Portland, are you ready? Tiffany Haddish hits town
She ready all right.
The prospect of facing a sedentary white crowd at the Keller Auditorium this Saturday does not phase comedian Tiffany Haddish.
If you only know her from her breakthrough mainstream movies Girls Trip and Night School, Haddish is no overnight sensation.
She's been on the edges of TV and movies for a long time. Earliest appearances: Pimp My Ride (Episode: "Rashae's Ford Taurus") and That's So Raven, both in 2005.
In her 2017 Saturday Night Live opening monolog, for which she won an Emmy, she wore her $4,000 Alexander McQueen gown and got loud and proud about how she wanted get as much wear out of it as possible, since it was an extravagance, and one she had to pay for herself.
Talking to the Portland Tribune, she goes off on a riff.
"My act is about my life, and I still have a very broke, I mean financially challenged, mentality. I'm making money but I'm also leaving money. It takes money to make money. I have to spend on hair and makeup, clothing, security, representation, my family, food…"
As she does the phone interview she has two people doing her makeup, preparing for a luncheon where she is being awarded an International Women of Power ROAR entertainer award.
"Some days I love it and some days I don't. I like to look pretty, I don't like the process. This stuff takes about an hour and a half. It's happening right now, little sponges on my face!"
Awards, schmawards, but she's enjoying the recognition. She was so happy with her Emmy that she kept it in her bed and told People magazine she was having a lesbian relationship with it.
"I just finally put my Emmy on my mantle. We broke up. I rolled over and she stabbed me in my back."
She played one in Night School but she's not a lesbian in real life.
"I'm about nine heartbreaks away from becoming a lesbian, I'll be at 50 at that point. Fifty men."
Haddish stopped smoking cigarettes nine months ago and now she can taste everything.
"I used to get Taco Bell and a salad, now I want a steak. Give me the filet mignon. But that's $47! I'm gaining weight, but I like being thick. I say it out loud, 'Ooh, I gained a little weight,' as I have this expensive-ass burger in my mouth with all the fixings."
In movies she plays the outrageous black girl who will say anything. Haddish is known for incorporating bedroom and bathroom humor in her set without apology.
Her best-selling memoir "The Last Black Unicorn," especially the audio book version, is a heartbreaking account of a little girl growing up in the 'hood in Los Angeles. She tended to three little siblings while her mother worked nights. Her stepfather told her he tried to kill the family for the insurance money by cutting the brake cables on her mother's car. (The accident ruined her mother's mental health.) Haddish couldn't read until ninth grade: she faked it by memorizing what kids read aloud to her. She ended up in foster care, for which she remains grateful to the taxpayer. It did give her an aversion to bunk beds: after sleeping in her car (a Geo Metro) she was taken in by Scientology but freaked out when their hospitality included bunk beds in dorms. After ranting for three hours they tore up her billion-year contract on the spot to get rid of her.
She doesn't see herself as outrageous.
"I haven't run through a club butt naked or had a fight."
Who's a comedian who is little known but she really rates?
"Flame Monroe: born a man and lives as a woman." She's also presenting six female comics who sellout shows who haven't been on TV. It's called "They Ready."
Fans of her live show know her from her 2016 "She Ready" comedy special. In contrast to the studio reading of her book, her stage show crackles with energy. Asked how the movies set compares, she says,
"In a movie I'm restricted, I have to stay within the parameters of the camera, it's like a box. Asking me if I'm going to make the most of the stage (at the Keller), that's like asking a kid 'Are you gonna play on this playground?'"
Haddish has perfected her confessional routine, salting the laughs with enough just pain to bring out the real comic flavor.
"Of course it hurts," she says of memories. "I am sensitive, that's why I can. I only cry at night, when I shower. When I've been out in the dirty world all day, in that people energy, I have to wash it off, and cry," she jokes. Then adds a semi seriously, "Crying is nothing but a removal of old energy."
Every live set is different, she promises. She watches them back on tape and says they could be a different special in every city.
After watching the support act from the wings (on this tour Marlo Williams and Chris Spencer)
she reads the crowd for herself in the first couple of minutes of her set.
"Are they screaming? Are the first five rows sitting down? If I can't see teeth, smiling, I think these people might be a little bit sensitive. I might not cuss and talk about dick. But if there are some freaks, I'll talk about everything."
And a sea of white faces doesn't faze her at all.
"I've played Arizona, San Jose. Hey, I did 500 bar mitzvahs."
Tiffany Haddish performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 16, Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St. Tickets: $50-$150, portland5.com.