What Tiffany Haddish learned from ‘being homeless and hungry’ in her 20s

Tiffany Haddish’s meteoric rise, which started last year with the runaway hit “Girls Trip,” hit another high when she won the Emmy Award for guest hosting “Saturday Night Live,” celebrating her turn as the first black female comedian to command that storied comedy stage.

But asked what the trophy means to her, Haddish says, “Can I be honest? Not that much! Because I didn’t get a check with it.”

It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate the honor — as her friend Jada Pinkett Smith explained to her, it’s a sign of respect from her colleagues. But Haddish has far more practical priorities.

“I care about being able to take care of my grandma, my mama, my niece, my sister, and brother, and if I ever have children, take care of them, create some generational wealth,” she says. “The only way to do that is to have some money so you can buy some land. I need checks!”

Haddish has long been frank about her struggles, including “being homeless and hungry” in her 20s. What she learned from that experience is to “know your worth, and don’t settle for less,” she says.

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Tiffany Haddish attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 25: Actress Tiffany Haddish attends the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note II on October 25, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 05: Actress Tiffany Haddish arrives at APCH's 'Girlz in the Hood' Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon at Beverly Hills Hotel on May 5, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Brian To/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: Actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish arrives at Comedy Central's Emmy Awards party at the STK restaurant September 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Comedian Tiffany Haddish on stage during Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam at the HBO & AEG Live's The Comedy Festival 2007 at Caesars Palace on November 16, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 20: Tiffany Haddish attends the 2017 NBCUniversal Summer Press Day on March 20, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Comedian Tiffany Haddish attends Comedy Central's 'The High Court' Premiere Party at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on February 27, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Comedy Central)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 22: Tiffany Haddish receives an award at the 2nd Annual All Def Movie Awards at Belasco Theatre on February 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
THE CARMICHAEL SHOW -- 'Intervention' Episode 307 -- Pictured: (l-r) Amber Stevens West as Maxine North, Tiffany Haddish as Nekeisha Williams -- (Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith speak onstage at 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images )
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JULY 01: (L-R) Will Packer, Malcolm D. Lee, Kofi Siriboe, Larenz Tate, Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah pose in the press room at the 2017 ESSENCE Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 1, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for 2017 ESSENCE Festival )
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 30: (L-R) Malcolm D. Lee, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kofi Siriboe, and Will Packer at 'Girls Trip' New Orleans screening at Theatres at Canal Place on June 30, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that includes celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human-interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Wednesday, July 19 included Jon Favreau ('Spiderman: Homecoming'), Tiffany Haddish ('Girls Trip') and musical guest The Revivalists. (Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) TIFFANY HADDISH
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13: Actress Tiffany Haddish attends the premiere of 'Girls Trip' at Regal LA Live Stadium 14 on July 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 17: Tiffany Haddish seen at the ABC studio in Manhattan on July 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Kamau/GC Images)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 27: Pete Davidson (L) and Tiffany Haddish speak onstage during the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 15: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Tiffany Haddish during Tuesday's August 15, 2017 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15: Actress Tiffany Haddish leaves the 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater on August 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)
NEWARK, NJ - AUGUST 05: Tiffany Haddish attends the 2017 Black Girls Rock! on August 5, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1730 -- Pictured: Host Tiffany Haddish during the Opening Monologue in Studio 8H on Saturday, November 11, 2017 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Tiffany Haddish arrives for Netflix presents Russell Simmons' 'Def Comedy Jam 25' Special Event at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on September 10, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 27: Tiffany Haddish attends the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 01: Honoree Tiffany Haddish (L) and Presenter Lil Rel Howery speak onstage during the 2018 Essence Black Women In Hollywood Oscars Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 1, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for Essence)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Tiffany Haddish attends Alfre Woodard and Morgan Stanley present the 9th Annual Oscar's Sistahs Soiree on February 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/WireImage,)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Actors Tiffany Haddish (L) and Maya Rudolph speak onstage during the 90th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish attends the 2018 American Black Film Festival Honors Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 25, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Tiffany Haddish arrives for the 90th Annual Academy Awards on March 4, 2018, in Hollywood, California. / AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACON (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 12: Tiffany Haddish attends the 'The Last O.G' Premiere 2018 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 12, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 29: Tiffany Haddish attends the For Your Consideration Red Carpet Event for TBS' Hipsters and O.G.'s at Steven J. Ross Theatre on the Warner Bros. Lot on April 29, 2018 in Burbank, California. 374251 (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for TBS)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: Tiffany Haddish attends the Turner Upfront 2018 arrivals on the red carpet at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 16, 2018 in New York City. 376263 (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: (L-R) Karli Kloss, Brendon Maxwell and Tiffany Haddish attend the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images)
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That’s a message she wants to pass along to the next generation, particularly girls. She visits elementary schools regularly, and can’t help noting that while boys are praised for their accomplishments, girls are told to “sit down, be quiet, be pretty.” “F— that! You are smart! You’re dope. You deserve the best!” she says. “That kind of language needs to be happening more especially for young women.”

That’s why she works with Unusual Suspects Theatre, which offers workshops to students and adults in underserved high schools and communities. Introduced to the program by an executive at Universal, Haddish immediately was hooked on its potential. “This needs to be everywhere,” she says. “Because a lot of schools are cutting out drama and things where you learn to have a voice.”

Along with money, she’s donated ample time to the organization, leading rehearsals and mentoring the kids. Given her own difficult upbringing, such a program “would have meant the world to me,” she says. “I definitely would not have been in as much trouble as I was in in school. It teaches you when to do something — and when not to.”

It’s that hard-won confidence that fuels her career goals. “I just know I’m doing what I love to do,” she says. “That’s where my comedy comes from: I believe in who I am.” There may be some setbacks along the way (“Sometimes you just gotta bump your head,” she jokes, “get a few concussions”), but she’s got her eye on the prize. “I want to own a studio, because then I could create what I want and I can create a platform where others can come and create what they want,” she says. “Because for so many years I’ve been told, ‘No, you can’t do this. No, we don’t want that.’ Well, fine. I’ll do it on my own.”

For a full Q&A with Tiffany Haddish, click here

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