For actress/comedienne Tiffany Haddish, 2017 was her best year ever. She proudly boasted as much during her second sold-out set at The Pageant Friday night or the St. Louis leg of the "#SheReady Tour," but the capacity crowd already knew it to be true.
Before last year, very few in the audience even knew her name. Haddish’s career exploded after a scene-stealing breakthrough performance in the hit Malcolm Lee film “Girls Trip” alongside Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Regina Hall. She became everyone’s best friend in the head thanks to both her portrayal as Dina in the film and her hilarious anecdotes as she made her press rounds to promote the film.
She made history in 2017 as the first African-American female standup comedian to host “Saturday Night Live.” What her opening monologue hinted, her show at The Pageant proved: Haddish needs to devote attention – and intention – to developing her skills as a comedian.
Haddish has been fearlessly down for the ride that “Girls Trip” has afforded her – which included a book, a Showtime special, a nationwide comedy tour, becoming the new face of Groupon and a recently inked deal with HBO. Ironically, it is her standup that is the weakest link of the Haddish experience.
Both Haddish and her St. Louis fans learned the hard way that spur of the moment, off-the-cuff exchanges are nice to have to connect with the crowd but can by no means carry an entire routine – which demands structure and preparation.
Haddish kicked off her headlining set with a dance routine borrowed from an episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” She then jumped into addressing her much talked about appearance at a presenter at last week’s Academy Award nominations. Haddish famously butchered names of nominees – which included several mispronunciations of Missouri in the reading of the multiple nominee “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.”
After telling the crowd she only speaks and reads in Ebonics, Haddish said that she was told that the proper pronunciation for the state was “Missou-ra.”
She asked the crowd if that was correct – which initiated an interactive exchange with the audience that continued for the duration of her performance. She even came to rely on the feedback as she attempted to transition.
When an audience member would yell out, Haddish would instantly engage – even asking them to repeat themselves on more than one occasion and attempting to turn their comments into bits. One woman claimed to be related to Haddish and she went so far as to call the woman up to the front of the stage where Haddish decided – and the woman conceded – that they were not related after a long exchange.
While the interruption made for a tender moment between Haddish and the alleged relative, it was an extended distraction that quickly bored the rest of the crowd. As the other Haddish went back to her seat, Tiffany Haddish chose to share a story about reconnecting with her Eritrean roots with a recent trip to visit the East African country where Haddish is connected through her paternal side.
The audience wasn’t necessarily amused by yet another audience inspired side bar. The constant distractions became detours that made a steady stream of laughter all but impossible. The show felt like Haddish was winging it and using vocal fans to cheat her way through the show.
There seemed to be few prepared bits over the entire hour-long performance. There was segment about a lewd sex act between an older man she dated that involved fruit by the foot (a children’s snack similar to a fruit roll up). She worked some “Girls Trip” bonus footage into the show, discussing her favorite scene and expounding upon elements of it that ended up on the cutting room floor – which seemed to be the best received portion of her performance.
Haddish also prepared the theme of not working very hard and taking breaks during her “job” of performing the show. The bit was more truth than humor.
As opposed to a big final punchline, Haddish opted for an inspirational moment – telling everyone to use her success as an example of the power of positive thinking and manifestation before placing a “curse of happiness” as they headed towards the door.
Opening acts Marlo Williams and St. Louis’ own Samson Crouppen fared better than their headliner.
Crouppen served as the evening’s host and opening act and had his best moment when he said that his fellow white people needed to get woke.
Williams was responsible for the biggest laughs of the night, anchored by an unscripted tumble the she took as she emerged on stage for the beginning of her set while grooving to Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” in a pair of dangerously high red suede stilettos.
“I done came out here and bust my [expletive],” Williams said. “Did y’all see my wig move? Good thing it didn’t come off, because I look like somebody’s nephew up under here.”