Tiffany Haddish has a new goal to share with the world, and she can’t keep it in any longer.
“Maybe the people on my team might not think it’s time to be telling it. I’ve been told by Kevin Hart, don’t tell everybody what you want to do. But I think it’s time to be telling it,” she says, winding herself up for the big reveal.
And then she says it: “I want to be on the cover of every Vogue magazine all over the world. WHAAAT?!”
Not just the so-called Big Four (American Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue Paris, Vogue Italia). But all 24 iterations of the fashion glossy — Vogue China, Vogue Nederland, Vogue Arabia, Vogue China, Vogue Mexico, Vogue Japan — Haddish wants to grace them all. Are you listening, Anna Wintour?
It’s improbable and outlandish, but so is Haddish. “I see my career as still in front of me. There’s still lots to do, I have a lot of goals. And I like being the first to do things,” she reasons. “I’m kind of addicted to that now.”
Even if this goal is likely to remain elusive, Haddish, 41, is already busy dismantling fashion world conventions. Case in point; her $4,122 white Alexander McQueen gown, which she has turned into her own personal meme. With sustainability and labor rights reshaping the industry, and celebrities increasingly (and mostly quietly) recycling red-carpet looks, Haddish has worn the dress eight times and counting (from the 2017 premiere of her “Girls Trip” to People’s Beautiful Issue last March). But she has also turned her frequent use of the gown into satire, talking about its price tag (yes, she bought it herself and it cost more than her mortgage) and all the places she’s going to wear it — her wedding and funeral, a Baptist church praise and worship dance. And yes, she’s had conversations with Wintour about it. “She said I was brave,” says Haddish. “And I say yes, it takes bravery to change the world.”
Since her breakout performance in “Girls Trip,” Haddish has been on a mission to chart a course to superstardom. And she’s unwilling to stay in her prescribed lane while she does it. It’s why she jumped at the chance to play a small part in director Paul Schrader’s dark drama “The Card Counter,” which premieres Sept. 2 at the 78th Annual Venice International Film Festival (and opens in U.S. theaters Sept. 10).
Produced by frequent Schrader collaborator Martin Scorsese, “The Card Counter” is a harrowing morality play about a military veteran (Oscar Isaac), who emerges from a stint at Leavenworth — where he passed the time learning to count cards — to a transient life on the casino circuit. Haddish, in her first dramatic feature, plays a seductive gambling financier. It’s a counterintuitive choice. And because Haddish herself is so irrepressible, her character is a glimmer of light in an otherwise bleak world. Isaac’s tortured, PTSD-racked gambler visibly lightens in their scenes together. Like her magazine cover aspirations, it’s part of a deliberate strategy to broaden the Haddish oeuvre.
“People think of me as one note,” she says. “And I’m not. I’m like an onion. I have layers. Peel back my layers and I may make you cry.” The role, she continues, “gave me the chance to flex.”
On stage, Haddish is a whir of ribald energy. Raw, honest and sometimes painful, her stand-up is dominated by her overt physicality. She swivels her shoulders, bumps her hips, her arms and hands — with three-inch lacquered, jeweled nails — are in a near-constant flail. But this role required stillness; she had to subsume her natural ebullience and comedic tendencies to please every last person in the audience.
“All of her training has been [being] naked and alone in front of an audience,” says Schrader. “If something fails, there you are. Whereas you’re much more protected in a drama. I said, pick and choose your shots. Just because you’re not getting a reaction doesn’t mean it’s not working.”
For Haddish, much has been working. She won an Emmy for her 2017 turn hosting “Saturday Night Live.” The first Black female comedian to host the iconic NBC showcase, she performed her opening monologue in the McQueen dress. She earned critical raves for turns in NBC’s “The Carmichael Show” and three seasons on Tracy Morgan’s “The Last OG.” She has a thriving career as a voice actor (Netflix’s “Tuca & Bertie,” “The Lego Movie” and “The Secret Life of Pets” franchises, “Phineas and Ferb the Movie”). Her 2019 Netflix stand-up special, “Black Mitzvah,” in which she deftly addressed bombing during an infamous New Year’s Eve 2018 performance in Miami, earned her a Grammy for best comedy album, the first Black woman since Whoopi Goldberg in 1986 to win the award.
She is currently working on a follow-up to her best-selling memoir “The Last Black Unicorn,” in which she’ll dish about, among other things, sacking one of her previous stylists.
“I fired one stylist that I had and I asked my agent to find me another one that was Black,” she says. “And I was very specific about that.” She won’t say more, but she has been working with Law Roach ever since. And together they have turned her weekly TBS movie showcase program, “Friday Night Vibes,” into a platform to highlight a very deliberate approach to fashion, prioritizing Black designers and affordability.
She will star and produce an upcoming biopic of Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner. She has comedy features, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” and “Easter Sunday,” set for spring 2022 releases.
“You only get pigeon-holed when you allow them to pigeon-hole you,” she says. “And this is a whole different time. There are so many different outlets. Now that I have a certain type of notoriety, I can pull together a group of people and make whatever it is I want to make. I don’t have to sit and wait for a studio to say, ‘OK, we’ll let you do this.’ It’s like, um, you’re not going to let me do that? OK cool, well I’ll just make my own thing over here and then you guys can buy it from me. Or I can put it on my website and let it stream and charge people $5 to see it.”
Few who know or have worked with Haddish would bet against her.
