Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for August 20 through 26 is the Showtime comedy special Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood.
Before you say it: Yes, I know that a comedy special doesn’t quite qualify as a chapter of episodic television. But this week in television was generally a late-summer dead zone, with most summer shows having wrapped their seasons before the new onslaught of premieres starts in a couple of weeks. And in any case, most of the other shows that are currently airing new episodes are ones we’ve already written about for this feature, and I can only write about CBS’s animal uprising drama Zoo so many times before my editors stage an intervention.
Also: Tiffany Haddish is just really damn funny, and deserves a recommendation wherever we can give it to her.
As Haddish recounts in detail during her new special, she’s been diligently churning out comedy in Hollywood for almost two decades now, but 2017 marks the year Hollywood cared to notice. The warm critical reception she got for her guest turns in NBC’s The Carmichael Show and the Keegan-Michael Key/Jordan Peele movie Keanu gave way to downright glowing attention for her starring turn in this summer’s Girls Trip, in which her expertly calibrated comedic chaos easily stole scenes from much bigger names like Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith.
But Haddish’s love for standup and ability to personalize material sets She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood apart. Haddish unleashes hilarious, filthy, and even moving anecdotes to tell the story of her life to this point, without anything holding her back, at long last.
Tiffany Haddish makes her comedy unforgettable by throwing her whole self into it
When Haddish went on Jimmy Kimmel Live to promote Girls Trip in July, she told a story about getting Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith to go with her on a “Groupon swamp tour.” She laced every other sentence with punchlines, leaving Kimmel and his audience alike too enraptured to do much of anything but howl with laughter.
For as good as that was, though, Haddish proves in She Ready! that sitting still on an interviewer’s couch isn’t her ideal comedic stance.
In She Ready, Haddish freely wanders the full stage, using her entire body to punctuate jokes. When illustrating the side of her that can explode with anger when provoked — usually by a garbage ex — she hunches over and screws up her whole face, eyes twitching in latent rage. Even a water break turns into one of the special’s highlights when she admits that her shoes are fucking killing her and her “baby toe’s dead” — a fact she illustrates by collapsing her heels and splaying her feet sideways to hobble around the stage, mimicking every woman who dressed up for a club only to realize her mistake too late.
In fact, Haddish is so dynamic in her performance that the intensity of some of her bits sneak up on you as you slowly realize what she’s actually talking about, whether that’s being raised in foster care, sending her ex to domestic violence counseling, being homeless, or taking a shit in a terrible man’s Air Jordans. (She promises he deserved it.)
The material on her foster care upbringing is particularly sharp, especially as she turns the audience’s initial hesitation to laugh about it into a joke all its own. “Anybody else grow up in the system? Make some noise!” she yells into the theater, to virtual crickets. “I’m the only special motherfucker here, huh?” she says, looking out with a discerning nod. “It’s cool, it’s cool. I was state property. I’m valuable.”
The story she then tells about the elementary school bully who wouldn’t let her play tetherball because it’s just for girls “with mommies and daddies” is heartbreaking at its core, but in Haddish’s hands, it’s also a hilarious showcase for the furious energy she’s apparently always had. When she reached her breaking point, Haddish tells us, she shut up her bully by reminding her that she was the only one on that playground to have a “judge and a lawyer” on retainer thanks to being “in the system” — and that they’re paid by all their parents’ taxes, and always will be. “What goes around comes around,” Haddish then shrugs. “It’s like tetherball.”
When Haddish is in the middle of telling a story like that, her comedy feels effortless, like your funniest friend unloading a week’s worth of complaints three drinks in at happy hour. But every so often, Haddish will remind her audience that keeping them entertained is hard. At one point, she takes an extended breath between stories, looks out at the audience when it starts to get restless, and wisecracks with a giant grin, “What, you never take a break at work?”
On this front, Haddish wants to be clear: She worked her ass off to get to where she is — and it shows. Whatever’s coming for her next, she ready.
Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood is currently available to stream on Showtime’s website for subscribers.