Tiffany Haddish, the breakout star of "Girls Trip," in New York, Sept. 9, 2018. Image Credit: NYT

Tiffany Haddish almost met someone on vacation last month.

After a whirlwind year catapulting to fame and winning an Emmy, she went on holiday to Greece, one of the dwindling number of places she can still go unrecognised.

There, she met a gorgeous man, and although he spoke only Greek to her, it was clear from their frisson and the way he touched her arm how the night could go.

“But then I got scared,” Haddish, who is 38, told me during an interview early in October in Santa Monica, “I need at least a month to get to know a dude.”

She paused, searched my eyes and let out a raspy giggle. “You would’ve did it?!”

It wasn’t exactly that. I was wondering if the Greek fella had any inkling of what he had missed. This was, after all, the woman who, in her breakthrough role in the 2017 summer smash Girls Trip, introduced a wowser of a boudoir trick — it involves citrus — to the wider world.

Girls Trip was to Haddish what Bridesmaids was to Melissa McCarthy and The Hangover was to Zach Galifianakis.

She became the kind of instant star — stealing the show at the Oscars, on Saturday Night Live and with Trevor Noah — that made people wonder where she had been all of their lives. Warm, wickedly funny and endlessly relatable, she was an emissary of realness who punched through the gauzy divide separating celebrities from everyone else.

She took Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith on a public swamp tour booked with Groupon. She proudly wore her white Alexander McQueen gown over and over because it cost so damn much. She reported back from a schmancy Hollywood party that a woman — she would not say who — had actually bitten Beyonce’s face. Amid the ugly sexual abuse scandals hitting Hollywood, Haddish was like enriched oxygen, providing giddy, much-needed relief.

Her longtime friends and allies were not at all surprised. Tyler Perry, who wrote the forthcoming film Nobody’s Fool specifically for her, said that after casting Haddish in his television series If Loving You Is Wrong, he quickly realised that she outshone the part. “She was bigger than the room, bigger than what we were doing,” he said. “I knew that eventually she would hit.

This autumn, along with Nobody’s Fool, Haddish has headlined two other movies, the dark comedy The Oath and, with Kevin Hart, Night School, which was a box office hit and critical flop. Its director, Malcolm D. Lee, suspects that some people might have expected someone closer to Dina, her Girls Trip character. If so, their reaction could be a bellwether of how smoothly our honeymoon with Haddish transitions into a longer-term thing, and whether getting there requires taking vastly different roles, or sticking to the tried and true.

Hart thinks Haddish should ignore any conversation about what she should do next and dig into her moment as a comedy star. “Everybody wants change immediately,” he said. “Why?”
Perry — who so adores Haddish that he recently gave her a Tesla — said it would be tragic if people missed out on seeing her dramatic range. And Lee worries that she might burn out. “She’s very giving to her fans, very gracious and loving,” Lee said, “And that does take a toll.

Executed a plan and I’m getting the results, like when you decide to bake a chicken. My career is a delicious roasted chicken.

- Tiffany Haddish, Actress

Haddish has already weathered some blowback. Tracy Morgan, her co-star in the TBS series The Last O.G., got all tetchy this summer when asked about her burst of success; then Katt Williams suggested her fame was linked to her looks and basically undeserved.

Haddish responded by telling The Hollywood Reporter that Morgan was probably tired of hearing her name, which she understood, because she was, too. “I love me some Tracy,” she said. She lightly ribbed Williams on Twitter, saying she was looking forward to seeing him at the Emmys. “I just want to shower you with REAL love, cause you need it, and I love you,” she wrote.

We were sitting in the courtyard of a recording studio in a nondescript building just off the Santa Monica Freeway, where Haddish was doing voice-overs for “Lego Movie Two.” Since demand for her went through the roof, she has been fighting fatigue with naps and five-hour energy drinks. She still looked great.

She was born in Los Angeles, and her father, an Eritrean refugee, left the family when she was a toddler. Her mother, an accomplished entrepreneur, married Haddish’s stepfather and had four more children, but when Haddish was 8, her mother got into a horrible car accident. Her head went through the windshield, and she was left severely brain damaged, with a very limited vocabulary, which frustrated her to the point of violence. Haddish believes it led to her schizophrenia. (She also believes Kanye West’s controversial embrace of Donald Trump could have roots in his 2002 car crash. “You could be suffering brain damage,” she said. “Look at football players.”)

