Whitney Cummings Dives Into the Socially Unacceptable
How would you describe your comedic persona?
It evolved. Every special has gone deeper, and gotten more raw and authentic. I almost feel that even though this is my third hour-stand-up special, in a way, it?s my first. My first two specials, I was 26 and 28 or something. Who knows who they are at 26? I thought I was so smart and had it all figured out. Then life kicked my ass and I got my heart broken. That?s when I got humble and figured out who I was.
As a comedian, you?re kind of a porcupine. You?re soft on the inside and really hard on the outside. This was the first special where I took the protective armor off and got really vulnerable -- with myself and my audience. I?m trying to be honest and not pretend to be stronger or smarter than I am. While I was writing and performing, I fought the inclination to be false or go for the joke. As a result the special is almost like a giant private journal entry. I say stuff in this special that I wouldn?t tell my dearest, closest friends? so I hope they don?t watch this!
Did you craft this special differently than your first two?
For my other specials it was like, ?Is this getting laughs? Are people laughing?? They were, but not all laughs are created equal. My last two specials were, for a lack of a better word, a little more superficial -- because I was a little superficial and na�ve. This is much deeper. I talk about freezing my eggs, being diagnosed as a love addict, and getting cheated on. It?s the kind of stuff you would only talk about with your therapist or a trained professional. I was like, ?I?m not going to talk about airplane food in this special.?
Is anything off-limits or too personal to talk about on stage?
There is no such thing as too personal; there is such a thing as not funny enough. The main goal is to make people laugh. But I think that my definition of what?s funny now is, ?Is it true?? Most people like to relate.
The culture and the zeitgeist also decide what I put in the special. There?s 20 minutes on squirting, because it?s happening. People are watching it in porn, so I knew this was something I had to talk about. I?m very democratic that way. If it?s something that?s in the ether, I have to address it. I don?t even feel like I craft it -- it?s decided for me by the conversations I have and investigations I do.
How do you balance serious social issues, like gender roles, with humor?
I try to keep it personal. One of my favorite quotes is, ?The more specific you are; the more universal you are.? I try to stay as specific as possible. I don?t sit down and say, ?I?m going to talk about social issues.? I do sit down and go, ?This has to matter to me.? If this doesn?t matter to me, why would anyone else give a shit? What keeps me up at night? What frustrates me? Usually if I want to make someone laugh, I?ll ask, ?What makes me cry?? That?s a weird way to go, but that means it?s something worth talking about. Airplane food doesn?t make me cry. I don?t care. Boys, relationships, getting cheated on -- those things make me cry. Let?s get into that.
My heroes, Jon Stewart and Michael Moore, tackle heavy subjects and figure out a way to make you laugh about them. Those are the subjects that need levity and humor, otherwise we?d never think about them -- or want to think about them. I think the most healing thing we can all do is sit around and laugh about something that causes us all pain.
What advice do you have for women trying to make it in comedy right now?
Find the balance between pleasing people and pleasing yourself. I used to write jokes for other people: ?I wonder if guys will think this is funny? I feel like Democrats will think this is funny.? I was obsessed with other people?s perceptions of me with no concept of what I thought. Then I realized, why don?t I write what I think is funny? If people don?t get it, fine, but I?ll still have a blast, and feel connected to the material. As soon as I started pleasing myself, that?s when things started clicking -- because I ended up being authentic. Oddly, when you stop caring what people think, that?s when they start thinking positively. It?s a paradox.
What comics are you into right now?
What?s next for you?
I?m developing a series for HBO. It?s kind of the narrative version of this special: How being successful -- whatever that means -- ostensibly backfired for me in personal relationships. I?m directing a movie this year. It?s called The Female Brain, which is a movie I wrote with Neal Brennan based on the book. I?m working on a book.
This isn?t the sexy answer, but I?m also working on balance and my health. I?m in recovery for codependence so that takes a lot of my time. I?m trying to get hobbies and not be a workaholic.
What can people expect from the special?
They can expect to learn a lot about anatomy. I talk about freezing my eggs. You?ll learn a lot about that process: Why I did it and how it works, because I feel like there?s a lot of shame around reproductive issues for women especially as women are having children later and later. All the stuff that?s socially unacceptable to discuss, I dive into. I want to take some of the shame out of these conversations.
I?m terrified to for this special to air, but if I?m doing stand-up right, I should be a bit terrified of people knowing all this stuff. I think it?s the right feeling.