In November, the actor Jenifer Lewis published her memoir, The Mother of Black Hollywood, and it is a title she earned. Since the 1970s and ’80s, she has been dominating Broadway and movies with her effervescent spirit and voice, starring in a slew of memorable, maternal roles, including The Fresh Prince’s Aunt Helen as well as in Poetic Justice, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Girlfriends and, most recently, Black-ish.

In the book, Lewis details her ambition and rise to iconic-mom status in Hollywood and Broadway, while also illuminating her struggles—with bipolar disorder, with addiction to sex. But as Jezebel discovered when she visited us earlier this month, she has dealt with life as it comes with enthusiasm, strength, and inimitable charm. In this clip, her spirit and storytelling skills—with her, a complete art form—come alive as she reads a chapter from her book about a junior high school encounter with truancy, “Fat Jackie, the town prostitute,” and her first-ever lesson about sex. “Always! Check! The meat!”

In the interview below, Lewis chats about how her rise to fame fed into her battles with mental health issues and addiction, and how she learned to rise above.