Documentary Review: Remembering when Tiffany Haddish and others were young, funny and homeless in LA — “Comedy Confessions”

We all remember hearing Tiffany Haddish talk about her hard life on her way to the big time. The daughter of a broken home, with an absent Ethiopian Jewish dad and schizophrenic mother, Haddish was homeless for stretches as she pursued her dream of comedy, fame and riches in her teens and 20s.

“Livin’ in a 1995 GEO METRO,” was a part of her stand-up act, pretty much from the start, and even after getting famous, she was talking about it in “Saturday Night Live” monologues and that disastrous New Year’s Eve show she did that kind of told her that maybe she shouldn’t bother with stand-up any more.

What we didn’t know was that a documentary filmmaker was tracking her life, and that of a couple of other comics in the same boat back then. “Comedy Confessions” sat unfinished for a long stretch and largely unseen even now. Whatever else the film has going for it, there’s all this footage of Haddish as young, skinny and as she said on stage at the time, “WAY too beautiful to be doing comedy.”

Here she is, showing us the tight squeeze that her “home,” that battered red 1995 Geo provided, driving us to the corners of Beverly Hills she’d park in to give herself a lift when “super-depressed.” Because if she parked under those trees and the cops didn’t hassle her for being “a vagrant,” she could dream that someday, she’d be rich enough to buy one of those houses.

It’s a frank and frankly amazing thing to see. We’ve heard Jim Carrey talk about being homeless in his lean years, but here’s video proof, how Haddish and comics Steven Lolli and Doc Jones lived in a Metro, a Toyota Corolla and a GMC pickup on the streets.

They’d get cleaned up at the clubs — The Laugh Factory, The Hub — where they’d perform, hitting laundromats during the day, praying for callbacks from auditions and, at the end of the night, try to find a safe place to park and sleep.

Haddish drives down Hillcrest in Beverly Hills, Lolli rolls into and describes the benefits of living in a car in the quieter portions of Culver City

They show us the logistics of their “choice,” gambling everything on a showbiz longshot because they don’t need the distraction of a “real job” and can’t scrape together “first, last and damage deposit” on the crumbs the clubs paid, then and now.

As exhausting and time-consuming as homelessness is, we see no scenes of them writing material and rehearsing new bits for their acts. Lots of stand-up footage is folded in, and it’s easy to see Haddish as the “sure thing” star in this. It’s also amazing to think of the risks they all took, her in particular. She makes clear her concerns about her own mental state, catching up with her estranged father and the hazards of being a pretty young thing in this predatory world, when ither housing “options” might present themselves to her.

“If I thought men were decent creatures,” she might accept the offer of a couch, spare bedroom or what have you, she says. But in words she’d fully expect from TH, she’s not giving up the you-know-what to have a place to crash, she tells us.

Jones, a divorced seminary graduate from Louisiana with a son he left with his parents, is more poised than exuberant — Haddish’s trademark — and every bit as funny.

Lolli has confidence, good material and bad material, and is as tough on himself as you hear the great ones always are.

Two of the three talk about their homeless status onstage, as comics do. One is more concerned about the “image” and “success” he wants to project. All three of them, or any one of the three, could have blown up. They’re all funny enough.

“Comedy Confessions” was finished in 2018, the finishing money no doubt coming from the fact that “Girls’ Trip” had made Haddish an overnight sensation. The actual filming took place @ 2008-9 (apparently), although that’s hard to pin down because the one person to give his age does what showbiz people have done since the dawn of time — he shaves maybe four or five years off.

Haddish might have given up stand-up, now that her acting career has taken off. She’s even published a memoir that’s covered some of this part of her history — “The Last Black Unicorn.”

But if she made “I was homeless” part of her brand during those open mike years, it’s great to find out just how honest she was being, just how hard it was and just how much she and everybody else in the film needed that nightly set, “comedy as therapy,” or at least a break from the discomfort, danger and shame of living hand-to-mouth-to-gas-tank.

Rating: unrated, profanity, raw language

Cast: Tiffany Haddish, Steven Lolli and Doc Jones

Credits: Directed by Gabrielle Sebastian. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:21

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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