Whitney Cummings: I Have A Penchant For Danger
Tickets for The 10th annual New York Comedy Festival (running November 6 - 10) went on sale today and ETonline recently sat down with Whitney Cummings, who takes the stage on November 8, to talk about headlining the comedy smorgasbord.
In addition to finding out what she loves about the festival and the city that it calls home, Cummings opened up about how the last two years have changed her and her act forever.
ETonline: What do you like about The New York Comedy Festival?
Whitney Cummings: It's interesting because there are so many festivals now, and it's a great way to see your friends and stuff, but this is the first festival that I'm going to early so I can see shows. The line-up is so good. I'm going to see Wanda Sykes and Bill Burr and John Mulaney; the booking is just awesome. Plus it's New York in the fall, everyone wants to be there, the venues are great and performing in New York is always such a thrill because people are very savvy. You can see the best entertainment in the world there, so for people to choose to come see you is a big thing. They're smart and tough, so it makes for a really authentic show. I think performers are always at their best in NY because the audiences demand it.
ETonline: Is an audience that doesn't suffer fools the best or worst kind of audience?
Cummings: It's the best when you're good [laughs]. It's the best because it really does make you bring your game to the next level. You can't be cheap, you gotta be alert, you gotta be awake, you gotta be smart. You can't phone it in when you're performing in NY. I think performing in New York makes you the best version of yourself as a performer.
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ETonline: Do you remember your first NY comedy experience?
Cummings: I think it was probably 9 years ago at the Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea. It was like an open mic night, and I was like, "Hey, I'm some skinny white girl with problems." I don't remember it going particularly well.
ETonline: What was your worse stand-up experience?
Cummings: It's interesting because I think what most people would assume are disasters or quagmires, most stand-ups think are really fun. When you first start, especially in LA because there’s so many less clubs, you just do stand-up wherever you can. So I've done stand-up in bowling alleys, I've done it in sushi restaurants, Laundromats, parking lots. For a true stand-up, that's kind of fun and exciting. Even if you're bombing, there's something to learn. If you're a true comedian, failure is just as fun as succeeding because failing is 99 percent of being a stand-up. It's kind of one of the only arts where you have to bomb for a while in order for get good. One time I had a particularly disastrous experience where I had to do stand-up on a boat at this corporate cruise, and this woman was just hacking me. But even that was fun [laughs]. The times you feel icky about a show have more to do with the feeling like you're phoning it in. Even if you kill. There are times I've done really well on stage but not felt connected or like I was saying my act instead of feeling it. The bad nights are when you don't feel like you've locked into the audience because the idea of stand-up is to do a different show every night for a different audience. That's why I like to have my audience pretty lit.
ETonline: As in drunk?
Cummings: Well, that too [laughs]. But I meant lit so I could see them.
ETonline: IMDB says you're the first female comedian to play in Dubai and Beirut. Is that true?
Cummings: Well, I'm sure women have been funny over there before, but I guess that's true. And I wish I had a cooler or more traumatic story, like rocks were thrown at me or something, but I didn't feel like an Iconoclast or taboo. I talk about sex and relationships, but the off-limits topic there is religion and I just went for it in Dubai. Comics have a penchant for danger and I did all my most sexual stuff in Dubai. The audience feels fear, so if you start trying to tap-dance around subjects you think might offend, you're dead. It wasn't repressed at all, the women were in bikinis and looking like sluts. I was the most covered up in jeans and a t-shirt. It was interesting to have my perceptions be debunked. Like, "Oh, I'm kind of ignorant thinking I'm going to get stoned on stage."
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ETonline: Your sitcom, Whitney, was canceled after two seasons earlier this year. Looking back on the experience, what's your takeaway?
Cummings: It was so much work at the time that it's kind of a blur. I wish I had more time to enjoy it because it was so fun. I look back, and to be honest, with a sitcom, you run out of a time. The show is never as good or funny as you want it to be. I call it "Pencil Down Comedy." You're writing and writing and writing and then they tell you it's time to shoot even if you're not done writing. You don't have a choice, you have to shoot it. I think at the time I thought everything could have been better, but now I look back and think the show was good. I think critics hate multi-cam, and I still don't know why, so I think that tarnished my experience, but now that I'm touring again and meeting people who are quoting the show to me, I'm seeing how it connected and I'm quite proud of it.
ETonline: In addition to writing and starring on Whitney, you were consulting 2 Broke Girls and then decided to host Love You, Mean It on E! -- do you think you bit off more than you could chew?
Cummings: Yeah, I did [laughs]. The only thing I wasn't biting off was food and I was starving to death. But yeah. In theory it all made sense because being a comedian is so hard so whenever something comes along, like a TV show, you think it can't be harder. I mean, before the sitcom, I was touring to over 80 cities a year. You have vampire hours, so you feel invincible as a stand-up. What I didn't realize is that in order to write about life, you need to have a life. But I don't regret it; I think everything happens exactly as it should. I'd happily do another sitcom or talk show another day.
ETonline: Do comics look to something like Louie, where Louis C.K. takes as long as he wants to make the show, as the brass ring?
Cummings: In way, but that's an ignorant thing for any comic to aspire to because in order for your show to work like Louie, you have to be as good as Louis C.K. and I don't think just anyone should have complete control because they're not as good as he is. People forget that Louis has been doing this for 30 years, and also had a multicam at HBO that didn't go past one season. He's taken a lot of different roads before this happens. I don't think 25-year-old comedians deserve the Louie model.
ETOnline: So what is next for you?
Cummings: Stand-up is the most important thing and I'm doing an hour special in February because I've changed so much as a person in the last two years, so my material has as well. I'm also writing a movie based on a really personal experience I had. I'm toying around with different ways to tell stories because the TV schedule is so crazy, and you don't have a lot of time so taking a year to write a movie is great because I don't feel like the buzzer is going off constantly.
Tickets for The New York Comedy Festival can be purchased here and for more on Whitney's touring schedule, click here.