Whitney Cummings is honest with herself — and with you in ‘I’m Your Girlfriend’
“I have so much birth control. You must think I’m such a slut,” Whitney Cummings says, clearing packets of pills off her kitchen counter.
“Oh, and maybe I should hide the chest wrinkle preventer? It’s this thing you sleep with to prevent chest wrinkles. But in the middle of the night when I eat, it annoys me and I rip it off.”
It’s 9:45 at night, and Cummings, 33, has just arrived home after shooting an appearance on Comedy Central’s "@midnight.” The taping ran late, so even though she rushed back to her house in Studio City, she hasn’t had time to tidy up. Hence the personal items on display — though she’s more concerned about letting out her two dogs, Ramona and Frankie, who have been cooped up in a bedroom for a few hours. Once she sets them free, they proceed to go ballistic.
“Hey, hey, hey! No jumping! Mona, where are your manners?” Cummings yells, clapping her hands. “Is this a way to behave when company is over? We’re gonna have good manners. We’re gonna be so impressive.”
All of this? It’s a lot. But that’s Whitney. This is the only way she knows how to be — super frantic, always honest, pretty exposed. And this is the way she is in her new stand-up special, “I’m Your Girlfriend,” which premieres on HBO Saturday. Her new comedy has a strongly feminist bent — she talks about freezing her eggs, how men’s view of sex has warped due to pornography, and the rise of the working woman.
I was getting so furious, feeling like I was being punished for choosing a career...When the anger comes in, that’s when there’s a joke there.
But the new special makes no mention of the backlash Cummings has faced in Hollywood over the last few years. You know how everyone is obsessed with Amy Schumer right now? In 2011, that was the way people felt about Cummings. She landed two network television shows: NBC’s “Whitney,” which she wrote and starred in, and CBS’ “2 Broke Girls,” which she co-created with “Sex and the City” veteran Michael Patrick King. While “2 Broke Girls” is still on the air, “Whitney” inspired brutal critical reviews and was swiftly canceled after two seasons. Suddenly, she went from It-girl to cautionary tale.
“I feel like Amy had a couple of seasons of her Comedy Central show under her belt before she blew up, so she got to earn it a little more,” Cummings said, spreading some cashew-almond butter on Ezekiel toast. “I was pushed on people before they had a chance to decide. I was so ubiquitous so fast. And then everyone was like, ‘Excuse me? We’ll decide if we think she’s funny.’”
She’s thought a lot about why “Whitney” didn’t work. Unlike NBC’s popular shows at the time — “Community,” “Parks and Recreation, “The Office” — her show was a multicam sitcom. And while viewers may like multicams, critics typically don’t.
“I was like the country bumpkin uncle coming in with my multicam and vagina jokes,” she says. “And I’m loud. I was probably annoying. If I saw a million billboards with, like, ‘Amanda,’ I’d be making jokes too. But I didn’t really process it. If the point was to hurt me, I was too numb to even understand. I just became a punching bag.”
This was all before Cummings started working on herself; she’s since started seeing a therapist, attending a 12-step program and going to an attachment meditation class. She’s also gained 25 pounds. Today, Cummings acknowledges that “was way too thin for way too long” — what she describes as “exercise-rexic.” She’d eat low-calorie foods — salads, chicken, sugar-free Slurpees, coffee — and then make sure she burned off each calorie by spinning or running.
“I don’t want to blame this business, because I had eating problems way before I was in this business, but you are very rewarded for being thin here,” she says. “Like, ‘You fit perfectly in this dress!’ Or every time you get the flu and throw up for five days, people are like, ‘You look great!’”
Cummings says she decided to seek help for her eating disorder after seeing herself on a talk show during which she noticed her thighs were not touching. It made her feel like a bad role model. So she took a break from looking at herself on television, returning to the road to perform stand-up.
Her material became increasingly personal. She started talking about her dating life, which was not going well. Even though she’d finally reached a place in her life where she was financially stable, she found men were repelled by her success.
“I felt like all of the things that I liked about myself, guys found repulsive on some level,” says Cummings, who graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. “I dated a guy who I think made less money than me, and I found myself hiding my car. I would park my car, like, three blocks away and say I took an Uber.”
“Like, ugh, ‘Let’s not talk about your period vagina eggs,” she says. “And I started thinking, ‘Am I gross? I’m just trying to fulfill my potential as a human by maybe having a child someday. I’m so sorry that I’m just taking responsibility for my future.’ I was getting so furious, feeling like I was being punished for choosing a career. Why is it costing me this much money and time to not have settled for a guy that didn’t deserve to be my baby daddy? When the anger comes in, that’s when there’s a joke there.”
These are issues Cummings plans to explore further in a pilot she’s working on for HBO based on Maureen Dowd’s book “Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide.” “I love her comedy and her TV shows,” says Dowd. “I think Whitney and Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham are really pushing on Hollywood’s gender disparity problems through edgy and smart humor, and I’m sure there’s a huge psychic toll with Internet trolls for that. They’re like the guys who used to march in front of Patton’s tank to check for explosives.
Cummings is excited at the prospect of creating a show on cable. The episode-a-week pace of network television burned her out. She was so overwhelmed by running “Whitney” that she sought help from her boyfriend at the time, “Friday Night Lights” creator Pete Berg.
“He taught me how to fire someone and be direct and clear,” she recalls. “And he also helped me learn that you have to take care of yourself. You set the tone. If you’re stressed out, people will be stressed out. People will look to you. Now with HBO, I know that the best thing I can do is to be Zen.”
Michael Patrick King, who collaborated with HBO for years on “Sex and the City,” says he’s confident Cummings has matured enough to handle the challenge.
“She’s an emotional warrior who does rigorous diagnostics on what she feels,” he says. “She’s trying to take responsibility for how she reacts to things — not trying to change how people react to her. It doesn’t matter if people love you or hate you, your show is on or off — you have to dig in and try to adjust to how your boat is thrown on this wave of show business. That’s her journey.”
If nothing else, Cummings knows one thing for sure: She’s done apologizing for being herself. Unlike Schumer, who often jokes about the mean things people say about her weight or supposed promiscuity, Cummings’ humor is no longer self-deprecating.
“That’s a very dangerous area for me because of how low my self-esteem has been historically,” she says. “The truth is, I have success, whether I like it or not — whether I want to degrade it or not. That self-deprecating stuff for me, personally, is just so ‘90s. It’s not working. I’m doing a disservice to myself and to all women to get up there to apologize and feel like I’m less than I am.”
‘Whitney Cummings: I’m Your Girlfriend’
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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