Laugh Lessons

Total Film - - Tiffany Haddish - WORDS JAMIE GRA­HAM POR­TRAIT ART STREIBER

Af­ter a tough child­hood and 20 years in the busi­ness, two saucy min­utes with a grape­fruit made Tiffany Had­dish a su­per­star. Now the Girls Trip star is team­ing with Kevin Hart in

Night School, a rowdy com­edy with deeper res­o­nances. To­tal Film meets a force of na­ture who has learned the value of hard work.

I was like, ‘You sit down, be­cause I’ve got this.’ The first take, the crew… We had to stop be­cause ev­ery­body fell over. Ev­ery­one was like, ‘You’re crazy!’ Jada [Pin­kett Smith] spat out her ce­real, and La [Queen Lat­i­fah] fell over. It took us eight takes to get it, be­cause ev­ery­body kept laugh­ing.”

Given it was Girls Trip and, in par­tic­u­lar, this scene that made Had­dish a star, it un­sur­pris­ingly fol­lows her around. “When I do my stand-up shows, peo­ple will bring me bags of grape­fruits and stuff. And I did in­vest a lit­tle money in a grape­fruit farm, be­cause I mean, why not? And some­times I’ll run into cer­tain guys, and they’re like, ‘Thanks for that. My wife, she does it. Thank you!’” So wait, she’s ac­tu­ally im­proved peo­ple’s sex lives – or at least guys’ sex lives? “Yeah! It’s like, ‘Wait un­til you see what I do with a fruit roll-up!’”

All jok­ing aside, Had­dish’s life has turned in­side-out in the last two years. Sure, her 20-year ca­reer had long been inch­ing along in the right di­rec­tion, as guest ap­pear­ances on TV shows like My Name Is Earl, It’s Al­ways Sunny In Phil­a­del­phia and New Girl snow­balled into proper roles on Oprah Win­frey Net­work se­ries If Lov­ing You Is Wrong and NBC sit­com The Carmichael Show. But it was co-star­ring with Jor­dan Peele and Kee­gan-Michael Key in 2016 ac­tion-com­edy Keanu that kick-started Had­dish’s movie ca­reer, with Girls Trip

– a rau­cous cel­e­bra­tion of friend­ship that stars, gasp, four black women (“It should have hap­pened 15, 20, 30 years ago,” she sighs) – tak­ing things to a whole new level. Not only did it win her a truck­load of awards but it took $140m from a $19m bud­get.

“Def­i­nitely, the pool of work to choose from has ex­panded tremen­dously,” says Had­dish of the amount of scripts now ping­ing in her in­box. “And as far as my life chang­ing, I’m not sleep­ing un­til 12 o’clock like I used to. Now I wake up at four or five o’clock in the morn­ing. Even on a day off, I wake up at five, like, ‘Where am I sup­posed to be? Oh. Maybe I’ll use the re­stroom and go back to sleep.’” She laughs, fill­ing the room. “I work ev­ery day. I travel weekly. Be­fore Girls Trip,

I would just go some­where once a month. And I love it be­cause it keeps me out of trou­ble. I don’t have to worry about no man, be­cause I’m not dat­ing, be­cause I don’t have time for that.”

Nor­mally, ac­tors don’t vol­un­teer in­for­ma­tion about their love lives and bris­tle if you ask. But with Had­dish, who twice di­vorced busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive Wil­liam Ste­wart, first in 2011 and then in 2013, what you see is what you get – she’s a whirlwind of en­ergy who talks rapidly and openly.

“No one has earned the priv­i­lege of me de­cid­ing to make time for that,” she con­tin­ues. “Be­cause I can make the time for a man. If the right per­son came along, I’d be like, ‘OK, we’ve got ro­mance in here.’ But no, I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced that just yet. You’ve got to be some­thing spe­cial. You’ve got to have some kind of con­fi­dence.”

On this sunny morn­ing in late Au­gust, Had­dish is in Lon­don to pro­mote her new com­edy Night School. You might be tempted to say it’s ac­tu­ally Kevin Hart’s new com­edy, for it’s his char­ac­ter, Teddy, who we fol­low back into ed­u­ca­tion in or­der to get his GED (equiv­a­lent to a high­school diploma or GCSEs) to fa­cil­i­tate a ca­reer change. But it is Had­dish’s no-non­sense night-school tu­tor Car­rie who is the stand­out, whip­ping bull­shit­ter Teddy into shape along with the half-dozen other stu­dents who hang out to­gether like some sort of mid­dle-aged Break­fast Club.

Re-team­ing Had­dish with her Girls Trip di­rec­tor Mal­colm D. Lee, Night School is full of broad hu­mour, as you’d ex­pect. But it’s also slyly po­lit­i­cal, tak­ing pot­shots at Don­ald Trump, who’s com­pared to a Cheeto, and at white folks’ ap­pro­pri­a­tion of black cul­ture. At one point, Car­rie ex­plains she’s teach­ing night school on top of her lu­di­crously busy day job so she might “af­ford lux­u­ries, like rent and an­tibi­otics”.

