Tiffany Haddish appeared on the third episode of ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” for its second season and open up about her difficult upbringing and how her struggles helped shape her successful career.
Letterman began the conversation by mentioning Haddish’s book, ‘The Last Black Unicorn’ and called it a “remarkable story.” In reference to her childhood, which included time in the foster care system, Letterman said, “The fact that you not only survived this, but you’ve prevailed, I believe parallel to this that your talent, your ability, your likability, your sense of humor and your inclination for comedy is so of you that it almost has no bearing on your upbringing. You could have been in any circumstance growing up, and the same result would have happened. What I’m saying is your talent is so powerful.”
Haddish replied, “My talent is what helped me survive.” She explained that the car accident mentioned in her book involved her mother and happened when she was around 9 years old. Her mother’s head went through the windshield, resulting in the mother of five had to learn how to walk, talk, and eat again. As the oldest, Tiffany became a mother figure to her siblings.
“I didn’t want to be with my mom no more, because she had become very violent and verbally abusive. You never knew who she was going to be; I was begging my mom to go live with my grandma,” Haddish said. The aftermath of the accident is what led her and her siblings into foster care, which Tiffany described as “the worst feeling in the world.”
She said at that young age, she was determined to do everything in her power to make sure kids don’t feel like “garbage” during those confusing transitions. “You’re dropped in these strangers’ houses, you don’t know these people, these people don’t know you, you don’t know if they’re gonna hurt you, if they’re gonna be kind, you don’t have a clue what’s going on.”
Haddish described having all of her belongings in a trash bag and how much her first suitcase meant to her. “I remember when I got my first suitcase, I felt like I was a traveler, like I had a purpose, like I’m a person, like I’m not garbage, I got this — it’s mine, and my things are in here, and wherever I go I can take this with me and I’m going somewhere, I’m a human. I’m not garbage.”
At 18, Haddish went to community college and held odd jobs to take care of herself. She was briefly involved with Scientology when she was offered a place to stay by a representative but the bunk beds they provided brought back horrible memories for her, so she opted out. In 1997, Haddish began doing stand-up comedy at the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp. “That’s where I learned communication, confidence, I learned how to construct a joke, I learned how to stand in front of a room full of people and not be afraid, and also when to be funny and when not to be funny,” she shared. Her first gig was for $50 at a Renaissance hotel, where she performed a 15-minute set for an audience full of lesbians who heckled her on stage. She said she kept going because she needed the money, and now almost 20 years later, she’s one of the biggest names in the business.
To come from such humble beginnings to be where she is today is such a blessing! Kudos to Tiffany Haddish for being an inspiration!