The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Last Black Unicorn was a fantastic audiobook listen, narrated by the author Tiffany Haddish. Belly laughs and jaw dropping moments are a constant as Haddish describes her upbringing in South Central LA and her success working as a Black woman comedian, despite the many obstacles she faced caused by her ex-husband, stepfather, ex-boyfriends, mother, and others. Haddish’s story includes neglect and abuse, but after every cruel aspect of her coming of age story, she choses joy and comedy to get her through the darkest times.
Everyone has their own personal pain and their own demons, and no one will talk about it, and that’s why they never get better. They’re all afraid to talk about it.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
Haddish wrote about her hardest moments, including the details of an abusive marriage which she almost omitted from her story. In the end, Tiffany shares it all. From foster care, to trying to pimp and gangbang (she was told that she was “too cute” and needed to go home when she tried to join a gang), to killing a man at a Bar Mitzvah (accidentally), and through many relationships with family, boyfriends, and a husband that were abusive, Haddish has lived quite a lot of life just up until her mid thirties.
The Last Black Unicorn, the title inspired by a wart on her forehead as a little girl, is a joyous retelling of Tiffany’s first 35 years. I will share a few details from Haddish’s childhood, education, and entrance into comedy in this blog post, but hope that you will chose to pick up this book or download the audiobook yourself. I suggest this book to all because it brings joy, invokes laughter, and might save others from making the same mistakes that led Haddish into her abusive first marriage.
I believe my purpose is to bring joy to people, to make them laugh, and to share my story to help them. To show people that no matter what, they matter, and they can succeed. No matter how bad things go, no matter how dark your life is, there is a reason for it. You can find beauty in it, and you can get better. I know, because I’ve done it. That’s why my comedy so often comes from my pain. In my life, and I hope in yours, I want us to grow roses out of the poop.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
Childhood & Education
Tiffany Haddish is one of six children. As the oldest, and with a mother who was mentally ill and physically abusive, Haddish often acted as a caregiver to her siblings. It is clear that her needs as a child were not met, allowing her to enter high school illiterate. Haddish was in the foster care system and lived with her grandmother for many of her years in secondary and primary school, where she was able to find more consistency but still had to fend for herself.
When Haddish began high school, she was bused at 5 a.m. from South Central LA to a rich suburban school, becoming part of the 3% of Black students at the school. Although Haddish was illiterate, she “faked it until she made it” dodging essays and reading from the book in class with many strategies that tricked her teachers.
I was in 9th grade and straight up I could not read or write. I could only read three letter words or things you see on TV. It was like first or second grade reading level. You want to hear some real crazy shit? I was in AP classes, where you can get college credit in high school, while not being able to read.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
Eventually Haddish’s drama teacher realized the issue and began working with Tiffany daily to teach her how to read. Within just one term, Tiffany reached a 9th grade reading level.
Tiffany Haddish became one of the most popular people in her high school, after primary school experiences where she felt left out and made fun of. As the school mascot, she became more beloved than the teams themselves. The principal even began to pay her to attend games because people would not attend the games without Haddish present as the mascot.
Haddish’s experience as a mascot is one of the most hilarious aspects of the book. With her skills for comedy and sparking joy, I have no doubt that she was able to captivate the entire crowd. This would be the beginning of her career in entertainment.
The only downside to the Bar Mitzvahs was that I killed a man once.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
Tiffany Haddish’s career in comedy really took off on the LA Bar Mitzvah circuit. She was recruited to be a DJ for her energy and dancing skills, honed as the high school mascot. While still in school, She began working on the weekends and making a few hundred dollars for each event.
I became an “energy producer” at Bar Mitzvahs. Energy producer is what white suburban people call a “hype man.” I was basically the Flava Flav of Bar Mitzvahs.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
Tiffany had so much fun at these events, getting everybody from the youngest to the oldest in the room to dance. Unfortunately, during one Bar Mitzvah, Haddish was booty poppin’ on an elderly man, and he dropped dead from a heart attack.
Haddish blamed her booty for killing the man, and stopped DJing for a little while after the incident. A month later, she received a letter from the man’s family. They gave her a huge tip and told her that they hadn’t seen grandpa that happy for many years. This thank you was a nudge for Tiffany to get back out on the Bar Mitzvah circuit and entertaining again.
Tiffany Haddish overcame sexism from men in the comedy industry who told her that the only way to get stage time was to trade her body. Haddish never accepted this, although others around her fell victim. Haddish says that at the beginning these women did get more stage time, but they were not respected and are not still doing comedy. Haddish believes that part of her current success is because she did not allow these men to take advantage of her.
In addition to the sexism against women in comedy overall, Haddish has faced racism as she entered into Hollywood as a Black woman. On one occasion, she was at an event and overhead two white women in the bathroom talking about her using highly racist, derogatory language. Haddish has developed a very thick skin to survive these situations, although they of course still hurt her, but she believes the best revenge is in her success.
You kill them with your success. Then they’ll have to kiss your motherfucking feet.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
I chose to read this book because I wanted to learn more about Haddish’s experience as a Black woman trying to make it in comedy in LA. I believe that there is a lot of value in learning how she has persevered and found success despite racism and sexism that she has faced. As I learned about Haddish, I was learning about her endurance and flexibility. In her personal life, as in her comedy, Tiffany pursued joy and never gave up.
In stand-up, you do need to be having fun up there like Richard Pryor said, but you have to know yourself well, too. You have to know when you make different faces, or do different things, you get certain reactions. You start learning and it’s like playing a piano. You just know exactly what keys to stroke, ’cause really with comedy, you’re like fiddling with people’s souls. You resonate on the same frequency as them, trying to get them to relate.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
After sharing a few details from the Last Black Unicorn, I hope that you consider reading or listening to this book yourself. I loved hearing Haddish’s voice because it conveyed so much energy, humor, and joy. This book is perfect to listen to on a few long walks or while doing work around the house. This book describes the experience of a Black woman trying to make it in comedy, coming from a background of poverty and foster care. I believe that Tiffany Haddish has an important story to share and does so in a way that can be empowering to all.
This blog post is a little big shorter than my other book reviews, and that is partially because this book is shorter and less full of theory and rhetorical strategies than my most recent reads, but also because I think that you must hear about Tiffany’s life firsthand and not from me.
I’m a survivor, and all this struggle I went through—while it sucked at the time—is really helping me now. It has helped me get to where I am, and it will help me continue to improve and do better. It didn’t always feel like it at times, but I truly believe I am blessed.Tiffany Haddish, The Last Black Unicorn
Thank you for reading my take on The Last Black Unicorn. Next up is The Color Purple.