During their childhoods, Jane Doe and her younger brother say they called Tiffany Haddish “Auntie Tiff.” The comedian had met their mother through the comedy circuit and used to refer to the siblings as her “niece” and “nephew.” But in a lawsuit filed pro se on Monday night—in which Jane is an anonymous plaintiff on behalf of both herself and her brother, who is a minor—the siblings allege that Haddish and her fellow comic, Aries Spears, recruited each of them to perform inappropriate acts on camera when they were children.
Jane Doe, now 22, and her younger brother John, now 15, have adopted pseudonyms due to their respective ages at the time of the allegations. (Jane, who is also John’s legal guardian, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit both individually and on her minor brother’s behalf.) The siblings’ complaint, which names Haddish and Mad TV alum Spears as defendants, centers on two alleged incidents in which Haddish and Spears allegedly encouraged one of the siblings to perform sexually suggestive acts on camera while underage.
Representatives for Spears and Haddish did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Jane was 14 years old when her alleged video shoot took place, and John was 7. Their mother alleges that she and Haddish met through comedy and bonded over a shared source of strife: “We were both going through a divorce,” the mother told The Daily Beast. “Messy, messy, messy, messy divorces… We just got really, really super, super close.” According to the lawsuit, Haddish called the family for “every birthday and every Christmas.” The siblings’ mother noted that for years, Haddish reliably checked in—whether that be from a movie set or overseas.
In the summer of 2013, when Jane was 14 years old, the lawsuit states that she attended a comedy camp where Haddish appeared as a guest speaker. Around that time, Haddish allegedly told the child that she’d found “a perfect role for her”—her very own commercial. Neither Jane nor her mother knew what the shoot would entail, according to the lawsuit. Only Haddish and Spears, who was also on hand to produce the video, are said to have known the plot.
The clip Spears and Haddish asked Jane to watch in the recording booth allegedly seemed innocuous at first, if a little strange: a group of coeds were arguing over a subway sandwich. But then the coeds began eating the sandwich in a suggestive manner from opposite ends, “moaning and making sexual noises as they both ate the sandwich in a manner that simulated the act of fellatio,” per the lawsuit.
The complaint claims that Spears told Jane “to mimic what she had seen on the screen, including the noises precisely like what she heard throughout the video.” The 14-year-old, who was allegedly “nervous and disgusted,” fell silent until Haddish returned to the room, the lawsuit claims.
“Haddish verbally explained what was expected of Plaintiff Jane Doe and then showed Plaintiff Jane Doe how to give fellatio, including movements, noises, moaning, and groaning,” the lawsuit states. “At that point,” Jane told The Daily Beast, “I knew a hundred percent what they wanted out of me.” The lawsuit describes Spears allegedly looking on while a “physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable” Jane received this instruction.
“I tried to mimic what they wanted me to mimic, but it still came out just super uncomfortable,” Jane told the Daily Beast. “I knew when I left the booth that I didn’t complete what they wanted me to do.” Haddish paid Jane $100, the lawsuit claims, before sending her home.
At the time, Jane said, she tried to shrug off what had happened. “I didn’t confide to my mom—I didn’t confide to nobody else about how weird I felt at that moment,” she said. A year later, Haddish allegedly approached the children’s mother with a similar pitch, recruiting Jane’s little brother, John, for another video. Although the comedian allegedly told the family John would be filming a sizzle reel for Nickelodeon, the suit alleges the 7-year-old wound up starring in a video posted on Funny or Die and other online platforms, titled “The Mind of a Pedophile.”
A representative for Funny or Die told The Daily Beast in a statement, “Funny Or Die found this video absolutely disgusting and would never produce such content. We were not involved with the conceptualization, development, funding, or production of this video. It was uploaded to the site as user-generated content and was removed in 2018 immediately after becoming aware of its existence.”
Both siblings allegedly attended the shoot, which the lawsuit claims took place in Spears’ home. Jane said Haddish’s behavior changed once the children arrived at the home, no longer in the company of their mother. “It was like a whole 180 almost,” she told The Daily Beast. “Tiffany had never been mean to me—never raised her voice to me—until this point.”
According to the lawsuit, the children were separated during the shoot. Jane recalls that Haddish told her to remain on a couch downstairs while her brother’s shoot took place upstairs. The Daily Beast has reviewed a recording of the video, in which Haddish plays the boy’s guardian and leaves him with Spears—who plays a pedophile.
John spends most of the video clad only in his underwear as Spears’ character leers at him through two holes cut into a newspaper he pretends to read. During the sketch, the camera zooms in suggestively on the 7-year-old’s buttocks and crotch while he plays. Spears sprays baby oil onto the child’s back and massages it into his shoulders in one scene, and at another point the child plays with a train in a manner that suggests phallic masturbation. In another sequence, Spears smokes a cigarette while observing the child nude in a bathtub and pours water on his feet.
By the time the video ends, the child is peering at his babysitter through a newspaper and rubbing baby oil on his shirtless shoulder. The final line of on-screen text reads: “WATCH WHO YOU LEAVE YOUR KIDS WITH!”
Once filming ended, the lawsuit states, “Mr. Doe called his mother crying, saying he did not want to film anymore.”
When her brother came downstairs, Jane recalled, he was “red in the face, crying his eyes out, just bawling out in tears. And I’m immediately scared, because I don’t know what happened to him.”
