Finding humor in heartbreak

Whitney Cummings has her friends to thank for her career as a comedian.

Oh, and a slew of failed relationships.

Born in Washington D.C., Cummings spent much of her youth complaining — basically, screaming — about heartbreak and injustices. Many who repeatedly found themselves listening to her anger suggested seeking therapy or becoming a comic.

"They were just trying to figure out a way to get me to stop yelling at them all the time," she recounted, laughing. "Someone said to me, 'You should be a stand-up comedian — you should try that.' And I remember thinking in my head, 'Oh, yeah, that's right, I'm a stand-up comedian.' I didn't have to think about it — it was like I had found something I'd lost."

It's been about 10 years since the 31-year-old stepped on stage for the first time — with little money or success, but abundant delusion, she quipped.

Today, Cummings' Twitter handle is accompanied by a seemingly ominous message: "Don't fall in love with me."

Why? Because if you do, odds are you'll end up as fresh meat for her shows.

"It's interesting because I say being in love is so exhausting and frustrating and annoying, but I also think that being in love with me would probably be a nightmare," she said. "I'm warning you — I'm a train wreck, I'm a lot to handle."

Come Saturday, guests will be able to hear about the men who didn't pay heed to caution. The Los Angeles-based comedian will take the stage at the Irvine Barclay Theatre at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

This is the final show of Cummings' six-month tour, which took her to Dallas, Denver and elsewhere, and will be filmed for a Comedy Central special. She recently appeared on "The Tonight Show," where Jay Leno gave her upcoming performances a shout-out.

Although venue president Douglas Rankin's personal taste in humor tends to lean toward David Sedaris, Spalding Gray and Mark Twain, he considers it a victory to host the likes of Colin Quinn, Dennis Miller and Cummings in the same season. To him, the Barclay encourages "sharing points of view."

"The Barclay is actually a somewhat large hall for stand-up, but intimate enough so that the response is immediate," he said. "I remember Hal Holbrook telling me once after a performance that he had to adjust his timing because he was used to much larger halls and having to wait for the audience laugh to roll from front to the back."


'You're walking a tightrope'

Cummings is no stranger to Irvine. She's performed at the Irvine Improv and UC Irvine. But all it took was one visit to the Barclay and she was sold.

Comedians often opt for a city that's all the way "across the country," she said, to make their specials, well, special. But, blown away by the beauty of the Orange County venue, she found it impossible not to shoot there.

"I always have such a good time in Irvine," Cummings noted. "The crowds are so smart, fun and diverse. It just seemed too good to be true to drive an hour for my special, but all the stars aligned and it worked out perfectly."

Although her material will be the same, filming both shows provides the lighting and camera teams with a rehearsal of sorts to tinker with details and smooth out potential glitches.

The performances are also likely to have different vibes. Earlier events can be a bit calm and later ones rowdier. Comedy Central will most likely air the one that "works best" in April, Cummings said.

She likens her imminent performance to a boxing match — a night for which she has trained for nearly a year. Her jokes have accompanied her across the country, Cummings said, so she could make sure they resonated with people of "different attitudes and affiliations."

But, as is the case with any sport, Cummings can't predict how Saturday will pan out. The audience's response will determine how she improvises and keeps the show fresh.

"It's like you're walking a tightrope — you just never know what's going to happen," she said. "There will definitely be surprises, even for me, that night."


Learning to laugh

As a child, Cummings recalled, she was extremely intense and serious. It wasn't until her late teens that she realized making jokes was the best way to deal with pain or frustration.

Now, having taken fellow comedian Louis C.K.'s advice to heart, Cummings writes about issues that she ponders or others that trigger some kind of reaction — which, in her case, include sex and relationships.

"If you watch my act, I'm making jokes and I know how to write jokes, but the stuff that I'm saying is not funny — I'm actually being serious!" she said. "I talk about getting my heart broken and boyfriends lying or cheating, and that stuff's not funny! But because it's real and everybody's been through it, we get to come together and laugh, and we release a little bit of the pain and we cope."

It might not make her former lovers too happy to be plastered across her shows, she chortled, but they're her exes for a reason.

Cummings feels privileged that her performances can give audience members at least an hourlong respite from universal struggles involving jobs, finances or families. Nothing tops looking out from the stage and glimpsing viewers clutching their sides as they laugh, she said.

Having starred opposite Chris D'Elia, whom she considers family, in NBC's "Whitney," Cummings is also the co-creator and co-writer of "2 Broke Girls," which is midway through its third season on CBS. An ardent fan of Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Richard Pryor and George Carlin, she believes that people would be surprised if they got to know her off stage.

Au contraire to the "tough, bad-ass, invincible robocop" that she is pegged for, Cummings admitted to being like "a raw nerve who cries all the time." And she has used her new show to reveal some of her feelings of vulnerability and fear.

"I'm always worried about what people think about me and obsessing about if something I said offended someone or hurt someone's feelings," she said. "I doubt people really perceive me that way."

If You Go

What: Whitney Cummings

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $39

Information: or (949) 854-4646

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