Tiffany Haddish and the Path of Funny Black Women in Hollywood

On Saturday, Tiffany Haddish made history as the first black female standup comedian to host Saturday Night Live. That’s right. Among the late night sketch comedy show’s 566 hosts (at the time this post was written), there’s been no Whoopi Goldberg, no Mo’Nique, no Wanda Sykes. Even when Sanford and Sons was a hit TV show in the 70s, no Aunt Esther (the late LaWanda Page).

SNL creator Lorne Michaels has long been under fire for the lack of black female cast members, and popular black women in entertainment, including Goldberg and Oprah, have often been portrayed by career cast member Kenan Thompson in drag.

In the show’s 43 years on air, there have only been six black female regulars: Yvonne Hudson, Danitra Vance, Ellen Cleghorne, Maya Rudolph, Sasheer Zamata and, currently, Leslie Jones. And prior to Haddish, only ten black women have hosted: Oprah Winfrey, Octavia Spencer, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah, Halle Berry, Cicely Tyson and former “SNL” castmember Maya Rudolph.

Well, this won’t be the first time SNL has been behind the times. Bolstered by the breakout success of Girls Trip, which has grossed over 100 million at the box office and stars Haddish, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Jada Pinkett Smith, funny black girls are hot in Hollywood. And Haddish was the scene-stealing breakout.

“This past year in particular has felt like what it’s supposed to be,” the Compton native told the Times. “I just feel like it’s a dream come true. I’ve actually done a lot of things that I said I was going to do and I’m going to be able to do even more things that I’ve thought of.”

Haddish’s career uptick began in 2013, when she portrayed Kevin Hart’s loveably ratchet wife on his Real Husbands of Hollywood BET series. In 2014 she had a recurring role on Tyler Perry’s If Loving You is Wrong OWN melodrama; and in 2015 she became a series regular role on The Carmichael Show, opposite legends David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine. And in 2016, she filmed Keanu alongside Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.

The 37-year-old, however, hasn’t forgotten her humble roots in South Los Angeles as a foster child.

“Every time I get to do a speech, I’m always like, ‘Look at the foster care kids coming up!’ because I remember being that kid and thinking that nobody comes out of the system and becomes successful,” she said. “But you can! You just gotta put your mind to it. You gotta put in the work and you can do it.”

Haddish is currently filming Tracy Morgan’s forthcoming TBS series The Last O.G., with Cedric the Entertainer and other comedy heavyweights. Jordan Peele as an executive producer. And the Girls Trip scene-stealer’s memoir, The Last Black Unicorn, will be released on December 5th.

“The only thing I think of when I’m doing my job of being funny and working on these shows is, ‘How can I deliver my message in a way that will stick with people?,’”she said. “Every teacher that I’ve ever had, that I still remember their name, made me laugh. I feel like comedy is the best instrument to teach.”

Although Haddish is living her best life, in a timely article, “How Black Women Are Shaking Up the Comedy World,” the Los Angeles Times points out that the road to comedic stardom is often separate and unequal.

“For every Kevin James, whose stand-up led to a bountiful TV and film career, there’s a Wanda Sykes who most often plays a supporting character.

For every Amy Poehler who went from Saturday Night Live to and a film career, there’s a Tracee Ellis Ross, who had to wait seven years afterGirlfriends wrapped before she could land a network comedy lead in black-ish.

For every Kevin Hart, who breaks through to movie stardom, there’s an Aisha Tyler or a Sherri Shepherd who doesn’t, or a Leslie Jones or a Jessica Williams, who might be starring in a studio movie this second if they were a different hue or gender.”

In an interview with the Times, veteran actress and comedian Kym Whitley said the problem in Hollywood is not diversity, but inclusion.

“With women, I think it’s more difficult because we are held at a different standard. There are a lot of black women who talk like Amy Schumer, but it’s not accepted or not embraced,” said Whitley.

“Because if we were included and it wasn’t a rarity and we, as black female comics, were in all of the movies and there wasn’t a separation like our churches are separated — you’ve got Rough Night and Girls Trip, the exact same movie [except one is white and the other black], likeFriends and Living Single — but with no inclusion, we’re absent. If we live on inclusion, it all becomes normal.”

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