“I feel like the best way to teach is through com­edy,” says Had­dish, se­ri­ous for a mo­ment. “Ev­ery great teacher that I’ve ever had has made me laugh. When I laugh, I re­mem­ber. And so, me say­ing lit­tle things like that is just like, ‘Yeah, this is what’s go­ing on right now in the world.’”

Night School, in fact, is some­thing of a per­sonal film for Had­dish. For while she had a ball sass­ing her pupils down to size and cut­ting loose on the dance­floor in a mem­o­rable prom scene, this is, be­neath the many laughs, a movie about peo­ple work­ing hard to get ahead in life. Teddy’s dys­lexia, mean­while, makes him feel stupid and ashamed, emo­tions he hides be­hind bois­ter­ous blab­ber. It’s a sit­u­a­tion that Had­dish un­der­stands all too well.

“It re­ally con­nected with me be­cause I had a teacher who helped me, who saw that I was fail­ing and saw that I was hav­ing is­sues,” she ex­plains. “She could have just left me to float on by, but she in­vested time in mak­ing sure I knew how to do the main thing that ev­ery­body knows how to do, and that’s read. She no­ticed some­thing wrong and she took the time out to say, ‘Look, I can help you. Or you can give up.’ I was so grate­ful. And I’m still so grate­ful to her.”

Had­dish doesn’t know if she had dys­lexia (“I’ve never been tested. But I like to say yes. I’m like, ‘Yeah, we’ll go with that…’”) but, at high school, she could only read small words and was un­able to com­pre­hend sen­tences. “Ev­ery­body was telling me I was stupid. So I be­lieved that.”

It’s a mir­a­cle that Had­dish found time to con­cen­trate on school at all. Born and raised in LA, she was just nine years old when her step­fa­ther tam­pered with the brakes of her mother’s car, lead­ing to an ac­ci­dent in which her mother sus­tained brain dam­age. Had­dish and her four younger half-sib­lings were split up and put into fos­ter care, and not re­united un­til she was 15, when they lived with their grand­mother. For­ever in trou­ble at school, Had­dish was given a choice by a so­cial worker:

I feel like this movie is about sec­ond chances. When you do what needs to be done, you can have what­ever you want – that’s my whole ca­reer

at­tend psy­chi­atric ther­apy or go to the Laugh Fac­tory com­edy camp. She opted for the lat­ter, and was men­tored by the likes of Richard Pryor, Dane Cook and the Wayans brothers. Not that her prob­lems ended there – try­ing to break into the LA com­edy scene in her early twen­ties, she lived in her car.

It’s lit­tle won­der, then, that Night School ap­pealed. “I wanted to be a part of some­thing where it shows that when you put in the work, when you do what needs to be done, you can have what­ever it is you want. I feel like this movie is about sec­ond chances. That’s my whole ca­reer. I don’t mind be­ing an ex­am­ple of, ‘Dang, I re­ally want to be this, and I’m home­less, and I’m liv­ing like this. Let me do the work.’ Now I’ve got a house. I’ve got a car. I’ve achieved so much just by do­ing the work.”

In Au­gust 2017, com­edy spe­cial Tiffany Had­dish: She Ready! From

The Hood To Hol­ly­wood pre­miered on Show­time, and in No­vem­ber 2017 she be­came the first black fe­male co­me­dian to host Sat­ur­day Night Live (by the time you read this, we’ll know if she’s turned her Emmy nom­i­na­tion into a win). She also had a me­moir ap­pear on the New York Times’ best­seller list at the end of last year, and cur­rently stars in TBS sit­com The Last O.G., cre­ated by John Carcieri and Jor­dan Peele. Up­com­ing movies in­clude Tyler Perry’s dram­edy No­body’s Fool (“I just saw it. I was like, ‘Woo! This is gonna be a clas­sic.’ I al­most peed on my­self”), ac­tion-com­edy The Oath (“It has su­per-funny mo­ments and some heavy po­lit­i­cal stuff, which I think is vi­tal for the time that we’re in”), and voic­ing Queen Wat­evra Wa-Nabi in The Lego Movie 2: The Sec­ond Part (“It’s so much fun. I get to sing in it”).

Had­dish has cer­tainly had more than her fair share of tur­moil in life, but you might say that ev­ery­thing is awe­some right now. “My in­ten­tion has al­ways been just to do a good job, and bring joy and hap­pi­ness, and maybe make some new friends,” she says. “And then all of that hap­pened

– times 10. I’m su­per-grate­ful.”

Night School opens on 28 Septem­ber. No­body’S Fool, the oath and the lego movie 2: the sec­ond part all open next year.

Hav­ing a laugh (top to bot­tom) Had­dish in Girls Trip with Queen Lat­i­fah and Jada Pin­kett Smith; in­spir­ing Kevin Hart in Night School; with Method Man in her break­out hit Keanu.Com­edy col­legeHad­dish “re­ally con­nected” with her role in Night School.

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