What You Don't Know About Tisha Campbell

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This article includes references to sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic abuse.

Tisha Campbell has been entertaining audiences and winning fans for more than four decades. The talented actor, singer, and comedian landed her first TV role at the age of eight, with her big break arriving in the chorus of the 1988 film, "Little Shop of Horrors." After showcasing her musical comedy skills there, Spike Lee cast the young actor in his 1990 film "School Daze."

While her best-known role is likely playing Gina Waters alongside Martin Lawrence for five seasons on Fox's popular sitcom, "Martin," Campbell followed that with another successful series, as Damon Wayans' other half on "My Wife and Kids." However, this beloved star has also enjoyed recurring roles on "Everybody Hates Chris," "Empire," and Tim Allen's "Last Man Standing." Her most notable big-screen role was in the 1990 comedy classic "House Party,” and its two sequels. More recently, she's starred in the 2022 Netflix series, "Uncoupled," alongside Neil Patrick Harris.

All of which is to say that Campbell has enjoyed a thriving career — one that is still booming. However, she admits her path to success wasn't an easy one. "My grandmother always used to say you have to be extraordinary to be considered average," she told ABC News in 2022. Her life and her journey to get where she is today are certainly anything but ordinary. This beloved star has been through some very dark times, and she has a few stories you never saw coming. So, keep scrolling — we have plenty of secrets to share.

Tisha Campbell was abused by her babysitter

When she was only three years old, Tisha Campbell was sexually abused by someone she and her family trusted – her own babysitter. In 2019, on TV One's auto-biographical series, "Uncensored," she revealed the frightening details of how the man made her undress, before assaulting her. "I remember my spirit escaping my body and hovering over and watching what was happening, and I felt myself hurl myself into a corner and ball up and I think I blacked out."

Back in 2014, on the advice show "The Daily Helpline," the co-host first opened up about her experience, as she counseled a young woman on the show who was struggling after her sexual assault at age 12. "You can't play the victim because at this point ... he is winning, and you are allowing him to win," Campbell told the guest. The "School Daze" actor also revealed that she later received a letter of apology from the man who raped her. "Now I knew as a child that I did nothing wrong and that this wasn't my fault, but I have found forgiveness in the guilt that I might've had," she added.

In 2015, Campbell made a bold statement about overcoming her past in the music video for her single "Steel Here," per The Indianapolis Recorder. Wearing part of her abuser's apology letter on her chest, she sings about the childhood trauma that still affects her life, with lyrics including, "I'm still resilient. I'm always gonna be here."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

By the age of 12, she was on Broadway

Unlike many actors, Tisha Campbell didn't have any formal training early on. In fact, growing up in Newark, New Jersey, the young girl picked up a lot of skills at home where both of her parents were singers. "Mom taught me to sing and Dad taught me to harmonize," she shared with The Wall Street Journal in 2022. Meanwhile, Campbell learned to dance by watching TV, "I loved old movies, particularly ones with actors who could sing and dance, like Lena Horne, Bing Crosby and Pearl Bailey," she said.

At eight, she took on her first small-screen role in the 1977 TV movie, "The Magnificent Major." While mom helped her scout out New York auditions, it wasn't happening fast enough for the precocious young girl. "My parents didn't have to nudge me. I had to nudge them," she explained. By age 12, she was booking small parts on Broadway. Money was tight, and she made a deal with her mom to let her commute to the city alone.

She pleaded, "Listen, just give me $20 and I'll make it work for the week." The family agreed and Campbell entered Newark Arts High School's music program. "It was a ticket out," she shared. At 16, she flew to Los Angeles to audition for the NBC sitcom, "227" — a role she didn't get. Although she told her mother she was quitting acting after losing that part, things were about to change.

Tisha Campbell landed her first film role at 16

When the casting call went out for "Little Shop of Horrors," Tisha Campbell had decided she was done with acting. After losing out on the role in NBC's "227," she and some friends enrolled in a summer arts program at Rutgers University. "It was a music camp, and at the time, I was studying opera, so my voice was really strong," she recalled in a 2022 interview with Netflix.

When her mom called to let her know that an opportunity had come through for a cinematic production of 'Little Shop of Horrors,' Campbell initially wasn't interested, reiterating that she'd quit the business. Eventually, she agreed to do an audition as long as she could return to camp afterward. The actor subsequently appears in the Greek chorus of the 1986 dark musical comedy alongside her pals, Michelle Weeks and Tichina Arnold. Film critic Brian Eggert, who reviewed the cult classic for Deep Focus, dubbed the three young women the "Skid Row Supremes," and noted, "[They] have an almost magical presence within the film."

