Tiffany Haddish's Mother Was Diagnosed with Schizophrenia — a Look Back at the Comedian's Upbringing

Tiffany Haddish has spent her life making people laugh, what audiences don't realize is that humor is her way to deal with the deep-seated pain of her traumatic childhood.

Author, actress and stand-up comedian Tiffany Haddish's childhood was a nightmare, growing up with a violent and abusive mother.

Her father, Tsihaye Reda Haddish, left her mother, Leola, when Haddish was just 3. Leola remarried and had 4 more children, but the brunt of dealing with her mother's erratic temperament fell on her oldest child, Haddish.

Haddish fell prey to a family friend, who played on her vulnerability and trust and abused her sexually

Tiffany Haddish at the premiere of "The Kitchen" in August 2019 in Hollywood | Source: Getty Images


Haddish revealed that her nightmare began when her mother had a car accident when the actress was 8 years old. Leola's head crashed through the windshield and she suffered from extensive brain injuries. Haddish explained:

“She was never the same after that. She wasn’t normal anymore.”

After her accident, Leola had to learn to speak, and walk again and took out her frustration on her oldest child, and became physically and verbally abusive.

Doctors later surmised that the head injury had triggered the onset of schizophernia, which was only diagnosed later. Haddish recalled:

“By the grace of God she lived, but she had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, everything all over again.”


As her mother struggled to recover, it was Haddish who stepped up to the plate and became the de facto head of the household, looking not only after her mother but her 4 younger half-siblings too. She said:

“I was basically a 10-year-old mom. I was feeding them and dressing them. I was taking care of everybody.”


Leola, who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, resolved her feelings of helplessness and impotence by lashing out physically at her daughter. Teachers would question the 10-year-old Haddish about her bruises, but she never accused her mother.

The pain of those dark days still haunt Haddish, now 40, who confesses the bewildered agony of loving her abusive mother. She said bitterly:

“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." 

Haddish recalls that she used to beg her mother to allow her to go and live with her grandmother, a request that would enrage Leola who would scream at the 10-year-old that she was her mother. Eventually, Social Services stepped in and placed Haddish and her siblings in foster care.


But while her younger siblings were kept together, Haddish was placed away from her 2 brothers and two sisters, something she couldn't understand or bear. She revealed:

“The social workers had to stop telling me where they were because I would just get on a bus and go to them. I felt responsible for them.”


When Haddish was 15, her grandmother finally managed to reunite the family. But the trauma of her past led the troubled teen to act out. An exasperated social worker told Haddish she had two choices: go to therapy, or go to the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp.

It was at the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp that Haddish learned to channel her pain and turn her tormented past into fodder for her stand-up comedy act. Years later, she would pour out her story in her memoir, "The Last Black Unicorn." Haddish wrote:

"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.'"


But Haddish's torment wasn't through. Even though she was now in her grandmother's care, Haddish fell prey to a family friend, who played on her vulnerability and trust and abused her sexually. To this day, Haddish confessed, she is still working through the feelings of worthlessness and trust issues the abused engendered.


Haddish clung to her ambitions to become a comedian, and while trying to forge a reputation as a stand-up comedian she was living in her car. It was fellow comedian Kevin Hart who helped her get off the streets and pushed her to audition for TV roles. 

Today, Haddish is an established star with several blockbuster movies to her credit, and hit TV series. Her days of living in a car are long past, but Haddish is still taking on that responsibility, taking care of her mother, and paying for her care in a mental institution.

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