Whitney Cummings has one goal as a longtime comedian, actor, writer, producer, director, and podcast host: to make people laugh.
Hailed for her popular Netflix specials, comedy tour, and previous sitcoms, after some 17 years of entertainment experience, she still loves to use her wit and creativity to make her audiences laugh.
Cummings' fifth special, Whitney Cummings: Jokes, was released on Netflix in July 2022.
She is best known for co-created and co-writing the Emmy-nominated CBS comedy Two Broke Girls and for her shortlived star vehicle Whitney on NBC.
On the big screen, Cummings was last seen in the Machine Gun Kelly and Mod Sun comedy, Good Mourning, and the Foo Fighters’ horror-comedy Studio 666. Other recent film credits include How It Ends.
Her podcast, Good For You, launched in 2019, is self-produced and features conversations with Cummings' friends, fellow comedians, and experts in a variety of fields, including neuroscience, veterinary medicine, and magic.
She will soon wrap up her Touch Me Tour, a stand-up comedy theater tour where she has visited more than 75 cities across North America. She has rescheduled several gigs that were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions; the tour continues through the end of 2022.
“We’re promising people entertainment, a break from their lives, so I am looking to help create content that is silly, ridiculous, and goofy,” Cummings exclusively tells Parade.com.
“It’s about going back to thinking about simpler times and having perspective. We used to play with lawn darts, we used to just throw knives at each other,” she explains. “I think that a lot of comedians now want to add things to worry about on your plate. What I’m really focusing on is how to take things off your plate.”
Read on for more about how Whitney Cummings continues to make us laugh, forget about our daily woes and look forward to her next special.
Whitney, your Netflix special Whitney Cummings: Jokes, is hysterical. How did you pick the material and is it more difficult with perhaps so many current taboo topics?
Whitney Cummings: I believe taboo topics are what makes comedy what it is. I love a taboo topic. People are like, "You can’t say anything anymore, you can’t make jokes anymore," and everyone’s walking on eggshells. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think that when society pushes in one direction, I think that’s what makes comedy exciting.
You go, “Oh, there are eggshells on the ground; people are getting sensitive again.” Three years ago, you couldn’t shock anyone. In the news, people were talking about the President’s sex tape or being peed on or whatever. It was impossible to shock anyone. We forget. Now comedians are complaining, “I can’t say anything.” But three years ago, you could say freaking anything and nothing was shocking, alarming, or titillating.
Your Netflix special is hilarious. It's like a treat after a long day.
That is honestly the best thing I could possibly hear. In entertainment, I feel like I’m this weirdo. I’m sitting in these rooms where everyone is like, “We need to do an episode about racism and sexual harassment." I’m like, "No one wants to check out with this."
How can you leave my show, of course having laughed for two hours, but also leave going, “Okay, she made me see that in a way that I’m not as worried as I was?” Like, the phones and the kids being safer now, and the privacy data stuff, all this stuff that is like in the back of our heads at all times having to worry, I kind of like to go, "Here’s where you don’t have to worry about that, at least not right now."
There’s so much to worry about right now that I always like to sort of go, “Okay, it's my job as a comedian to diffuse this anxiety a little bit with jokes.” That means the world to me and I’m so glad that it resonated with you.
What makes your new Netflix special, well, special?
My special is on Netflix now. It’s called Jokes. I called it Jokes because there’s no talking about politics, no lecturing anyone, no secret TED Talk halfway through where I make you feel bad. Just pure jokes and set-up punchlines. Then at WhitneyCummings.com in the fall I’m going to be in Pennsylvania, Charlottesville, and Richmond doing some theaters and then going back to clubs in the fall to work out new material.
I loved your ballet spoof in the Netflix special.
It’s weird because a lot of the places that I perform also have ballet performances sometimes. There were a couple of times where I was like, "Wait a second, is this where they do The Nutcracker at Christmas? Okay, sorry, come see it on Christmas Eve." But, yeah, I appreciate that. I really, really appreciate that. If a mom thinks I’m funny I must be doing okay. That’s always my goal if moms think I’m funny because nothing gets past them.
How did you come up with the name for your Touch Me Tour? And can you give us a few highlights?
The title for the Touch Me Tour was basically just me being a little tongue in cheek after the pandemic when we weren’t able to touch people for a year and a half, and it was so frustrating to have to hug my niece, like, through Saran Wrap. It was just so crazy there for a minute. I really wanted to go the other direction once it looked like we could go out again and just say, “Let’s not be scared, guys. Come up to me after the show, I’ll give you a hug. Let’s do meet and greets. Let’s get back to normal.” I think that it was just something I was really passionate about.
Why is that?
I feel that way because touching someone seemed to be like the most outrageous thing you can do and I like to kind of play around with, as you mentioned, the taboo. I think a lot of the biggest highlights were more sort of how feral everybody is after not being outside socializing for so long. The audiences were pretty feral the first time around. Fights were breaking out in the audience, there was so much crazy stuff going on with comedians getting attacked on stage. We had a couple of fights break out over masks and vaccines and stuff in the audience. It was definitely very interesting to watch people go from getting six feet away from me to fighting with them on the ground for ten minutes. You obviously weren’t too afraid of touching that person or getting near them. It was just interesting to see everyone re-integrated into society after being inside for so long.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a standup comedy career?