Campbell told Netflix, "We were all friends already, so it was just like going on this really cool adventure, and they just happened to film it for eight months." She added that she had known Arnold since they were 11, and would often be sent out for the same roles. "At auditions, girls wouldn't talk to each other, but we would just gab all the time, so we became friends." 

She learned a lot shooting School Daze

When Tisha Campbell auditioned for Spike Lee's 1988 musical comedy "School Daze," the 19-year-old felt confident in her singing and dancing abilities. But her acting talents? Not so much. ″I was so nervous about auditioning for Spike. My knees wobbled and that never happens, " she told AP at the time. "But this was different because this was something I really wanted to do because this was a black project."

Campbell reckoned that her singing abilities may have won her the role after former Miss America, Vanessa Williams, dropped out. As Jane Toussant, sorority leader of the Gamma Rays, Campbell represents a group of fair-skinned, blue-eyed black women who clash with the darker-skinned women who prefer natural hairstyles. The director intentionally created more tension on camera by separating the two groups of women off-set, giving the Gamma Rays more attention and a better hotel. As Campbell told AP, she gained a lot from the sometimes difficult experience. ″Working on 'School Daze' made me understand the statement of the movie," she said. "The issues like apartheid, like education, like bettering yourself."

In a 2022 interview with Mike Muse on Sirius XM's Urban View (via Yahoo!), the actor mused about making the movie and spoke out about colorism in today's society. "There is a thing of light-skinned privilege. It is very real," she said. "... We are just now celebrating melanin. We are just now coming into understanding how beautiful black truly is, our own people."

Campbell had an epic feud with Martin Lawrence

In 1992, Tisha Campbell began her role as Martin Lawrence's girlfriend, Gina, on "Martin." Per the Los Angeles Times, her fifth and final season on the show was fraught with controversy after she filed a lawsuit claiming Lawrence sexually harassed her. In November 1996, she walked off the set. According to People, the actor missed most of the final season's shows but agreed to resume shooting if producers barred Lawrence from being around while she was filming her scenes.

The popular series ended with a fizzle, rather than a bang, with a one-hour finale featuring a loving couple who didn't shoot a single scene together in the same room. Lawrence denied the accusations, and the lawsuit was settled out of court. Years later, the former on-screen couple also ended their personal squabble. In a 2020 interview with GQ, the "Bad Boys for Life" actor said, "I love Tisha. I've seen her then and now, now and then, always with nothing but love. I have nothing but love for her, and I always have."

A year earlier, Campbell had told "The Real" that her former co-star made the first move to mend fences, reaching out to her after she separated from her husband Duane Martin.  "This is how I knew things were going to be okay: Martin called me the day after I separated to just reconnect," she said. "... It's a healing process."

Damon Wayans didn't want to cast Tisha Campbell

For five seasons, Tisha Campbell played Damon Wayans' wife Janet "Jay" Kyle on "My Wife and Kids." But at first, the comedy star, who was also an executive producer on the show, wasn't keen on the idea of Campbell auditioning for the job. As it turns out, her old friend Tichina Arnold was in contention for the role, and she shared the script with her BFF.

On Finesse Mitchell's "Understand This," podcast in 2021, Campbell explained she really wanted the part, and got on the horn with her agent, who told her, "Yeah, they don't really want to see you." She added that a person interviewing to be casting director told her, "I mentioned your name and [Damon Wayans] said 'I love Tisha so much; she is family. But you know I just don't see myself playing opposite of Gina for the next five years.'"

After tricking a security guard to get through the gate, Campbell crashed the final callbacks and nailed the audition. But when Wayans first spotted her there, he wasn't exactly pleased. "This is what he told me later after I got the part: 'I slammed that door and I was like, 'What in the hell is Tisha Campbell doing here?'" the "House Party" star admitted. Still, it all turned out well in the end with Campbell even directing the series finale in 2005.

She went through an awful divorce

In 2020, Tisha Campbell finalized her divorce from actor and former basketball player Duane Martin. The couple had been married for more than 20 years, and they share two sons. The actor filed the papers back in 2018, but according to court documents, they had split in 2016. An inside source alleged to People, "It's been getting harder and harder for them for the last two years. But it just got to the breaking point recently."

