After Tiffany Haddish's breakout success with Girls Trip two years ago, fans wondered what her follow-up projects might be. A natural question, though one that at times veered into a condescending brand of concern trolling, like there's a need to devise an elaborate plan in order for a charismatic and talented comedic actress to succeed. Still, in a Hollywood landscape that feels less and less friendly to anyone with a project that doesn't involve a multi-verse, our faves need all the help they can get. And after a couple disappointing follow-ups (the Kevin Hart comedy Night School and the lady-mobsters movie The Kitchen with Melisa McCarthy), it seems the "just cast her in literally any movie" route might not be the straightest path to success.
Fortunately, Haddish's new Netflix stand-up special proves she doesn't need anyone else's scripts, performances, or star power to get the job done. She can handle all that just fine on her own.
In Black Mitzvah (in which among, other things, she explores her Jewish heritage), Haddish is carried on stage by four men while singing "Hava Nagila," hyping up the crowd like everybody's here for a concert. She holds court with a regal-yet-aggressive energy reminiscent of — and I realize the high hyperbole I'm risking when I say this — Beyoncé. Haddish actually tells a story about Bey at one point. She has stories about a few famous people. But don't start imagining "Black Mitzvah" as a name-dropping tour of her brand new life on the A-List. Not even during the story about Drake's dad! It's a lot more multi-faceted (and impressive) than that.
Black Mitzvah feels at times like several different shows. It kicks off like a concert, then downshifts into the story of Haddish's life, where it starts to seem like a one-woman show, structured around the idea that this is Tiffany teaching life lessons to the audience about her own upbringing where she didn't have any of those lessons. Here's where the show really breaks free into some deeply funny comedic bits, on everything from the science of parasites to how to tell if a man is really dead or not (hint: check the balls). There's one moment — when she rattles off the phrase "yeasty breath" — that so throws an audience member, that Haddish feels the need to call him out and work through it. If you had the expectation that Tiffany Haddish would deliver the best observational comedy of 2019, truly congratulate yourself, because she does.
More than anything else, Tiffany Haddish proves with Black Mitzvah that our faith in her as a comedic neutron bomb wasn't misplaced. Even if you look past the star power and bravado, this is a woman with some serious chops when it comes to straight-up-and-down stand-up comedy. Just give her some runway and watch her go.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.