Black America’s homegirl Tiffany Haddish—the thief who stole an entire movie from Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and that other woman who’s in every black movie but you wouldn’t recognize her name if I typed it anyway—stirred up emotions and outrage earlier this week when she said that she’d like to work with Bill Cosby.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the Girls Trip star named Bill Cosby as one of the comedians who inspired her, adding that she wouldn’t mind collaborating with him on a project:
“I still want to work with Bill Cosby; I don’t care, I’ll drink the juice. I’ll drink the juice. I’ll take a nap. I don’t give a damn. [Laughs.] But seriously, I would love for him to play my grandfather in something.”
As soon as the article was published, headlines sprang up all over the internet condemning Haddish’s remarks as insensitive to Cosby’s accusers and all survivors of sexual abuse and rape.
In an Associated Press interview Thursday, Haddish clarified that her comments were an attempt at a joke. She explained that she had done over 20 interviews that day and probably reached a little too far trying to conjure up something funny for the interviewer.
“In every interview you have to be humorous because you’re a comedian. So I was trying to be humorous, and maybe it was not the best joke, but it was a joke,” Haddish said before going on to add: “I’ll work with whomever. I’m not afraid of nobody. Nobody can do anything to me that I don’t allow.”
With her newfound success, Haddish—who has performed stand-up comedy for years—is probably learning that her ability to convey her message with comic timing and nuance onstage sometimes does not translate to the written word. She is also beginning to realize that as her audience gets bigger, there are more toes to potentially tread on with every step.
Therein lies her dilemma: Her girl-from-around-the-way attitude is the reason she has been given the spotlight. Now that all of the lights are trained on her, should she be forced to suppress the very thing that elevated her to this position?
When Haddish clarified her comments about Cosby, she was sitting next to the equally raunchy and hilarious Tracy Morgan. If Haddish is our bamboo-earring-wearing, ride-or-die homegirl, then Morgan is the unfiltered uncle who we gather around at every cookout to hear him tell stories until we have to leave before we throw up from laughing too hard. Haddish is basically Morgan’s younger, female counterpart.
In 2011, Morgan was castigated for going on an “anti-gay tirade” during a Nashville, Tenn., comedy show. That’s right. He wasn’t trying to make a joke to a newspaper. He was onstage talking to people who paid to hear him go onstage to make jokes. Earlier this year, Dave Chappelle faced the same backlash when he released a pair of specials that had parts many felt were transphobic and blind to rape culture.
I am not one of those people who rail against the culture of political correctness; nor am I one of those people who believe that “art” is sacrosanct and cannot be criticized. However, I do think it is at least disingenuous and at most stupid to criticize comedians for making jokes when we know it’s a joke.
It may seem like a fine line to parse, but I separate them from city officials who email Barack Obama memes to each other or cops caught making racist jokes because we pay them to calculate our water bill and patrol the streets. They can make their friends laugh on their own time.
Having known and followed Haddish’s career for years after meeting her at Los Angeles’ Comedy Store, I am aware that Haddish comes from a group of savage comedians including Leslie Jones, Katt Williams, Ari Shaffir and Joe Rogan’s “Deathsquad.” They are all unapologetic and unafraid to cross any line for the sake of comedy. I once heard her tell someone that the black equivalent of “fiance” was “we go dagetha.” I’ve loved her ever since.
I can understand when people say they don’t like that brand of comedy (I still don’t understand how Andrew Dice Clay was ever a thing). I can even understand why some people get offended when someone they don’t know says something that has no effect on their lives whatsoever. Even though I wasn’t outraged when Emilia Clarke equated Hollywood sexism with racism, I thought it was a stupid thing to say with a straight face.
Much of comedy is using absurdity and hyperbole to make fun of reality. There are some who prefer to chuckle, but I don’t want to live in a world where sidesplitting jokes are replaced by innocuous puns and clever witticisms. I like the “I might get you pregnant” Morgan. I prefer the Chappelle who dissects white people, crackheads and racism. You can’t get that by making someone dance on the knife’s edge of public sentiment.
Cosby’s alleged crimes are horrendous. Haddish is a product of abuse and dysfunction, and perhaps her ability to make fun of it and situations like the one she escaped is one of the pillars on which her I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude stands. She explained that it was a joke. That’s enough.
You can’t fall in love with her for blithely beginning a story with “What had happened was ... ” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and turn around and get upset with her when she doesn’t carefully choose her words for a newspaper interview. You can’t ask her to tread gently around sensitive toes and give banana-grapefruit blowjobs in a movie. Milquetoast doesn’t coexist with bold fearlessness.
They don’t go dagetha.
Watch Haddish’s statement to the Associated Press below: