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Comedy

The Weekly interview: comedian Whitney Cummings

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After three years on network TV, Whitney Cummings is ready to unleash some “earthy” comedy at Treasure Island this weekend.
Photo: Michael Muller

You might know Whitney Cummings from her starring role on Whitney or her work with Two Broke Girls, but she actually got her start in stand-up. Cummings returns to her roots with a Friday-night gig at Treasure Island, where you’ll hear all the jokes unfit for network TV.

What’s it like working on two shows at the same time? Very tiring. I know it sounds corny, and I hate it when people say this, but I’m so grateful that I get to do this. You work so hard to get somewhere and then you get there and you don’t get to say, “Ew, why did I get here? This sucks!” It’s exactly what I’d been training for, for so long. Being a stand-up really prepares you for hard work. Before this, I was doing 80 cities a year and traveling. In terms of intensity, it was actually sort of a step down. At least I didn’t have to go through airport security every day. I get to see the same person more than once a week. It’s a blast, and I’ve surrounded myself with some of the most talented and awesome writers and actors.

When you found out you were going to have two shows launching almost simultaneously, was it twice the freak-out, like someone finding out she’s having twins? (Laughs) I’ve never heard that. That’s really funny. It was all so surreal, and I’m so used to failing that it just felt like a prank or something. I’m so skeptical whenever anything good happens. Every day I woke up and I just assumed it was going to be the last day I was able to be doing what I was doing, so I was trying to take it one day at a time. I was just so naive. I got to work with Michael Patrick King, who is my hero. You’re also just so busy you don’t have time to process it, so that’s kind of what I’m doing now, three years later. It’s all sinking in now.

Is Whitney at all autobiographical? Very! I was in a relationship with a guy for like four years, and I was really scared of getting married. I grew up with a lot of divorce in my family. I started asking around to my girlfriends, and a lot of them said they were in no rush to get married, and I saw there were all these statistics about the age of people getting married going up. I figure this was a new thing that was happening, so it was worth exploring.

The Details

WHITNEY CUMMINGS
April 26, 9 p.m., $44-$73.
Treasure Island, 894-7111.

It’s about a girl who has a lot of fears and a lot of doubts, a girl who grew up with a less-than-ideal parental unit. She’s trying to get over all of these fears and be in a relationship without sabotaging it. The coolest thing is, the character has really grown a lot since Season 1. In the pilot she said she’d never get married, and then 22 episodes later, she’s dragging Alex down to the courthouse to get married. And then their roles kind of reversed. She starts being the one who feels safe and comfortable in the relationship, and he starts being the one who’s worried.

My father refers to the humor in Two Broke Girls as “earthy,” and I have definitely had a couple of “Oh my God, they can say that on TV?” moments while watching. Do you ever fear you’ll go too far one day? I like that. It shocks me every day what we get away with over there. Going too far is not a bad thing. I don’t believe in too far. In comedy, if the audience laughs then it’s not too far. We’re never going to put a joke in that doesn’t do well or people don’t laugh at. But when they laugh and they like it, we trust them and we put it on TV.

I think Michael Patrick King and I are both interested in finding what the edge is, finding where the too far is, and just kind of flirting with it. It’s the kind of stuff that makes us laugh, and comedians have a very high standard for funny. I’ve heard everything before, so the good thing about Two Broke Girls is you’re going to hear things you’ve never heard before. What’s the point of watching TV if you’re seeing all the same jokes? It’s also coming out of the mouths of these two gorgeous 23 year-olds, and we’ve got this really eclectic cast of clowns. It’s kind of a comedy gold mine circus. A lot of it is shocking, because it’s super honest. The most shocking thing is that’s kind of how 23-year-olds talk now, so that’s more the concern.

Do you ever have a joke you love so much you don’t know which show to use it on? It’s usually pretty easy, since the characters are so specific. If I think of a joke, usually not just any character could say it, and that’s usually the sign of good character development that it’s not just an interchangeable joke that anybody could do.

It’s often between the characters of Roxanne on Whitney and Max on Two Broke Girls and sometimes between Lilly on Whitney and Caroline on Two Broke Girls. I think more than anything, I have to choose between what to use in my stand-up and in Whitney, because that is so close to my stand-up.

You’re coming up on a decade of doing stand-up. How has the scene changed since you began? Wow! You are blowing my mind. I’ve never heard someone say that. Whoa. I can’t wait to be able to say that now. That’s so crazy. It has changed so much, and I don’t think people get it. When I first started, putting your stuff on YouTube was just happening, and nobody was sure if it was a waste of time yet, and the people who did it were kind of the geeks. Loser. Nerd alert. Then certain people started getting millions of hits on YouTube and getting really famous from it. Now there are many comics who are a lot younger, because they put stuff online and they get noticed really young.

The one thing that doesn’t change is that there’s nothing better than live comedy. Also, I think we can safely say that there are a lot more women. I think the idea of women not being funny, which I never believed 10 years ago, is starting to become really passé. And the idea that women can’t be attractive to be in comedy has kind of gone away. There’s this new wave of really feminine women in comedy who don’t have to wear suits and cut their hair. So that’s something that’s been kind of interesting to watch.

Have you performed in Las Vegas before? I was there a couple of times, and I really love Vegas. I was starting the tour, and I said Vegas was the first place I wanted to go, because I always have such a good time there and I’m always well received there. There are always great audiences and great energy. Everyone is just there to laugh and have fun, so it was really important to me to, out of the gate, go someplace that was going to be a blast.

From your Twitter feed, it looks like you interact with your followers a lot. Do you make it a point to try and respond to fans? I make a point to try, but it’s such a double-edged sword sometimes, because sometimes it comes back to bite you in the ass. It’s very rewarding. I really try to write back to people. I had to cancel a show this week because I was sick, so I put that on Twitter. I had the flu, and I walked into a TV and I was throwing up all over the place. It sounds like such a lie because I’m 5-10, and I tell people I walked into a TV and they said, “Who is he? What did he do to you?”

For fans of your shows who might be unfamiliar with your stand-up, what can they expect at your Treasure Island show? The fact that some people don’t know that I’m a stand-up is so weird to me, because that’s all I thought I’d ever be. Well, I’ve been on network TV for three years, so you can expect me to unleash. If your dad thinks Two Broke Girls is too earthy, then he should not come to my show. (Laughs) It’s kind of going to be like a bat out of hell, because I haven’t been able to do stand-up for a couple of years. I’m really grateful to be onstage, and I have a lot of energy. I’ve gone through a lot, and I have a lot to share that’s been stored up. Definitely some earthiness.

I asked my friends if they had any burning questions for you, and comedian Brandt Tobler asked if you date comedians and if so, if you’d marry him. Wow, yes! The answer is yes. Now I would like to see his move. Tell him to come to my show.

I definitely don’t date comedians. It’s not like I have a rule against it, but it seems like it would be a terrible thing. Your schedules are both very tough. I think it’s very important to have somebody who understands what you do for a living, but comedy is like going into battle and you bond as a family with the other comedians. Instantly these guys just feel like my brothers, so it would feel like incest to date a comic.

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