The outspoken comic talks about directing a science comedy on the female brain, overcoming her battle with co-dependency and the cult of celebrity grief
At merely 34, Whitney Cummings has packed an enormous amount of success and a few notable failings into her career. Named one of Varietys Comic to Watch a decade ago, she went on to become a regular at Chelsea Lately and at the Comedy Central roasts. In 2011, she explosion her sitcom Whitney premiered on NBC to withering reviews, only lasting two seasons; a short-lived talkshow would follow. At the same time, she was creating and executive-producing CBSs 2 Broke Girls, a bona fide hit now in its sixth season.
Shes set to appear at Literary Death Match during LAs Riot Comedy celebration and took time out of a busy schedule to talk writing, suffering from co-dependency and comedy in Trumps America.
You seem like youve got a lot going on these days. What did you work on when you woke up this morning?
Im writing a book at the moment. Its a nightmare! Its hard and its embarrassing. Ive been doing standup long enough, but it felt like there was a lot of stuff that I had to say that wasnt funny enough or only didnt is currently working on stage. Ive been hoarding these tales; its truly kind of all the most intimate stuff that Im candidly too embarrassed to tell on stage. Stuff that, if I admit it and then people looking at me, Ill simply likely cry or run away. So if I just write it in a volume, you are able to read it on a beach, and I dont have to make eye linked with you.
Maybe I just want to be single forever, I dont know why I feel the need to reveal all this stuff. I have a condition called co-dependence, which I developed from growing up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home. The idea is to set other peoples requires before your own, basically, and its been debilitating for me. I went into recovery for it, into a 12 -step program, and started doing EMDR[ eye movement desensitization and reprocessing] and all this trauma therapy to try to rewire my brain.
And Lena Dunham asked me to write about something that Ive overcome for her website Lenny Letter. And[ after ], people would come up to me on the street weeping like, Thank you for writing that. I knew I had something wrong, but I didnt have a word for it. Its such a nefarious condition because its basically disguised as being nice, but it can be a pretty debilitating preoccupation with the needs of others. A lot of co-dependents dont go to doctors and they dont take care of themselves, and it manifests in some really scary ways sometimes. So I wrote about it and people really reacted, so it encouraged me to start the book, because its a lot about that.
So yeah, Im in this weird place where Im doing all these things Ive never done before writing a volume and directing a movie. Im actually very outside of my comfort zone.
Tell me about the movie.
Its based on the book The Female Brain, its a neurology book. I came to a phase where neurology was beginning to kind of become my religion, it was the only way I could kind of make sense of a lot of the conflicts in my life. I just couldnt believe it wasnt taught in schools. I was trying to figure out the root of these stereotypes that women are crazy, females are too sensitive and men are stupid and violent. I was like, is there a biological basis for this? Is this nature, is this fostering? For whatever reason, that was a question that kept me up at night. And I guess I was also at a phase in my life where I was like, am I crazy? Perhaps I am crazy. Which part of this is by choice, and which part of this is my primordial neurology? That kind of became my obsession.
I ended up writing the script with a brilliant comedian named Neal Brennan, who constructed The Chappelle Show with Dave Chappelle. I wanted to make sure it wasnt just a female voice, because its about the male brain also. I wanted to make a movie for women and men, and then I objective up directing it for a myriad of reasons. And thats been intense, Ive never made an independent movie before. Its basically a science comedy, which is very insane. I dont advise anybody to try to make a cerebral half-documentary, half-scripted neurology thing. Thats been really all-consuming, and thatll come out at some phase this year.
What was the appeal of directing? It seems so overwhelming.
Its a nightmare. Theres no appeal. I only did it because I knew no one else was gonna make it. No guy was gonna make a movie called The Female Brain. And you know, Ive attained TV indicates, Ive created things, directing is you really just have to be incredibly decisive, which I am. Neal directs commercials and movies,[ but ], hes said to me , nothings as hard as standup. So I was like, OK, if its not harder than standup, I guess Ill try it. So I tried to apply the same principles of writing a good standup special to making a good movie. Doing exam screenings, because I trust strangers to tell me if anything funny. My approach was only, lets screen it for strangers and consider where they laugh. If people arent giggling, I have to cut it.
Im sure this is the question that every comedian is getting these days, but how much do you feel an obligation to talk about Trump and the current political situation in your slapstick, even if its not necessarily something you commonly would discuss?
I think Im still in shock. My whole[ Twitter] feed is comics talking about this and retweeting articles and I definitely feel a pressure to talk about it, but at the same day, I dont know if people care about my opinion on politics. I dont believe thats my ability, and maybe I simply have low self-esteem or perhaps this is a healthy take, but my thing is like, let me get out of the style so the people who actually know what theyre talking about can be heard. Let me just stick to what Im good at, and I can speak with authority about mental illness, co-dependence, alcoholism, craving, slapstick, relations that enough. Follow Trevor Noah, follow Judd Apatow, follow Samantha Bee, thats their wheelhouse, and Im gonna let them do what they do best.
I dont want to feel like Im capitalizing on a lightning-rod topic, only to get attention. Its like when someone dies and a celebrity whos never satisfied the person is like, oh I miss this person, rest in peace. Its like, what are you doing? Are you just trying to get retweets? I merely dont think my motives are clean enough. I dont want to be hollering because everybody yelling about the same thing. It feels slightly conformist. I think its important to know your place in the band. Im a drummer, Im not the singer, when it is necessary to politics.