With an insatiable appetite for all things risqué, and the perseverance that distinguishes the best from the rest, Georgetown native Whitney Cummings has established herself as a respected comedian. Dabbling in television—both in the form of a sitcom and, subsequently, her own talk show—Cummings now returns to the basics with a standup comedy tour. Here, she discusses fame, failure, and the rapid advent of unexpected, and much welcomed, success.
You’re on tour now, which certainly requires a lot of material. Tell us about your process in finding and writing new material.
WHITNEY CUMMINGS: I use part of my personal life. This new tour is really, really personal. You know, comedians get very haunted by material. We’re very obsessed with justice and [a quote says that] if you think about it more than three times a week, you need to write about it. It’s whatever [is] stored in the back of your brain or under your skin, and annoying you, you should have to write about it.
That’s good advice for writers and comedians alike.
WC: Yeah, totally.
Speaking of personal experiences, you and Chelsea Handler are very good friends. Being two strong and funny women in the business, what’s your relationship like?
WC: I feel like there are a lot of us [female comedians] now. I mean, maybe I just know them all. I feel like women are kind of nailing it right now. But Chelsea is always there and always incredibly supportive to me. She’s such a girl’s girl. I think there’s sort of a fallacy of the stereotypes that female comedians hate each other, and we’re super competitive and catty—and it’s just not true at all. I’m not sure where that came from. People think that we’re outlaws that just hate each other. But no, Chelsea is so supportive, she’s the nicest, most heart-of-gold, supportive [person].
What advice would you give to other women who are trying to make it in the industry?
WC: My advice would be don’t worry about making it. If you work hard, you’ll get everything you want. Don’t worry about the end result, just get good at standup. Don’t worry about television. I think the biggest mistake people make is, 'When am I going to get my sitcom?' You know, the worst thing you can do is make it [too] soon. There’s no rush. It’s going to take a long time to get good at. […] Be patient and get through the worst. And, most importantly, do standup for people, not for comedians. I think that’s another big mistake a lot of people make when they want to make comedians laugh in the back of the club instead of the audience. Because you want the comedians to think you’re cool, and you always end up being a little more dirty than you would because you want to get the respect of the comics. But just focus on the audience.
Your sitcom, Whitney, is no longer running. Do you think you’ll get back into TV any time soon?
WC: Doing a multi-cam would be great, I was just shocked at how negative critics are about multi-camera shows. That, I think, was what took me aback. Because multi-cams are favorite shows. They’re the best shows ever! You know, Seinfeld, Cosby, Roseanne, Friends, I Love Lucy, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I wasn’t expecting that [backlash].
How about your talk show, Love You, Mean It?
WC: It was fun. It was definitely an experiment. I was a little too busy, I think, while I was doing it. Because I was alternating sitcoms simultaneously, so I think that the timing was tricky. But it was fun. I don’t think E! was the right fit, because I don’t know that much about celebrities. It’s a weird, ironic twist. But it was a total blast. I got to work with my friends and comics. I would do a talk show again in a heartbeat.
A lot of comedians ride on the wave of success and eventually write a book. Are you looking into that?
WC: I’m not quite ready to do a book. I was approached, but I’m not quite ready yet to do that. I’m kind of going to stick with standup for now, and, when I’m too tired to travel, I’ll write a book. I hope I don’t have too much more to learn, but I still think I have a little more life to live before I start writing books.