“When that happened, the only thing I could feel was how I felt in my video with Tiffany,” Jane added later. “I didn’t know at the time if anything happened with him like [what had] happened to me, but I just felt like something wasn’t right with that moment.”
The siblings’ mother was immediately alarmed when she received a phone call from her crying son—and the answers she allegedly received from Haddish did little to reassure her. “She said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t think acting is for him,’” the mother recalled. “And I’m like... What the F you mean, acting isn’t for him? My son is crying. Like, what is going on?”
The siblings’ mother allegedly spent the next week contacting Spears and asking to see the footage of her son. Spears allegedly kept repeating that it had not yet been edited. Eventually, the lawsuit states that Spears claimed John had been so uncooperative that his footage had been deemed unusable and subsequently deleted.
Four years later, however, the gossip website Bossip published an article about Spears that described the sketch. It was then, for the first time, that John’s mother said she became aware of what had actually been filmed.
“All the trauma, all the memories, all the anxiety and depression and guilt and shame and fear—I feel like all of those emotions were triggered when this video situation came to a head,” she said. “To find out that she had violated such a sacred trust—I trusted her with my children—that is what pushed me over the edge.”
Both Jane and John continue to live with the trauma of what they endured, the lawsuit states. Jane allegedly struggles to trust people and has developed a social disorder that prevents socializing; she “feels constant remorse knowing that she was only a few feet away when Spears was molesting her 7-year-old little brother in the other room,” according to the lawsuit.
As Jane put it, “I don’t date guys. I don’t have sex. I’m not your regular 22-year-old who is partying, having fun and hooking up and stuff.” Her little brother, meanwhile, allegedly places Band-Aids over the cameras on all of his electronics due to an ongoing fear of being watched and recorded.
The lawsuit lists eight causes of action. Spears and Haddish are both accused of intentional infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, sexual battery, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse of a minor. Haddish is further accused of negligent supervision/failure to warn, breach of fiduciary duty, and constructive fraud. The lawsuit seeks general and special damages, as well as “any appropriate statutory damages.”
Jane took over as John’s guardian around the end of 2019 or start of 2020 due to a cascading series of traumatic personal issues that impacted their mother’s mental and physical health. She has also enrolled both herself and her brother in therapy, according to the lawsuit. Included in the complaint is a statement John wrote during his treatment, saying that the “Pedophile” sketch “fucked me up bad.”
“I don’t got no friends,” the now-teenager wrote. “I don’t trust nobody, I’m scared of adults, I refuse to be recorded or take pictures because I am scared of weird-ass adults trying to do nasty stuff to me again. I spend all of my time in my room and do not go anywhere because I don’t trust anybody.”
John adds later: “I had to kick and scream and cry, and Tiffany came and told me to let him touch me. When I kept crying, Tiffany got mad at me, told me to get dressed, and took me home. I remember her yelling at me in the car, telling me that I would never get on tv acting like that.”
“I know now that they are fucked up for what they did to me,” the 14-year-old’s statement concludes, “and none of this is my fault.”
The siblings’ mother negotiated a settlement in 2019, the lawsuit states, but that agreement allegedly does not bind Haddish—who the complaint alleges “insinuated she wanted no part of the Spears settlement agreement via text” —or the siblings, who had no guardian ad litem present to represent their interests as minors.
In the settlement document, which The Daily Beast has reviewed, Spears “denies the validity of the Claims” regarding the video’s production and distribution but agrees “to stop the distribution, exhibition and further use of the Video.” The document names Spears, the siblings’ mother, and John; Jane does not appear. The siblings’ mother also filed a police report against Spears and Haddish in January of 2020 but nothing apparently came of it. The Daily Beast has reviewed a copy of the report.
“For months, I used to sit in my closet and cry until I fell asleep,” the mother said. “I would literally wake up on the floor in my closet because I didn’t want the kids to hear me crying.”
She almost attempted suicide at one point, she said, but was interrupted when her son asked her for help making breakfast. “I wanted [Tiffany] to see the error of her ways, and I wanted her to do the right thing as far as helping with the therapy, and with the kids and stuff. But the way she just got real Hollywood on us,” the mother said. “This was not the same friend that had been a friend to me.”
In that moment, Jane said, it became clear to the family that “all we’ve really got is each other. And the common goal is to make sure that [John is] OK.” The family has since made it their mission to heal together, in part through family therapy sessions “addressing everything, unpacking everything, forgiving each other.”
For years, Jane has lived with the regret of not being able to protect her younger brother—however unfair to her younger self that feeling might be. “I felt like God knows what happened to him and I wasn’t there to protect him,” she said.
Now, however, things are different.
“As an adult, I have the power to protect my little brother now and have the power to do something about what happened to him,” Jane said. “And that’s what my goal is to get done. Just to show my little brother that, hey, I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to protect you and be there for you then. But this is how I’m showing up for you now.”
While Haddish did not respond to requests for comment for days prior to this story running, following the publication of this story, Andrew Brettler, an attorney representing Haddish, issued a statement on her behalf saying that the plaintiff’s mother “has been trying to assert these bogus claims against Ms. Haddish for several years… Now, [the mother] has her adult daughter representing herself in this lawsuit. The two of them will together face the consequences of pursuing this frivolous action.” Also, a previous version of this story incorrectly titled the video “Through a Pedophile’s Eyes.”