I think everyone should do standup at some point. Even if you’re just going to an open mic. Public speaking is such a big part of everyone’s jobs these days, whether you’re on a Zoom call giving a presentation, whether you have to make a video, it’s a good muscle to have regardless. Also, it’ll probably give people a little more of a sense of humor. Maybe if half of our politicians actually had a sense of humor or could be humbled by talking in public at a comedy club, I think life would be better in general.
I would say to take a lot of risks and don’t let social media trick you into making bad comedy. I think that social media, if you're starting, really rewards quick one-minute, 30-second, superficial comedy, which is great, and for some people it works. But for being a standup comedian, the idea isn’t how shallow can you go, it’s how deep can you go and how can I tear this subject apart from every angle. How can I look at every single angle of this?
What is your personal take on comedy?
To always play to the top of our intelligence. I think that we’re in a time when there are so many ways to put comedy out. I think the best comedians are able to go, "Okay, I just had this funny thought, is this a premise for a standup bit? Is this a Tweet? Is this an Instagram story? Is it a TikTok? Is it a podcast story?" There are so many ways to get comedy out. I think that comedians, we don’t like change, I think most people don’t. We want to go, “I have this great joke about Britney Spears right now. I’m going to Tweet it.” Twitter is no longer for comedy. Twitter is the mosh pit. It’s for fighting, it’s for politics. It’s not the place for comedy.
Comedy is meant to be delivered at night in front of people who have had a couple of drinks in the context of comedy. I think sometimes it’s about restraint. You’re going, “Oh my God, I have all these opportunities to make content.” YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter.
All of the great comedians worked on something for two years before you saw it. Now we’re just like, "This is funny," and we upload it 20 minutes later. I think that there’s something to be said for patience. This is not the road you take if you want to get famous quickly. The idea is that eventually you get respected.
To what do you attribute the success and longevity that you’ve had?
I’m going to say my failures in a way. I think a lot of them slowed me down to the pace I actually needed to be going at. The older you get, the wiser you get, and hence the more interesting you get as a comedian. I had such an adversarial relationship with the concept of aging because I’m also an actress in Hollywood. I was getting offered mom roles at 24, and it’s like, I have to get older now, I have to shoot five specials before I’m 30. Why am I trying to make the most when I have the least amount to say? You have to go out in the world. You have to make sure that you know what it’s like to be the fan that’s coming to see you.
Two Broke Girls was a funny and well-written comedy show. Talk about your pride in creating that show and Whitney.
Yeah, pride is definitely the word. I think that we really like to look back at the context of things when we’re offended by them. We’re like when John Wayne was racist and we go what was the context and try to pick it apart. We don’t really do it a ton with comedy because we just like to go, "That’s not funny anymore."
When you think about the time, Joan Rivers is one of my heroes, and when you look back at some of her Tonight Show sets, she’s saying things you couldn’t say today. Her jokes are so well-crafted, they are so subversive and they are so well done and sneaky with how edgy they were. Stuff you could not do today. For her to be doing it then, so when people watch it now, they’re like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing.” No, you have to understand what it was like back then. The fact that she did this then.
I wanted to make a show that wasn’t about girls just trying to get thinner for a man or whatever. I found that TV was just only written by older guys that think women—every woman in every sitcom—hated sex. They’re like, "Not tonight." I was like who are these women? I don’t know these people.
Two Broke Girls co-creator, Michael Patrick King, of course made Sex in the City and The Comeback. We got together and were just kind of two creative soul mates. We decided we wanted to make a show about two girls in their 20s starting a business and do a show that’s about money. I was influenced by Roseanne, the way that she talked about bills and not having money. There was this thing where every TV show, even when people work at a bagel shop, had a giant four-bedroom brownstone in New York. I just never could understand it. I have to get into the reality of how this person has money. That’s the most fascinating thing to me. I really wanted to be real.
At the end of your Netflix special, you trust the people in the front few rows to catch you as you do some serious stage diving into the audience. What do your devoted fans mean to you?
I never think about them as my fans. When people say that, I’m like, "I think they are probably fans of other comedians, too, and other people." But I think that because now I do a podcast and I talk to people for three hours a week, they probably feel really close to me. My goal in life, I’ve toured with a lot of comedians in the beginning especially, I remember seeing all these standups as soon as they would finish their set they’d run offstage and avoid their fans. I think my goal in life has not been to try to get as many fans as possible; instead, it’s to get the quality of fans that I would want to hang out with. There’s nothing more miserable to me than being in a room with a bunch of people that you put some persona on to attract and now you don’t even know how to be around them.
What’s next after the tour? More movies? Specials? Podcasts? All of the above?
Yes, ma’am. All of the above. We just shot our 150th episode of the podcast, which is crazy. I’m now tweaking the podcast a little bit to sort of reflect the listener and viewer habits. I think during the pandemic you could do a three-hour podcast; people had all the time in the world. Then I’m going to go on tour. I’m going to do clubs in the fall, and go back to smaller venues to work on new material. Then I’m doing a new animated TV show based on the artwork of the brilliant Lisa Frank.
What is your overall goal?
Fun. I want to make uplifting content. News is so negative and bleak, and then entertainers started going, “Let’s make our stuff negative and bleak,” because that’s how artists process things. But the way I process things is to go the other direction and go, "Let’s go super hopeful, let’s go super positive." I’m cynical when things are going well, but when things are going poorly, I’m like the cheerleader. This is the next phase for me is positive comedy.
Whitney Cummings' recent special, Whitney Cummings: Jokes, is airing on Netflix. Her Touch Me Tour is running through the end of the year.