was going to actually happen—this is definitely way bigger than I thought—but I knew there was no way I was going to be that funny and nobody was going to notice it.” — Leslie Jones
Jones even joked about how uncomfortable she was dressing for the cover, especially as a size 12.
“I had 22 (bleeping) outfits on today. Jimmy Kimmel had on one (bleeping) suit,” she complained. “I can’t move in this (outfit), trying to be cute. You’re going to see some bra straps.” She said she took off the jacket and then her shoes. “Let me take these shoes off, too,” she said, kicking off her heels.
Well, no one never said Jones doesn’t keep it real.
The Apollo Theater in Harlem will induct famed comedians Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley and Redd Foxx into its Walk of Fame.
The ceremony, to take place on Oct. 1, will mark the first time that non-musical artists will be inducted. All three had long-standing relationships with the venue. The historic theater also is launching a new comedy series on the same night. The Apollo Comedy Club will feature emerging comics.
Its fall and winter season also includes the return of the international hip-hop dance festival Breakin’ Convention that will feature French dance duo Les Twins.
According to Variety.com, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has added Leslie Jones, a member of its writing staff, to the cast. She’ll begin in this role as regular performer starting with this week’s Jim Carrey-hosted episode.
The comedian was a contender in the search for a new cast member of color last fall. The spot went to Sasheer Zamata, but producers decided to bring Jones on as a writer. Jones is the latest “SNL” cast member to be plucked from the writing staff. Michael Che, the new Weekend Update co-anchor, was also upped from his spot as a writer earlier this season.
Jones has appeared several times on SNL’s Weekend Update segment, including one in the 40th season premiere, proving her onscreen chops. She also starred in her own comedy special, “Problem Child,” for Showtime.
The Harvard Lampoon, a respected humor magazine founded in 1876 and that serves as a pipeline to major comedy shows, has selected two women that are making a lot of history at the publication.
Alexis Wilkinson and Eleanor Parker represent the first time two women are leading the venerable magazine. Wilkinson is the first African-American president and the first black woman to earn the top job. Parker, also African-American, will serve as vice president.
Wilkinson told NPRshe didn’t set out to make history for the magazine, but along the way realized it was going to happen. Parker said she thinks their place atop the magazine will make it easier for other women to get involved. They’re “hoping that having two women at the lead of the magazine encourages women on campus to apply and get involved and get excited about writing comedy.”
The moves come as Saturday Night Live has faced criticism for not having any black women in its cast. Recently, it held auditions exclusively for African-American women, and there are reportedly three finalists in the running. Wilkinson said she paid attention to the conversation because of how important Saturday Night Live was to her growing up.