“She is a firecracker,” says Schrader. “I think she can succeed at most anything she puts her mind to. And if you know a little about her biography, you realize that she has overcome extraordinary odds to become very successful.”
“She’s very fast and she’s very funny. But she also is a wonderful actress,” says Billy Crystal, who directed and co-starred with Haddish in “Here Today,” about a screenwriter struggling with early stages of dementia.
A heart-tugging comedy, the part required moments of understatement from Haddish. “She needed to be compassionate and empathetic and go to some places that she hadn’t gone to yet at that point in her acting experiences,” says Crystal, who co-wrote the script with Alan Zweibel. “As a costar also, I’m two feet from it. So I’m getting the honest read. I’m right with her and giving her new things and she’s responsive. And she’s very available.”
The two have remained friends, in particular bonding over Haddish’s recent conversion to Judaism after learning several years ago that her estranged Eritrean father had Jewish roots. Crystal read an Aliyah at her bat mitzvah in December 2019, which doubled as her 40th birthday party. (He learned Haddish was studying the Torah during filming on “Here Today” when a rabbi, who happened to be Sarah Silverman’s sister, showed up on the New York City set to study with Haddish.)
And this is another part of the Haddish magic, her ability to connect with almost everyone she meets, from fans in theater seats, to Hollywood legends of a certain vintage, even a bothersome paparazzo.
Crystal recalls a particularly ubiquitous photographer stalking the New York City location shoots on “Here Today.” His own entreaties to give them space had no effect. So Haddish offered to talk to him. “She says, ‘I’ve had ice cream with him, I know who he is, it’s fine,’” says Crystal. “She went and talked to him, and gently scolded him, and then he was gone.”
For Haddish, comedy was a means of survival, a way to exorcise a painful past that has included physical abuse at the hands of her mother (after her mother suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident) and her ex-husband, abandonment by her father when she was only 3, nearly a decade in the foster care system and multiple bouts of homelessness at which time she lived out of her Geo Metro.
“She is one of the strongest people I know,” says her friend and “Friday Night Vibes” cohost Deon Cole. The two came up together on the Los Angeles comedy scene and Cole recalls one day in the Aughts when Haddish showed up at an open mic night with a black eye.
“We was like, ‘Yo, are you OK?’ And she was like, ‘I just need like five minutes on stage.’ And she went on stage and talked about what happened to her. She was killing. But it was real,” says Cole. “Wasn’t no ‘let me go to the doctor.’ Wasn’t no ‘woe is me.’ Wasn’t none of that. It was, ‘Yo, I need a microphone.’ I was sitting there going, now this is stand-up. This is how you do it. But I was still in disbelief. And I will never forget that ever.”
Spinning hard truths into comedy gold is what makes Haddish so indelible.
“Honest,” is how Crystal describes her stand-up. “It’s just, this is just who I am folks, and I’m going to get in your face with it, but that’s what life has done to me. To find honesty in it and find pain in it and still make it not only funny but interesting and entertaining, you come away with a bigger picture of somebody. It’s not just someone who came on stage and killed you with big laughs, but you don’t remember it. Like really great Chinese food; boy that was delicious, what did I have? You don’t remember it.”
That’s not Haddish, says Crystal, “she stays with you.”
And she is accessing the same vein for her dramatic acting. “She wants to put on this facade,” says Haddish, of her character in “The Card Counter.”
“But she’s still a little girl inside. She’s still very vulnerable. She’s just trying to figure out where she fits.”
Haddish, of course knows exactly where she fits and what she wants. It’s why, despite a childhood marked by deprivation, she has not given in to many of the trappings of fame and wealth.
A few years ago, she bought a three-bedroom, 2,600 square-foot house in South Central L.A., the neighborhood where she was raised. (When asked if she gambles, she laughs: “I gamble every time I walk out the house with my Black a–! I mean I still live in South Central L.A.”)
She moved her ailing grandmother in with her. (Her mother is institutionalized.) During the pandemic, her brother was a near constant guest. “So I was never really alone. That was pretty irritating,” she laughs. In her stand-up and her memoir, a theme has been her questionable taste in men. But since 2020 she has been in a relationship with rapper and actor Common, her first foray as one half of a celebrity couple, and the obligatory gossip that comes with it. “If people got something they want to say, that’s cool,” she says. “They’re going to have things to say, good and bad, because nine times out of 10, they lonely. I get it. I been there. I was a lonely girl, too.”
He bought her a Cartier watch and has been known to pick her up at LAX — with flowers and airport tacos in hand. “This is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in,” says Haddish. “And I’m just enjoying it.”
She has recently lost about 50 pounds with a healthier diet and exercise; she has a Peloton and also uses the VR exercise app Supernatural. Her new body is another reason she wants to bag the Vogue covers. “I’ve fallen in love with taking pictures. I really love it. And my body is changing and transforming, this is the time to do it, because I might get lazy,” she says.
Even if she achieves her (likely impossible) magazine dream, she has no intention of giving up stand-up. “I will be doing stand-up comedy until I can’t walk or talk or anything anymore, OK. I’m always going to do stand-up,” she says. “But as I evolve as a performer, I will be making sure that I’m producing on all of my projects. The goal is to be creating things that I want.”
She pauses, and begins to crack herself up. “Buuuutt, the goal within the next two years is to be on the cover of every Vogue…Vogue…Vogue,” she says, affecting a booming stadium echo. “…all around the world…world…world.”
Are you listening, world?