In her early days as a stand-up, Tiffany Haddish was broke and homeless, sleeping in her car while grinding it out on comedy stages in and around Los Angeles. One night after a show, fellow up-and-coming comedian Kevin Hart noticed that Haddish was living out of her vehicle and decided to loan her $300, which she used to get a cheap motel for a week where she could regroup and come up with a game plan. A week later she moved into her very own complete dump of an apartment, and the rest was, as they say, history.
Most great comics have heartwarming stories of people who saw something special in them and gave a helping hand, major emotional boost, or career-altering break. But what’s even more compelling is when those same comics show that they haven’t forgotten where they came from and prove it by using their success to reach a couple of rungs back down the ladder to pull others up. Haddish’s new Netflix series Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready, which premieres today, is a perfect example of that. A play on Haddish’s 2017 special She Ready, the series features half-hour stand-up sets from six diverse entertainers handpicked by Haddish herself. As Haddish explained on NBC’s Today, “I had my deal already to do my special and they offered me a little more money, right? I was like, ‘How about instead of giving me that money, we use that money to give six other comedians an opportunity to shine?’”
Haddish used her current star power to vouch for Chaunté Wayans (Wild n’ Out), April Macie (Last Comic Standing), Tracey Ashley (The Last O.G.), Aida Rodriguez (Comedy Central’s This Week at the Comedy Cellar), Flame Monroe (Def Comedy Jam), and Marlo Williams (BET’s ComicView), all of whom have been performing for at least a decade, some clocking in over 20 years in comedy. They’ve all had their share of relative success but have struggled to break into the mainstream. According to Haddish, now is their time. They ready.
Vulture recently spoke with all six comedians and asked them to reflect on the following question: “At what moment do you think Tiffany Haddish knew for sure that you were ready?”
From the first time she met me. I used to go by “Sexy Marlo,” but I took the “Sexy” off and just go by Marlo now. I was at a club one night and she walked up to me out of nowhere and was like, “We gonna be friends. I’m gonna be your friend.” I was like, “Who in the hell is this little crazy-ass girl?” But yeah, she knew it from the first time she’d seen me. About four years ago I decided to take a break and get myself together, gather myself mentally, physically, spiritually. I wanted to go back to school and get my high-school diploma. I did that and then found myself going and getting a job at Walmart thinking that nobody would notice me. Bad idea. Tiffany would call me every day before she went on tour and she would say, “You work at Walmart? How long that shit gonna last?” I said, “You’re not going to be calling me disrespecting my job right now.” Then she called and said, “Marlo, can you come go out on tour with me,” and blah, blah, blah. I said, “Of course” — not only to go out on tour, but because Tiffany is my family. She’s like my sister, my daughter, my niece, everything in one. I wanted to make sure I had her back in this game too. —Marlo Williams
Tiffany said she’d seen me. I knew of Tiffany for years, but we didn’t know each other personally. She said she’d been watching my clips over the years and was wondering, Why haven’t we seen more of this woman? It wasn’t until I got on The Last O.G. and I was writing. I’m in an interracial marriage and Tiffany’s character Shay is married to a white man on the show. Tracy [Morgan] had heard all of my stories and wanted to connect with that. Once Tiffany saw that and we had met and everything, that’s what made her go, “It’s her time.” When Tiffany heard that I’d been doing this for 21 years, that’s when I felt like she knew it was my time. —Tracey Ashley
I can’t say I know the exact moment, but what I will say is that she’s seen how much we’ve been busting our behinds; all the things we’ve been trying to do and never getting that opportunity. To have a relationship with us already and doing shows with us … I think she just saw that there’s this talent out there that nobody’s pushing. Given the opportunity, why not me? It’s huge. Who’s to say that we would have been able to have an opportunity like this ever? I’ve been saying this in all the interviews, but Tiffany didn’t have to do this — not right now, and obviously she didn’t have to do it ever. She has so many projects out that she’s out there promoting, but she took the time to put six comedians out who she felt deserved a chance. We’ve all had our struggles. We’ve all had those moments when we thought, This is it, and it wasn’t. This is it now, you know? Tiffany allowed us and trusted us to go out there and do our thing. She didn’t say, “Nah, I don’t think you should do that,” or change stuff up on us. She let us do exactly what we wanted to do. —Chaunté Wayans
My relationship with Tiffany is a very unique one because Tiffany and I are very close friends. We’ve been good friends for a long time. That has never kept us from being honest with each other about comedy. We’ve always had a very honest and open relationship. They always say that the guys can bust each other’s balls or whatever, but she and I have always been that way. When I was doing Last Comic Standing, she was doing Funniest Wins. She hosted the viewing party for my Last Comic Standing debut. I remember her saying, “Now you’re a comic. Now you’re really on your way. Now you’re doing this.” She’s been doing stand-up longer than me. Her and April Macie have been my mentors in comedy. They taught me how to make money, how to fight for more money, not to take these offers, which clubs to go to, where it’s safe, where it’s not safe. Those two have always been that for me. I do remember her saying distinctly to me, “I know you’re ready, so I need you to know that you’re ready.” She asked me to come open for her in Bakersfield so she could see where I was. When I got offstage — and the audience was roaring — she said, “Oh yeah, you’re definitely ready,” gave me a high five, and went and did her hour. —Aida Rodriguez
I have an email from I think 2011 when I would watch Tiffany onstage. I knew she was ready back then, but it’s about waiting on the industry to finally figure out that you’re ready. I sent this email to a manager and was like, “She’s one of those people that you watch onstage and there’s a light, this inner light.” Sometimes you’re watching a comic and wondering when they’re going to get the light to get off the stage. But she had such a stage presence. I was like, “Oh, she’s a star.” Comics know when people are talented, but the industry gloms on in a different way. Other people have to validate you first before the industry is willing to get onboard. As a comic, though, we know. We know when they’ve got the light, that twinkle in their eye. You see it. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when she saw it for me, but I feel like we all came up together. When you see a good person finally rise to the top you’re like, “I’ve been telling you this since 2011!” I’m not sure what her thing was for me, but I can tell you that we’ve all been doing well onstage for a while now. —April Macie
I think it was at the reveal of [E!’s] Botched, actually. Tiffany had seen me do stand-up a couple of times, but I think she saw the way I controlled the narrative of the room. We had taped it at the club here in Long Beach, California. The people loved me. That’s what I admire about Tiffany the most; people adore this woman. They love her stories; they love her personality. She’s so genuine. I think Tiffany saw that in me, you know? I ruffle the feathers in my own LGBTABCDEFGPTSD community all the time. But I think she saw me. She didn’t see the wig and the boobs and the butt. She heard the material, the content of the material, and she said, “Funny is funny.” She told me that day, “If I make it, I’m coming back to get you.” I had pretty much almost threw in the towel with stand-up because it was such a struggle. You can’t get a break. I never wanted to do the auditions for the reality-comedy shows because you stand in line like a cattle call and you only get three minutes. You can’t get Flame Monroe in three minutes. It takes you five minutes to get over the initial shock that I’m not a woman. Tiffany reassured me that I was coming and she sold me to Wanda [Sykes] and Page [Hurwitz]. And they bought it. They told me explicitly, “We had never heard of you until Tiffany brought us your name.” So thank you, Tiffany Haddish. I love you with everything in me. The man and the woman in me loves you. —Flame Monroe