Being funny runs in T. Barb’s blood. Her great-grandparents were Butterbeans and Susie, the influential yet unsung husband-and-wife comedy duo of Jodie “Butterbeans” Edwards and Susie Edwards. They married in 1917 and performed coarse comic sketches with dance routines and sang raunchy songs together for decades. They’re credited with discovering and helping along the iconic Black stand-up comedian Moms Mabley, who was part of the same era of Black vaudeville performers who rarely got their due and struggled under the racial restrictions of the time.
“Being funny is something that was natural, but it was also a defense mechanism growing up — to not be ashamed of the things I was going through,” says Barb, whose full name is Tiffany Barber.
Barb’s parents, who met “fresh out of prison” at a vocational training program, struggled with drug addiction and mental health troubles. Her home life often made her the butt of jokes in her neighborhood, says Barb, who grew up off Joy Road on Detroit’s west side.
“It was one of those things where people would make fun of my mom, and either we were going to fight or we were going to laugh at that time.”
She eventually found her way to the stage while working as a social worker for the state, encouraged by a co-worker who was hosting an open mic. “I was so goofy and loud in the office, just like I always am, and doing comedy was on my bucket list,” she says. “When I went, I loved it. I caught the bug, and I never stopped doing it.”
She describes the style she’s developed over the past five years or so as versatile. “I can go from goofy to raunchy real quick. If you see me doing clean comedy, you wouldn’t think I could do dirty comedy. But if you see me doing dirty comedy, you definitely don’t think I can do clean comedy.”
Hour Detroit: Where do you see your comedy career in five years?
T.Barb: “I want to go on tour. I want to see myself in a movie or on a sitcom on television. I also see myself as being a catalyst to get other comedians to a higher plateau. I want to be notable for doing that.”
Since that first open mic (she rarely if ever does them today), the 39-year-old Detroiter has grown into a brand name in the comedy game. Under the mentorship of the late Detroit comic Coolaide, Barb began booking her own shows instead of fighting for stage time on someone else’s bill. She’s produced and starred in the Gettin’ Off Comedy Series, which highlights local comics and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
When she’s not on stage — which she is four or five times a week — she’s working as an independent-living specialist. She started her own home healthcare business late last year. She’s written an inspirational memoir and a vegan cookbook, which is especially impressive when you realize she’s been operating a hot dog cart called Tiffany’s Delicious Dogs for almost two decades (she worked at the cart while in college and bought it off her boss when he retired).
She’s now paying it forward by hiring other college students and transient residents of downtown. Her impressive entrepreneurship recently had her speaking at the same podium as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at an event touting the value of small business in the state.
“Not bad for someone with dope fiend parents, huh? And I’m single and don’t have a sugar daddy, so I gotta do something,” says Barb, who has a teenage son.
But if she had to choose among all her hustles?
“Comedy is first,” she says. “That’s why I quit my job [as a social worker] to do comedy. A lot of people break down in comedy because they don’t have the money or the income isn’t there. That’s why I focused on my entrepreneurship, so I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is going to come from or where my son is going to sleep.”
This story is featured in the September 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.