When "Girls Trip" came out in summer 2017, comedian Tiffany Haddish became a breakout star for her role in the movie as a happy-go-lucky partier. Soon after, she became the first black woman stand-up comedian to host "Saturday Night Live," and won an Emmy for that role. Her latest movie, "Like a Boss" — with Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek — hit theaters earlier this year.
The same year she rose to fame in "Girls Trip," Haddish published her New York Times bestselling memoir, "The Last Black Unicorn." Haddish has had a tumultuous life, from entering the foster care system at 13 to surviving an abusive ex-husband. Her memoir outlines some of the career lessons she's learned on her climb to success, from doing unpaid open mics to starring in Hollywood films.
In her memoir, Haddish tells the story of dancing with the crowd and hyping up her friends at a school dance. Afterwards, the professional DJ the school had hired approached her and asked if she'd want to be an energy producer ― someone who hypes people up ― at the bar mitzvahs where he DJ'ed at the time. Haddish agreed, and considers it her "first real paying entertainment job."
She wasn't looking to be an energy producer in particular, but when that job offer came her way, she seized the opportunity. Looking back, she sees it at as a starting point for her ultimate goal.
"I knew, at the core of my being, that my job was going to be to get onstage and make people laugh, and get paid for it," Haddish writes in her memoir.
Haddish wasn't an immediate success on the bar mitzvah circuit, however. After her first party, she writes, her boss DJ Timbo mailed her a $40 check for her work, along with a paper letter listing everything she'd done wrong.
"I had to be more dedicated," she writes about his feedback, "more focused." She took that criticism to heart and made efforts to improve her performance. Within four years, she was making $400 per party.
Haddish says that her first paid stand-up gig — $50 to do 15 minutes of comedy at a women's event — "almost derailed" her. A lot of her set was about dating men. After she got onstage, however, she realized she was performing for a lesbian crowd, and her jokes didn't land with the audience.
When Haddish got offstage, she writes, she briefly reconsidered her comedy career entirely. But then she got paid.
"Getting paid that night allowed me to imagine a place for myself in the universe of doing something I loved," she writes. Despite the set having gone terribly wrong, Haddish still got validation and the proof that she could do it. Her bad day, ultimately, only helped propel her forward.
Despite the struggles in her life and career before she became a household name, Haddish has managed to stay incredibly positive. In her memoir, she credits that in part to something comedy icon Richard Pryor told her when she was a teenager doing the Laugh Factory's comedy camp.
"When you're onstage, you need to be having fun. If you're having fun, they're having fun," Haddish says Pryor told her.
"To this day," Haddish writes, "I try to have fun every time I'm onstage."
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