Back to the Money Shot

With two TV shows and some cancellation battle wounds, young comedy vet Whitney Cummings returns to standup

whitneycummings.jpgAfter two successful turns on the Comedy Central Roasts of David Hasslehoff and Donald Trump, Whitney Cummings  dropped not one, but two sitcoms in September 2011—2 Broke Girls, which she co-created and co-produces; and the eponymous Whitney.

While Girls was an immediate ratings success, critics took a dim view of both shows, saving particular vitriol for Whitney. (The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum wrote: “The problem is that “Whitney” is a terrible show … Cummings has none of [Lucille] Ball’s shining charisma or her buzz of anarchy.”) Undaunted, Cummings, 30, pressed forward with E! talk show Love You, Mean It with Whitney Cummings in November 2012. It was canceled after 12 episodes.

Cummings, though, sees the cancelation as a blessing in disguise, freeing her up to return to her first love, stand-up comedy, where she’ll be performing at Treasure Island at 9 p.m. April 26.

How hard has it been to find a balance between doing stand-up and doing the shows?

It’s impossible. I have not been able to do any stand-up, which is why I cannot wait to come to Vegas, because I haven’t been able to do stand-up in almost three years.

Your last stand-up special, Money Shot, was 2010—is this tour getting you geared up to do another special?

That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m trying to put another hour together, because it’s been like three years and I was thinking what’s the best place to start out and do the jump-off but Vegas?

How far along are you in that hour?

I’ve been working on it sort of covertly whenever I have any time over the past couple of years while I’ve been doing the sitcoms. I would say I’ve got about 40 minutes, and I have another 20 that I’ve written that I’m going to try to hash out by the time I get there.

But Vegas has always been fun. I’m sure I’ll be doing so much crowd work I’m not going to even be able to get to my material.

Do you like playing here? Because a lot of comics don’t.

I love it. What kind of asshole doesn’t? It’s the best. I love playing in Vegas. It’s always such a fun crowd.  It’s just such a blast. People in Vegas are at least, for my ribald sense of humor, are really game. I think maybe I attract a crowd that’s down to play, and a fun group. I always have really fun experiences in Vegas. The gambling addicts, I attract all sorts of addicts. Gambling is the least of the problem of my kind of people.

How have the audiences been different since the start of the sitcom?

It’s interesting. There’s been a lot of support and a lot of love. I’m really, really grateful. The people loved the show, but critics hate multi-camera shows, so there was a little bit of negativity. But it’s been amazing. I was a little bit trepidatious in the beginning. I was worried about that element. Everyone’s been awesome and everyone’s been really supportive of doing a new hour of material and trying new stuff out. When you’re a name and people know you, they expect you to come with all this prepared material and
the bar is really high. I’ve been coming in like “Hey guys, I’m working out some new shit. Just stick with me. I have no idea what I’m talking about. I haven’t been on stage in a year.”

It’s been a blast. It’s been really healing. The hard thing is you’re a comic, and that’s the thing that makes you feel whole and fulfilled, and you get all these other things like TV shows and movies, and it takes you away from comedy, which is the thing that kept you sane. So it’s good to be back in the game.

Patton Oswalt just did something interesting, where he designated certain shows for a couple months where he was going to be working out material, then moving on to more refined shows as he builds to a new special. Is it ginning the system to put it out there like that, a way of deflating audience expectations?

Here’s the thing: Professional comics like Patton and me, and I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but no matter what, we’re going to be funny. We’re good at stand-up. It’s not like we’re going to get up there and bomb for an hour. We’re going to be exploring more, we’re going to be playing around. If anything, it’s going to be better. You’re not going to see the polished A-material that everyone else has seen. I think it’s actually a superior experience because you get to see the comics before they’ve done the material 50 times and it’s on autopilot. You get to see comics finding the joy and finding the new jokes and having this childlike approach to the material.

It’s a little punk rock.

It’s a lot punk rock.

You just had a little bit of bad news with the cancelation of Love You, Mean It. What do you think happened?

I don’t know if it was bad news. I was trying to do two shows at once. Trying to do one show at once is already impossible. I was
riding myself a little too hard. I don’t think E! was the right match, sensibility-wise. It wasn’t quite the right fit for me. I was trying to do too much at once. Doing a once-a-week talk show isn’t really a thing. To do a talk show you have to do it every night. We were taping two nights before, so by the time it aired the jokes weren’t topical because people have already done them. I was kind of taking on a little more than I should have, but it was such a blast. I hope I get to do a talk show again, but next time I’m going to do it five nights a week instead of once a week.

Has your work on writing on the shows affected your approach to stand-up at all?

It has in a really big way. I think that writing on TV shows, it’s always very mathematical. If you look at Friends and all these great multi-cams, it’s a guide for the actors in how to perform. I’ve been much more conscious now when I write stand-up to sort of write it as a performance and not as, “here’s just a bunch of stuff to yell out on stage.” I’ve been much more precise with my language. I’ve tried to carry that over in my stand-up. The way you see Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, they’re so precise. I’m trying to take cues from them and be a little more artful.

Right now with your shows and those of Anthony Jeselnik, Daniel Tosh and Amy Schumer, does it feel like there’s a generational shift in comedy right now?

It makes me feel old, but all these people I came up with, we used to perform at bowling alleys together. We used to perform outside of parking lots, putting shows together. Amy and Jeselnik and Adam DeVine from Workaholics and Nick Kroll. We used to go to open mics at 4:30 on Sundays, like what are we doing? It’s such an exciting time. I think after the ‘90s when all these deals started falling apart, and Aspen Comedy Festival ended and YouTube became how you found comics. It was like, what happened to comedy? Now the cream has risen to the top. Jeselnik has been working his ass off for 10 years. Now that he has this opportunity, he’s not going to blow it. The worst thing you can do is get too much success too fast without having done the work. All of a sudden you have a show, but you don’t have the comedy to back it up. It’s so surreal. I ran into Adam DeVine in Starbucks the other day. We used to do shows all the time. He just bought a house and I was like, “Oh my God, remember when we used to carpool to Pasadena to do five minutes?”

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