Could you see anybody other than Tisha Campbell playing Jay on My Wife and Kids? Probably not, right? She was so naturally funny and perfect for the opportunity, you would think the role was written for her. However, an effort was actually made to keep Campbell from getting the role at all costs initially.
During a conversation with friend and former co-star Finesse Mitchell on his podcast Understand This recently, Campbell revealed that she was left in the dark about the gig.
“I had heard that there was this audition for this show called My Wife and Kids, and at the time, they were not hiring any African-American women at all during that time,” she said. “I think it was 2000. And nobody was getting hired. In fact, when we would go out for auditions, it would say ‘all ethnicities.’ There was never anything specifically for us.”
So inevitably heard about the role because everyone was going out for it due to that alleged shortage in opportunities. Campbell wondered why her agent hadn’t made her aware of it.
“‘They don’t really want to see you,'” he told her.
Undeterred, she called best friend and former Martin co-star Tichina Arnold to ask if she’d auditioned.
“She was like ‘Yeah! Yeah, girl. I auditioned the other day,'” she recalled. “I was like, ‘So can you send me the script and the sides and stuff?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah! No problem.'”
Once she obtained all the info, Campbell was confident that she could play Jay. She pushed her agent about it. He still said no.
“‘They are adamant that they really don’t want to see you,'” she said he told her. A casting director Campbell knew who joined the show confirmed that and shared the reason.
“‘Yeah, I mentioned your name and [Damon Wayans] said, ‘I love Tisha so much. She’s family. I just don’t see myself playing opposite a ‘Gina’ for the next five years,'” they told her.
But she was still undeterred. When she found out Arnold got a callback, she asked her friend again to send her all the materials. And while one might think Arnold, who presumably wanted the role for herself, would be hesitant, she had no problem sending Campbell everything she needed so that she, too, could have a shot.
While Arnold and others were doing final callbacks, Campbell pushed her way through, determined to have her first audition. Her agent was livid. Nevertheless, she was able to sneak into auditions, pretending that her name was erroneously left off of the list. Once she made it in, she ran into Wayans, who was flustered by her. He would later admit that he was pissed that she was there. But of course, she was so good she eventually got the role.
Arnold obviously didn’t get the role, helping her friend go all the way. But her own leading lady moment would come later. She ended up playing matriarch Rochelle in the critically-acclaimed sitcom Everybody Hates Chris based on Chris Rock’s life. Helping her friend didn’t keep Arnold from getting to shine in the spotlight. That was a mentality both women always had, and it’s allowed them to succeed together.
“This is stuff me and Tichina used to do all of the time. Me and Tichina have been like this since we were 11 and 12,” she said. “We would always call each other if the other one didn’t hear about an audition. And we’d just be like, ‘Let’s go crash it! Crash it with me. Write my agent’s number down.’ At the time I didn’t even have an agent. She would just go, ‘Yo, crash it with me!’ And I would do the same for her. But this is like a billion years later and we’re still doing it.”