Haddish became the de facto head of the house and discovered during her tweenage years that she could head off her mother’s outbursts by making jokes. “At that point it was not about being funny, it was a defence mechanism to avoid getting punched in the mouth,” she said. Much of high school was spent away from her siblings in foster care, where she was molested.

Forced to more or less raise herself, Haddish checked out tons of how-to audiobooks from the library: how to be a good person, a good wife, a success, a harnesser of feminine energy and might.

Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Regina Hall in ‘Girls Trip’ (2017). Image Credit: Supplied

Much of this is in her memoir, The Last Black Unicorn, which took its title from a childhood nickname inspired by a persistent wart that began growing out of her forehead. In the book, she details her tumultuous marriage. (She once called the police to tell them she was about to commit murder. She is now divorced, and her ex is suing her over comments in the book.) She also wrote about the outlandish, vengeful pranks she pulled on a cheating boyfriend.

But Haddish left one devastating episode out, something she only revealed last summer. When she was 17, she said, she was raped by a man who told her he was a police cadet. She reported it to the police, she told me, but nothing was done.

“I can’t fix it, and there’s nothing funny about it, so I didn’t put it in the book,” she said, her husky voice cracking. “I got my power stolen. You gotta claim that back.”

“I literally wanted to kill myself,” she said. “I felt like everything in my life and everybody that came around was out to hurt me.

Then, one night when she was 21, her stepfather told her she should buck up because she ought to have been dead. She said he told her that he had snipped her mother’s brakes before the crash and that Haddish and her siblings were supposed to have been with her. Haddish still does not know if he was telling the truth or lying to get her out of her funk. Either way, it worked. “I was like, ‘I must get revenge!’” she exclaimed, slamming her hands onto the table we were sitting at.

She hatched schemes to get her stepfather imprisoned, plotting to date a police officer and then a lawyer, until her grandmother told her she had to let God handle it. (She said her stepfather was never prosecuted. Efforts to locate him were not successful.) “His life was going really great when I was trying to get revenge,” Haddish said. “As soon as I stopped doing that, life started kicking him in the ass.”

Meanwhile, her life steadily improved.

At the urging of a therapist, Haddish started doing stand-up comedy. After Haddish got her first big break, performing on the television show Bill Bellamy’s Who’s Got Jokes?. 

Kevin Hart, Haddish and Taran Killam in ‘Night School’ (2018). Image Credit: Supplied

Her dogged pursuit of success involved a formula she said she learnt from assorted books, including the Bible. She knew what she wanted. She had faith that she could do it. And she took action, enrolling in acting classes, doing tons of comedy, going on endless failed auditions and finally getting cast in TV shows (Real Husbands of Hollywood) and movies (The Janky Promoters). She still is pushing to claim new ground and stars in the 2019 mob drama The Kitchen with McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss.

“I executed a plan and I’m getting the results, like when you decide to bake a chicken,” she said. “My career is a delicious roasted chicken.”

Now, over a year into her fame, lots of things about her have not changed, at least not yet. 
Aside from the occasional splurge, she doesn’t like buying super pricey clothes or handbags. She has no plans to leave her South Los Angeles home, which she adores and bought way before Girls Trip, even though her fancy friends are urging her to move almost anywhere else. And she said a big chunk of her money goes to covering her family’s medical bills and day-care costs, refurbishing her grandmother’s house for accessibility, and paying for top meal plans, nurses, physical therapists and psychologists for her mother, whom Haddish moved out of a mental institution earlier this year.

Haddish’s new goal is create an empire, although she is not sure exactly how to go about it, or if it will be in the entertainment business or what. But she wants to have 40 or 50 people working for her who will be able to buy houses, put their kids through school and pass their money down. “The end goal,” she said, “is to create intergenerational wealth and spread joy, and make sure everyone who works with me can spread the same thing and have it trickle down.”

In the meantime, she is dabbling in music and trying to make a rap album.

She is also considering a return to Greece.

Don’t miss it!

Nobody’s Fool is out in the UAE on November 29.