Just For Laughs: A conversation with Tiffany Haddish … and a few words with Mike Ward
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
For L.A.-based comic Tiffany Haddish, who will be making her third appearance at Just For Laughs with her sassy-with-an-attitude comic persona, first as part of the Nasty Show’s line-up at the Metropolis from July 20-30, and then as host of the Nasty Ladies show on July 30, she can boldly say that comedy didn’t just give her a successful career … it also saved her life.
Born and raised in South Central L.A., Haddish’s early life was anything but idyllic. With her mother seriously injured in an auto accident, and her family spilt up and put into foster care when she was 13, Tiffany constantly got herself into trouble at school. It was at this time that a social worker offered her two choices: go to the Laugh Factory’s comedy camp, or seek psychiatric therapy; obviously, she chose the first option.
“Attending that comedy camp did save my life, and I am very grateful for it. It gave me a more positive outlook and reinforcement in my life at a time when I didn’t have that many options. It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Tiffany during a recent phone interview from her L.A. home.
The Laugh Factory comedy camp took place every Saturday, with several popular comics in the L.A. area coming by to be mentors and show these troubled youth to channel their problems through comedy, and Tiffany marveled at surprise appearances by David Allen Grier, Arsenio Hall and Richard Pryor. However, she also learned a lot when legendary composer Quincy Jones appeared at the comedy camp.
“Quincy Jones taught me how comic timing was like timing in music, and how a joke was like a song, in which it was just as important to get the right rhythm for a joke, as you would for a song,” she said.
As well, she cites as her comedy influences veteran comics Tom Dreesen, Eddie Murphy, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Alonzo Bodden … and even her grandmother (whom she and her siblings lived with after their time in foster care).
Using the comedy camp as a launching pad, Tiffany has carved out an impressive career in comedy, with countless club dates, touring, and roles in such movies and TV shows like “Meet the Spartans”, “”Keanu”, “That’s So Raven” and “The Carmichael Show”, which will begin its third season.
And she has never forgot how much an impact the Laugh Factory comedy camp has made in her personal and professional life, and has decided to give back with her own initiative called “Chuckles Not Knuckles”, which she started about 10 years ago.
“There are many schools in L.A. where there are plenty of racial tensions that cause race riots to erupt. So myself and a group of comics decided to get together and decided that we should do something to change all this, and that’s where Chuckles Not Knuckles came from,” she said. The program has comics tour different high schools in the area, perform an hour-long stand-up comedy show, and then speak with the students about their own experiences with racism and bullying.
“What I want from Chuckles Not Knuckles is to have someone use comedy to confront bullies. That way, when they laugh, they don’t want to beat that person up,” she added.
Happy to be part of a strong Nasty Show line-up that includes Brad Williams, Bobby Slayton, Mike Ward and good friend Ralphie May, Tiffany believes that people like their share of X-rated and blue humour because it deals with subjects that they are not always allowed to talk about or do on a daily basis.
“When we show our nasty side, we are also showing our human side. It’s like an outlet and proves that people can be just as nasty as you,” she added.
And Tiffany is indeed looking forward to her third trip to Montreal to perform at the festival. “I am looking forward to having my share of poutine and French dudes while I’m in Montreal,” she said. “And I am looking forward to making people laugh, so they can have fun and not judge.”
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And while we’re on the subject of the Nasty Show, bilingual Montreal comic Mike Ward will be assuming the hosting duties for the second year in a row, and is once again looking forward to helming one of Just For Laughs’ most popular shows in its Club Series.
“Hosting the Nasty Show last year was amazing. I had a lot of fun doing it,” said Ward in a recent phone interview. “When I was offered the gig for this year, I was touched. And I thought to myself that I want to do the best job I possibly could; I don’t want to suck.”
“Getting to host the Nasty Show for a second year won’t have a lot of pressure for me. I am going to do more crowd work and perform some of my best material. And that first night is going to be more fun and less stress for me,” he added.
And Ward won’t feel that sense of pressure when he will share the stage with long time Nasty Show host Bobby Slayton this year. “I am happy that Bobby will be part of this year’s line-up; he is insanely funny,” he said. “And I know there are going to times when I see him perform onstage that I will ask my ‘why isn’t he hosting this show?’”
Since Ward hosted last year’s Nasty Show, he has become increasingly notorious across Quebec for his highly controversial material, especially a routine about Jeremy Gabriel, a handicapped teen who recently sang for Pope Francis. As a result, Ward faced the Quebec Human Rights Commission, and if the decision – which is expected to be rendered this fall – doesn’t go in his favour, he could face a fine of $80,000.
“Comics are like little kids sometimes. When you tell them that they can’t do this, they will do it. And when comics get angry, they become more offensive,” he said. “So if you try to shut me down, it’s going to make me more famous. This is similar to what happened with Lenny Bruce more than 50 years ago. The only difference with me is that at least for now, I won’t be going to jail.”
For more information on the Nasty Show and other Just For Laughs shows, go to their website at www.hahaha.com.