With her breakout role in Girls Trip and fresh off of hosting Saturday Night Live, comedic actress Tiffany Haddish is having the best year of her life. “I’m just super grateful,” she tells PEOPLE.
As detailed in her new memoir The Last Black Unicorn, exclusively excerpted in this week’s issue, the 37-year-old star has come a very, very long way. From overcoming child abuse at the hands of her schizophrenic mother, to a troubled marriage, Haddish opens up about a lifetime of pain and how she followed her passion and found fame in spite of it all. Now her biggest hope is that her newfound success will help finance proper care for her mom.
“I was told every day I’d never be nothing,” she says. “Now I look in the mirror and say, ‘Tiffany Haddish, I love and approve of you.’ It was all worth it.”
Raised by her mother, a small-business owner, and grandmother in South Central L.A. (her father left when she was a baby, and her stepfather often wasn’t around), Haddish had a mostly happy early childhood. But when she was 8, her mom was in a car accident that left her with severe brain damage.
“After the accident, oh my God, she would say the worst things to me, like ‘You look like your ugly ass daddy, I hate him. I hate you.'” Haddish writes. “She couldn’t get all her words out, so she’d just punch me. Just full on. Because of her I can take a punch like nobody’s business. Teachers would ask, ‘Why’s Tiffany’s lip busted?’ I didn’t say anything. As bad as she was to me, I still couldn’t help but love her.”
For more on Tiffany Haddish’s revealing new memoir, pick up this week’s issue of People on newsstands Friday.
When Haddish was 13, her mother got into an altercation with a neighbor that changed everything.
“The police ended up taking her to the hospital. The doctors decided she’s schizophrenic,” she explains in the book. “So my mom went into a mental facility and me and my four younger sisters and brothers went into foster care. I was in group homes for a while. I hate thinking about that. It was more like prison. My comedy skills came in really handy. I thought that if I made these girls laugh they wouldn’t beat me up. But bully girl said, ‘Ahh b–ch, we still going to beat your ass . . . but you funny.'”
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Despite being bullied, the young comedian went on to serve as her school’s mascot.
“My routine was dope. I would watch ESPN to see what the professional mascots do. I figured this would be a great way to get a boyfriend and get laid,” she writes. “None of that worked out, but I did become the most popular girl in school.”
After high school she worked odd jobs and tried stand-up. Never lucky in love, she married, divorced, remarried and re-divorced the same man. She writes:
“The relationship got violent. Once at a comedy festival, Tom Green comes over and he is making me laugh so hard. My ex-husband grabbed me. He was like ‘It’s time to go now.’ I had a knot on the side of my head from where he slammed me into the wall and marks on my throat where he’d dug in his nails. When I got onstage, everyone could tell I had been beaten. All those people wanted to help, but all I could do was push them away, and then go back to the dude that was abusing me. Why? Maybe I didn’t know any other way to be loved.”
Though her past relationships have been difficult, her rising success after Girls Trip and her appearances on SNL have brought about a new dream.
“My mom is still alive, in a mental institution,” she explains in the book. “My goal is to get enough money to buy a duplex. I want to put her in one of the units and hire a full-time nurse to take care of her. Then I want to get her whatever medications she needs so she can be my mama again. Honestly, that’s all I really want in life.”
The Last Black Unicorn releases on Dec. 5.