Tiffany Haddish: Stand-up comedy will always be best art form

Editor’s Note: What better way to kick off a special on LA’s stand-up comedy scene than by speaking to someone who’s been through every phase of it? In her own words, Tiffany Haddish tells us why, despite being a star on so many levels, she will always be a stand-up comedian first.

When I started my stand up comedy as a teenager, I was moved from different sides [foster] Houses. I had just been placed with my grandma and was trying to find my voice in a world where I felt like I had no voice. My social worker gave me the option of either going to psychiatric therapy or the Laugh Factory comedy camp. At comedy camp I found a place where I had a voice. It was my first time being in an environment with men and I didn’t feel like I was being hurt and I felt like I was heard and cared for.

Stand-up is a kind of fraternity. As with any group of people, there are some you can truly count on and trust and care about you, and some who don’t care and want to see your downfall. I think it’s like that in every group of people. From my experiences, I’ve found my lifelong brothers and father figures in stand-up. Comedians are crazy and some of them are scary and some of them are gross and some of them are super awesome guys. And I was with everyone. I think the reason I stuck with stand-up, despite all my successes, is because that’s where I feel happiest, regardless of whether I’m doing all these movies and television.

I remember when I rose up the LA scene, they didn’t pay me to do comedy. I go to New York and I can make $1,000 for a show, but in LA I could do four shows and make $150. Promoters would say, “You’re in LA, this is your chance to shine!” Someone might see you! This could change your whole life…any show could be the show that picks up the door.”

Not every show was the show that showed up in the door. But with every show, you get stronger and stronger as a comic.

I remember shows where there were two people in the audience or when I was performing at a bike bar and almost got killed – and didn’t even get paid.

In comedy, there are many disappointments that bring many depressions. A lot of comedians give up and do something else. There are many who kill themselves or take drugs to escape instead of saying, “What can I do to get better?” They may try everything to be the best they can, but depression is so hard that it can be really traumatic. I’ve personally seen it go from no one who wanted to work with me to everyone who wanted to work with me.

I didn’t really start touring officially until I was on The Carmichael Show. [in 2015]. Other than that, it was me and my agent calling comedy clubs and booking me into gigs here and there. Some nights I got pushed, which was fine – because then I just sat there and was a student.

I even did gigs in the nursing home. I’ve done so many shows in geriatric nursing homes. I think if you can make a baby laugh and you can make an old person laugh then you are funny.

At first I tried to keep my jokes clean and sane — but the crowd didn’t want it. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life when a woman in her 80s wore a diaper and booed me. But it made me stronger.

I realized just because they’re in a retirement center, they’re still human, they still have urges, they still watch the news and maybe they have a bad memory but they still want their soul tickled, and they still want it spoken like adults. So I started hitting her with some dirty comedy and I became the queen. I started talking about love triangles and STDs.

Richard Pryor once told me, “People don’t come to comedy shows because they want to hear about your problems or your religion or culture or any of those things. They don’t come to be preached, they come to have fun. The key to great comedy is having fun, and it doesn’t matter what you’re talking about. You could go on stage and read the whole phone book if you enjoy it because that fun energy is contagious.”

A few people have been asking me lately if I still feel safe doing comedy. “Do you think you can perform and not be attacked?” There is always a chance of being attacked. That’s what it’s like to put yourself out there. At the end of the day everything is dangerous… and sometimes the messenger gets shot.

But I still think comedy is the most important art, it’s the only thing that can help people uplift their spirits. Everything I could ever remember and apply in my life, the person who taught me made me laugh. And LA has some really good laughs, you just have to open your eyes and pay attention. Tiffany Haddish: Stand-up comedy will always be best art form

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