Money was reportedly a contributing factor to why their marriage fell apart. In 2016, they both filed for bankruptcy, after racking up more than $14 million dollars in debt. Per TMZ, Campbell also accused her "Ride or Die" husband of hiding assets from her. According to The Blast, she went on to accuse Martin of having physically and emotionally abused her for years — he denied the allegations

When they broke up, Campbell was flat broke and devastated. "No one knows ... but I had nothing," she told Kevin Frasier on ET in 2020. "Nothing in the bank. Nothing. I had maybe $7 to my name and I was scared. It was like I was starting all over." Now in her fifties, the "Uncoupled" actor has learned how to shift her priorities over the years. Speaking to Bustle in 2022, she said, "In my 20s, I was trying to be the best wife that I could be — now, I'm being the best me I can be."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

She once met a wild bear in a supermarket

Tisha Campbell wasn't on a camping trip or hiking in the woods when she spotted a wild bear cub — she was checking out produce in a Los Angeles supermarket. In a 2021 Instagram video, she shared her freaked-out reaction to the wild sighting as it happened. "The calm that you see on my IG is really panic, straight panic," she told ET about her unbearably scary encounter in the fruit section. "You saw the calm before the storm," she quipped. "But you didn't see the panic."

As employees attempted to shoo the 120-pound cub out of the store, Campbell tried to focus on her exit strategy and decided to get what she came for. "I paid for my groceries, but that was part of the panic because I was trying to wait for the bear to go farther," she added. The bear eventually left the store and was brought to Angeles National Forest.

Growing up in northern New Jersey, Campbell didn't often see bears growing up. "We've got pigeons, we don't have bears!" the "Last Man Standing" actor joked. This wasn't her first wild animal encounter. On a trip to Arizona, there were some howling coyotes, and she once ran away from a bobcat. That explained her wild reaction to the bear in the Instagram video. "THAT AIN'T NO DAMN PUPPY! See? DA' F***k I look like? Dr Doolittle??? Why are all these animals drawn to me right now?" she asked.

Uncoupled touches on some familiar territory

In the new Netflix hit series "Uncoupled," Tisha Campbell plays Suzanne, the best friend of Michael (Neil Patrick Harris), who suddenly finds himself single after a 17-year relationship. It's the plight of Michael's character that hits closest to home for the divorced mother of two. "I personally have been uncoupled out of a 20-something year relationship, so I understand it and I know what it's like to have to go through those major ups and downs," she admitted in an interview with Netflix.

The "Empire" alum pointed out the importance of companionship after a breakup, as people often lose friends when relationships don't work out. Speaking to Bustle, she said it took her a while to see the light at the end of the tunnel. "But then you start to understand the journey, and how beautiful it is when you come out of it and how hopeful the future is. When you discover yourself — your true self — oh my god, it's so sexy! It really is. Yo, I'm so joyful. Joy is a badass b***h."

As she shared in 2022 with E! News' "Daily Pop," all the time she spent on self-discovery after her split was worth it. "It's such an interesting thing because you go from that devastation to a beautiful devastation to getting to know yourself," the "Harley Quinn" actor said, noting that it was tricky to throw dating into the mix at the same time. 

Tisha Campbell is all about those good vibrations

Tisha Campbell doesn't need a man to keep her fulfilled. At the premiere for her new series, the "Uncoupled," star told Page Six she's perfectly satisfied with, well ... satisfying herself. That is, with the assistance of some battery-powered devices that are also very easy to ... turn on. "Hell yeah, toys! Oh, I keeps [sic] me a good toy buzzing around every now and then. You know what I'm damn talking about," she declared. "Toys, toys, toys."

Responding to a question about her dating life, Campbell explained that after coming out of a long-term relationship, she is focusing on taking care of herself. "I'm learning about who I am and I'm super excited about that, so that's where I am right now. It's about me and my kids and that's it right now." Although her character Suzanne doesn't have a love interest in the first season of "Uncoupled," Campbell's hopeful that could change.

"I'm sure my sex scene is coming in season 2," she said. "I know they're going to give me somebody hot. This is ['Sex and the City' creator] Darren Star, baby." In any case, Campbell exclaimed she's single and ready to mingle, at least on-screen, for now. "I don't care if it's male, female, I don't give a s***, it's gonna be somebody hot! I'm ready, I'm divorced, I'm uncoupled, I'm ready, I'm here for it!"

