Tiffany Haddish defies expectations. After starring in popular movies like “Girls Trip,” “Night School” and “The Kitchen,” her persona in the entertainment industry seemed well-defined. Her irreverent, box office dominating humor never fails to elicit laughter from an audience. Recently, however, the celebrity turned a new page in her comedic career. In “Black Mitzvah,” Haddish joins the Netflix comedy club to unveil formerly unknown parts of her identity.
Haddish kicks off this comedy special with her undeniable flair. At first, a dark stage greets viewers, and anticipation builds with every passing moment. Finally, the actress’ raspy voice seems to crawl, then leap from the unseen speakers. “People think they know everything about me,” she quips to a roaring audience. “Well, here’s something they probably don’t know.”
Then, Hebrew lyrics from the Israeli folk song “Hava Nagila” fill the venue. Haddish, perched atop the shoulders of four muscular men, sings the staple of Jewish celebrations with familiar expertise.
In less than a minute, Haddish manages to surprise her audience with new personal information. Typically, viewers don’t associate traditional Judaism with the actress’s raunchy, over the top personality. And yet, it is this very disparity that Haddish asks her audience to consider.
As the special progresses, she gives a brief description of her Jewish heritage. “Here’s the thing,” she states. “My father is from Eritrea … It’s on the east side of Africa, and it’s the real Wakanda, baby. My father is an Eritrean Jew. He came here to America, met my mom at a gas station, and booyah!” After achieving commercial success, Haddish reveals that she now finally has enough money to celebrate her bat mitzvah in style.
In the second half of her opening song, Haddish transitions into a self-authored rap about the upcoming show. With the beat of “Hava Nagila” still pulsing in the background, she unashamedly showcases her combination of the traditional and flamboyant. Polished Hebrew collapses into a silly, quick-paced song and resurfaces as the music fades. Throughout “Black Mitzvah,” the celebrity references her spiritual curiosity with a special affection, revealing a formerly unknown part of the actress’s identity.
As it turns out, one of the special’s most interesting stories stems from this affinity. While battling homelessness, Haddish describes being approached by a group of Scientologists. After a moment’s discussion, the young woman signed a contract with them.
As she explains in an interview, “The contract was like a billion-year contract or something, which I thought was crazy, but I was like, ‘Whatever. I need a place to stay.’” Soon, however, her relationship with the group deteriorated. “They took me where (people) sleep — ‘The Barracks,’ they call it — and it was bunk beds, and I don’t do bunk beds.”
A heated discussion ensued, after which the famously clingy group “tore my contract up and …put me out.” Looking back over the experience, Haddish maintains that “I don’t do bunk beds, it’s just not my thing. You want to see me lose my temper, tell me I got to sleep in a bunk bed.”
The comedian’s hatred for bunk beds springs from another unexplored area of Haddish’s life: her time spent in foster care as a child. After her mother suffered a serious car accident, Haddish and her siblings entered the system as a temporary living arrangement. Although only referenced briefly in “Black Mitzvah,” this event sheds new light on the bubbly, bright smile the actress flashes at her audiences today.
After considering her tumultuous life thus far, Haddish concludes that she was ultimately “raised by the world” and now feels her upbringing is finally drawing to a close. The streets of South Central Los Angeles bequeath many bizarre lessons, and the comedian declares her intention to share these lessons with the audience.
When alone in a dark alley at night, Haddish recommends skipping down the street to intimidate thugs. After all, “ain’t nobody gonna fuck with a bitch that skips.” For birth control, the woman advocates riding a bunch of roller coasters in one day — opting to jostle her uterus instead of wasting money on expensive medication.
Humorous advice aside, “Black Mitzvah” seems to lack the intentionality found in some of Haddish’s earlier performances. Although amusing, the show feels disjointed, showcasing huge leaps between topics without transitions to provide a smooth feeling. Audiences listen as the focus jumps from one topic to another, never landing on any area for too long.
As a result, the special seems to overflow with missed opportunities. Haddish fails to flesh out many of the quirky stories she references, leaving viewers to speculate about the vague, potentially hilarious incidents.
Additionally, “Black Mitzvah” at times relies too heavily on shock appeal, prompting surprised rather than truly amused laughter. The vulgarity is vapid and lacks the clever foundation necessary for crass stand-up to achieve success. As one review summarizes, Haddish is, “the type of comedian who is funnier in conversation than when performing a monologue.” Sometimes, bawdy everyday humor doesn’t translate to the stage well, and this anomaly certainly occurs throughout the comedy special.
Despite the occasional misstep, “Black Mitzvah” presents viewers with a respectable amount of comedic antics. Overall, her unique, expectation defying experiences fuel the comedy special’s most enjoyable moments. After growing up “black and Jewish in the hood,” Haddish is ready to funnel her memories into a show filled with self-celebratory comedy. Eventually, this immense self-love becomes a central theme in the special.
It’s often tempting to overlook the intricate themes present in such stand-up performances. In “Black Mitzvah,” Haddish’s desired message is clear. The comedian invites viewers to watch as she thwarts stereotypes and enjoys the messiness of her unconventional life. By the end of the show, viewers will echo David Letterman’s thoughts on the bubbly actress, “You’re your own person, and the power of you is overwhelming and delightful.”