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Whitney Cummings has been a stand-up comedian for almost 20 years, having appeared on multiple Comedy Central Roasts, created and starred in her own sitcom, created the hit TV show 2 Broke Girls and executive produced the Roseanne revival, The Conners, for starters. But she's been feeling a different vibe lately.
"Remember the last couple of years, it turned into like comedians had to be on a moral high ground all of the sudden?" Cummings asks Yahoo Entertainment. "It’s like we went from, you know, idolizing Richard Pryor, who, onstage went into like hitting his wife and doing crack, and now we're like, this comedian didn't post a black square at the right time and should be canceled. It's like, wait a second. Hold on, hold on. So I think comedians right now, we're having so much pressure put on us to be perfect, and I think we just kinda want to remind everyone, like, we're kinda scumbags. Don't put us on pedestals. We're just here for entertainment."
For her part, Cummings is now taking her comedy to an unlikely place: OFTV, the free streaming service of OnlyFans, a platform largely known for its porn. She says she had considered putting some of her dirtier jokes there anyway when the company reached out, asking her to do one of their first TV shows.
"I went on there, and it's like teachers making money for school supplies, and... women wearing a bikini to pay for their mom's surgery. I'm like, 'This is awesome,'" Cummings says. "You know, I see girls on Instagram doing way more degrading things for free. And I'm hearing about these success stories, and I'm like, 'OK, I'm totally in.'"
Taking a risk
She was excited to be in a place where she felt she wouldn't feel censored — by humans or an algorithm — because she sees it as a comedian's job to say what they're not supposed to say and test the first amendment.
"There's really no network at the moment where comedians feel like they can, you know, go for it and take risks. Even on Netflix, that's the sort of place we were all going, and then with what happened with [Dave] Chappelle, even though they didn't necessarily pull the special… there was a mass shaming from their own employees," Cummings says of Chappelle, who's been heavily criticized by GLAAD and others for jokes seen as transphobic.
In her new series, Whitney Cummings Presents, she'll lead roasts, beginning with funny man Bert Kreischer, with host Trevor Wallace and roasters Tom Segura, Rachel Feinstein, Tony Hinchcliffe, Jim Norton, Big Jay Oakerson and Donnell Rawlings, and appearances by Kesha and Miranda Cosgrove. But don't expect it to be like the Comedy Central roasts of celebrities such as David Hasselhoff or former President Donald Trump, which Cummings appeared on in the 2010s. When she looks back at those, she's not a fan. Mostly, she says, because those events became about getting the biggest celebrities you could get, rather than the famed Friars Club roasts, which were about comedians joking playfully about each other, the way a family does.
"I remember being up there on the roast, and it was like a bunch of comics and Pam Anderson," Cummings says. "I was like, wait a second, this is not gonna go well. It used to be comic on comic. I look at it like verbal MMA, ya know? That's what roasts are. But you have to be in the same weight class. They started feeling mean, and they started feeling like we're punching down and being bullies because you had heavy-weight comics roasting models and actresses."
While the show appeared to have gone OK, making barbs about the Baywatch alum just didn't feel good for Cummings. Even now, the comic says she's watched Anderson's Netflix documentary, Pamela: A Love Story, and would like to have her as a guest on her podcast to talk about the way she was pummeled with jokes from Cummings and other professionals when she attended co-star Hasselhoff's fete in 2010. (Anderson herself was roasted in 2005, but Cummings was not a panelist for that one.)
A new kind of roast
So the new series has some different rules, based on Cummings's "more maternal" approach.
"This is a skill that can be really brutal if it goes sideways," Cummings explains. "So I was like, what if we did the roast where no one ever got hurt? It never felt mean? I'm gonna make all these changes that, when I was writing on the roasts, things that I wish would have happened. Like, while someone is being insulted or roasted, I made a split screen, so you could see them while the joke is hitting, so you see that they didn't get their feelings hurt."
Clowns sit in the front row, as a reminder that the comedians are not being serious.
"There's this whole thing of, 'You can't do any comedy anymore,'" Cummings says. "No, we all just have to be smarter about it, play to the top of our intelligence and not be racist, homophobic and gross."
Or ageist. No jokes about women being old if they're 40, for instance, which Cummings remembers hearing over and over in her early days in comedy.
"They'll be no jokes about comics being pedophiles or rapists if they're not, cause that’s not funny," Cummings says. "I just made sure everyone was protected, that nothing was gonna feel cringey and sadistic."
Cummings herself is the roastee in a Whitney Cummings Presents that drops May 14, with roasters including Bob the Drag Queen, Dan Levy and... Amanda Knox? Cummings insists that she was hilarious.
"I think it was Bob the Drag Queen who went, 'Whitney's drag name would be Botox Horseface. Dan Levy gets up and says, like, 'Here we are taking unprovoked shots at a talented woman. I feel like Alec Baldwin,'" Cummings recalls. "We're just long overdue to go, 'Oh my god, that painful thing that happened, all we can do is laugh... All the things that you're not allowed to say and then you hear it, you kinda laugh, you scream, you look around, holy moly someone said it, and then you move on. It's a form of healing."
Cummings said she'd like to one day roast RuPaul, Tom Hanks or maybe even Mark Wahlberg, who she notes is "long overdue" for a roast. What with those Calvin Klein ads and his days with the Funky Bunch?
She jokes that she would say, "We didn't forget, just so you know."
Whitney Cummings Presents: The Roast of Bert Kreischer airs Saturday, April 1 on OFTV.