If you’re into comedies, you’ve probably watched Girls Trip starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish.
The movie was a surprise hit — grossing over US$140M at the box office — with Haddish touted as the breakthrough star.
Soon after, she became the first African American woman to host SNL, and later released her autobiography, The Last Black Unicorn, to critical and public acclaim.
It seemed like she burst onto the scene over the summer.
But Haddish has been a working comedian for 20 years.
“I’ve been right here all along,” corrects Haddish every time someone says she burst onto the scene.
After I saw her hilarious interview with Trevor Noah, not only did I fall in love with her, I also started reading her book, and spent two days watching every interview and standup act of hers I could find on YouTube.
What I learned about her life blew me away.
She’s led one of the most unbelievably hard lives of anyone I’ve ever known, heard, or read about.
And through it all, she has consistently created unfair advantages to move forward.
But first, let’s talk about the things she had going against her.
The Tragedies and Misfortunes of Tiffany Haddish’s Life
At 8, Haddish became the primary caregiver for her four younger siblings when her mother suffered brain damage after surviving a car crash. She kept her family together for four years until she and her siblings were put in foster care. To top it all off, she could only read 3-letter words until 9th grade.
But even at that age, she managed to turn this into an unfair advantage.
How? By joking about it.
To hide her inability to read and the neglect of foster care, she turned to comedy. To cope, she turned every bad situation into a joke. It made her popular in high school but also got her noticed as a trouble-child by her teachers.
It wasn’t until her social worker, who recognized her talent for comedy, forced her to go to a comedy camp, that Tiffany decided to become a comedian.
After high school, she worked a number of jobs to support herself. Her longest running gig was as a dancer at bar mitzvahs and executive parties. She did it for ELEVEN years. All-in-all, Haddish has performed in over 500 bar mitzvahs.
How did she turn that into an unfair advantage?
By calling herself an “Energy Producer.”
She used these parties as testing grounds for her stand-up comedy material.
She continues to pay homage to her bar mitzvah days by starting her interviews and stand-up routines with a dance.
Haddish kept working different jobs to supplement her income so she could continue trying to break into the comedy world.
You’d think things would improve for someone working so hard. If anyone deserved a break by this point, it was Haddish. But they didn’t.
Things only got worse.
After leaving an abusive relationship, Haddish became homeless and ended up living in her car. But she didn’t let being homeless stop her either. She continued performing and doing standup in LA’s comedy clubs.
Even after she started working for Comedy Central, her situation didn’t improve. But because she was always well dressed with her nails and hair done professionally, nobody realized.
It wasn’t until Kevin Hart noticed the suitcases in her car that he jokingly asked, “Are you living in your car?” that she finally admitted it.
Comedy is a tough business to break into. Most women wouldn’t even try, let alone African-American women.
Haddish not only tried, but her unfair advantage set her so high above the competition that even SNL took notice.
So, what made SNL choose Haddish as their first African-American female host?
Why was she the first one? What unfair advantage did she have that other, better known black comediennes didn’t?
It was the same one she created as a teenager — joking about the bad experiences in her life.
Except this time, she’d honed her jokes to perfection.
Her ability to turn her life’s painful experiences into hilariously edgy jokes empowered her to make history as SNL’s first African American host.
I didn’t truly understand her unfair advantage until I saw her make a joke about abuse in foster care — and I laughed through it even as a part of me paused and thought about the risks foster children face every day.
When Noah asks Haddish about her time with the Church of Scientology, she joked about how she left it the same day she joined because their shelters have bunk beds.
“I’d rather sleep in my car than sleep in a bunk bed because bad things happen in bunk beds, brother!”
Without context, this sentence is the opposite of funny. To turn it into a joke — not only do you need to be an ace comedian, but you need an unfair advantage too.
And Haddish’s biggest unfair advantage is her first-hand experience with everything she jokes about.
“I obviously went through these things for a reason, and if it’s not to share with other people so they can handle their situations better, well, I don’t know what the hell I went through it for,” Haddish said. “I might as well share it because this the only life I got to live and who knows it might save the world.” (Source: ABC News)
Attitude can be an unfair advantage too.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Haddish, it’s this:
Even when I’ve got nothing, when everything has been taken from me— I still have one thing: my attitude.
No one can take your attitude from you.
It has the power to change how you see the world and how you deal with the crap it throws your way. It can be the difference between staying in bed defeated or getting out of it determined.
If you’re struggling to find or create an unfair advantage in your business, focus on your attitude. Make that your unfair advantage.
When faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Haddish pushed through. She kept putting one foot in front of the other for twenty long years.
How you deal with setbacks is on you.
Think about it. When business is struggling, everything you try is failing, and nothing is working in your favor, your attitude is the only thing you have full control over.
So, the next time you want to give up because things aren’t getting better and other entrepreneurs are getting the success you’re working so hard for, remember Tiffany Haddish.