She is an advocate for autism awareness

As of 2018, one in 44 8-year-old children in the U.S. were identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Tisha Campbell's son Xen, who she shares with her ex-husband Duane Martin, is one of them. Since his diagnosis at 18 months, both parents have promoted education and awareness of the disorder, according to Essence. In 2011, Campbell, along with four other mothers of autistic children, produced "Colored My Mind," a short film focused on shining a light on autism – especially in communities of color.

The actor elaborated that most African-American children get diagnosed a few years later than their Caucasian counterparts, and in minority communities there is a stigma associated with ASD. "Some of it is cultural because we don't want to believe that this is the kind of thing that can happen in the African-American or Latino community," she explained. She learned from experience that early intervention is the key for people to receive appropriate support and treatment. "The thing about autism is that you have to catch it early because then you can exercise the brain enough to try to get the child to their greatest potentiality," she said. 

In 2013, Campbell published "My Brother Doesn't Want to Play," a book to help children understand their autistic siblings. Seven years later, Campbell celebrated a joyous day with Xen, who was accepted into college. In an Instagram post, the proud mom wrote, "I never knew you would surpass my hopes for your future."

Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold: BFFs for 40 years

Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold literally grew up together in show business and they have shared a lot over the years. Besides making their film debuts as teens in "Little Shop of Horrors," Arnold played Pamela James on "Martin," Campbell appeared on "Everybody Hates Chris," and the besties co-hosted the 50th anniversary of the Soul Train Music Awards in 2021. Through marriages and divorces, career ups and downs, these two women have been there for each other.

On a 2021 special episode of "Tamron Hall" dedicated to best friends, Campbell explained that even as teenagers auditioning for the same roles, they had each others' backs. "We always rooted for one another, even when we were in direct competition with one another. It was really about, 'If I don't get it, I really hope she does,” the "Dr. Ken" alum said. 

Campbell further explained that she values Arnold's honesty as much as anything else. "She has always been there for me, good times or bad times and she tells the truth," Campbell said about "The Neighborhood" star. "... Tichina is one of those kind of people who will definitely lay it on the line and tell you the truth no matter what." Arnold affectionately returned the favor, likening her friendship to a gift from heaven. "It was a natural synergy. I always say God puts people together and it was that way with me and Tisha," she gushed. 

She had to start again from scratch

According to Celebrity Net Worth, as of 2022, Tisha Campbell had $500,000 to her name. She has been working in Hollywood since childhood, with leading roles in two hit series, several films, and stage shows. So why is this popular performer worth so much less than many of her counterparts? Everything fell apart in 2016 when Campbell and her estranged husband Duane Martin filed for bankruptcy. At the time, they were said to be about $15 million in the hole. 

In 2018, when Campbell filed for divorce, she had $1.5 million worth of assets, but no reliable income source. Two years later, when her divorce was finalized and nearly everything was sold off, Campbell ended up with a leased home and a leased 2020 BMW. Speaking to Kevin Frasier for "ET," the "Blindspotting" actor said she was grateful her kids were understanding and supportive. "I ... raised children who didn't care about the big mansion that I had," she shared. 

As for the secret to her success, she told ABC News' Linsey Davis (via Yahoo!) that it's about not getting too comfortable. "I grew up in the theater, so there was always an understudy or somebody that could even be better than you," the former "Rags to Riches" star said. "I've always been a hustler ... I've always been very aggressive about not standing in line for my career." Hopefully, better days lie ahead for this talented entertainer.

What's next for Tisha Campbell?

Luckily, Tisha Campbell seems to be in a great place at the moment. In 2022, "Uncoupled" was riding high at Netflix, and fans clearly wanted to see more of it. From there, she had one project, "Cobblestone" in pre-production, with "Not Another Church Movie" in post-production, and set for release in 2023. Deadline described the film as a comedy spoof with Kevin Daniels and Vivica A. Fox in the leads.

The big news for Campbell is yet another collab with her bestie, Tichina Arnold — a talk show tentatively titled "Tisha & Tichina Have Issues." The ladies, who will also executive produce the project, gave ET the low-down on the show in 2021. Each episode will feature a famous guest as well as one of the two co-host's closest friends to discuss personal stories and the hot topics of the day. "Tichina and I have worked together and known each other so long ... we finish each other's jokes!" Campbell divulged.

In a 2022 interview with "The Root" (via Yahoo! Life), she explained that during quarantine she stopped listening to naysayers who told her she couldn't write. Since then, she's been creating her own characters as well as producing shows. "I have some really great friends, who kept pushing me to strive to do it," she said. "I've had positivity around me. And now I think I'm the most joyful I've ever been in my life doing exactly what I have always wanted to."