Tiger Woods, David Letterman, Jesse James, like every guy was cheating on his wife and it was just like what? Sandra Bullock got cheated on so it was like what does that mean for the rest of us? This year it was Eva Longoria, people in the public eye that it was just taking a communal toll on our faith a little bit._WHITNEY CUMMINGS: Whitney/Executive Producer
WHITNEY CUMMINGS: Whitney/Executive Producer
Comedian | Actor | Writer | Producer
Credits: Two Broke Girls | Money Shot | E!’s “Chelsea Lately | Comedy Central’s “Comedy Central Roasts | MTV’s “Punk’d”
By: Daedrian McNaughton/Premier Guide Media
Whitney Cummings is the title star and executive producer of the NBC multi-camera comedy “Whitney.” Her character is a smart, free-thinking photographer who, as a product of divorce, is happily unmarried to her longtime boyfriend, Alex.
Thursdays (9:30-10 p.m. ET) on NBC
Describe your relationship with Chris?
Whitney Cummings: Chris and I’s relationship is like a lion and I’m a little Chihuahua just biting his heel. I’m this Chihuahua that circles around him and he’s amused by it. Something we talk about a lot in the writers room about how Alex is amused by my crazy instead of actually threatened or actually hurt. I think that we for lack of a better comparison it’s more of a Lucy and Desi vibe because a lot of TV show relationships, it’s the woman is the boss and the guy is scared of her. That doesn’t feel real to me and that feels like hokey sitcom. It was really important that I felt Chris, my boyfriend on the show was the boss and could absorb me and if he told me to do something I would do it. That to me is much more interesting and has more stake to the conflict.
Whitney is part of the Fall Premiere Madness. What will be the draw for your show?
Whitney Cummings: Chris D’Elia, right. Chris, that’s why people would want to watch it. We’re going to change the show to Chris next season. We’re going to alternate every episode. I don’t know. I think that when we sit down and work on the show and Chris and I are working on stuff I don’t think we really think about that really. We’re both standup comedians, I have spent a really long time working on the material that we’re talking about on the show and have toured hundreds of cities working on this material and now we’re sort of putting it into a narrative form. So the best thing about being a comedian and then having a sitcom is that you know the stuff that you’re talking about works or is funny or has resonated with people because I’ve toured and seen people laugh at it. So I just have that evidence to go on but that’s really all I have.
Are you comfortable with the multi-camera format?
Whitney Cummings: For sure. I think multi-camera is kind of making a comeback. I think there is something like really fresh and energized and cool about it and I think it’s definitely very different especially for what NBC does. It’s kind of a different sort of vibe. So I am really proud of it. And Chris is as funny as they come and us together, like it’s a really good, it’s funny because whenever we’re working on the episodes I’m like I would totally watch this but that’s just me.
Is taping generally fun for you?
Whitney Cummings: It’s funny because it’s just like you’re watching and all the cast for some weird reason there’s this alchemy where we’re all like actually friends so the tapings are just like kind of just like a party. And when you watch the episodes you really kind of like feel it. It just looks like a bunch of friends kind of goofing off, not a bunch of like actors saying lines. So we’re really proud of that intangible dynamic and quality that we have with the show that it isn’t just the writing is great, yes, the acting is great, the sets are beautiful, the live audience is electric and all that. But there’s this kind of intangible quality I think about the show that I’m really proud of. Like we said all the actors like we truly are like friends and think each other are funny and so it’s just kind of that’s kind of a cool element.
Can you share any fun moments from what you have taped so far?
Whitney Cummings: I think our outtakes are almost as good as things that actually make it into the show. Because it was broken or something. Well Mr. Miller, I’m going to come – guys the door, the door is broken. It was just so goofy. I think I’m not a very suave person. But it’s like it never ends. It’s just doing the show is such a blast. I feel maybe one of my new favorite moments happened last night which was I had this dress on and it had a zipper all the way in the back. It literally has a zipper from the top to the bottom-you can just zip it all the way off. And I asked Chris to unzip it for me a little bit and he unzipped the entire thing and saw my entire butt. You could just unzip it a little bit. But no it’s funny because Chris and I are often in very sexual situations and I’m not going to lie, I have not managed to give him an erection yet. But maybe this season. Maybe in season two, I’m working on it.
You are pretty and funny. If you were in a trash talking competition with Joan Rivers, Lisa Lampanelli, Kathy Griffin, who do you think would emerge the victor and why?
Whitney Cummings: I would definitely lose even if it wasn’t Lisa Lampanelli and Joan Rivers and those amazing women but yes, I would actually definitely lose. We actually just in this last episode had a scene where I had to use a sword and it was very humbling. But I would imagine Joan Rivers, Lisa Lampanelli, and Kathy Griffin in whatever competition we were in, they would probably win.
And based on your background experience as a producer and a writer, how different is this project from your previous work and how involved are you with it?
Whitney Cummings: It’s very different, it’s like nothing else I have ever done. And I think the biggest difference obviously is that I’ve written, movies and TV, I’m starring in it. So writing for myself is great because it’s much easier than having to write for other people. And I also get to write for all these amazing actors and have Chris D’Elia be in it, a long time friend of mine who I admire and know really well and understand. To be able to write for him instead of like for some, you know, just random actor is really fun and really great. And, you know, I – it’s a lot of work but the good news is that and what is different is that I have a team of ten writers and an amazing show runner and amazing producers that are helping me. So that I think is the biggest difference and a lot of money that they’re spending on the show. So I actually get to come up with an idea and execute it and I get to say and then we’re in this beautiful rose garden and there’s a swan and then we go to set and sure enough there is a swan. So I think that’s sort of the biggest difference is the scale that I’m doing it on and that the things that I envision actually kind of get to come true which is totally surreal and amazing.
Do you feel because you had a relationship with Chris prior to the show, it makes it easier for both of you to work together?
Whitney Cummings: Yes. Doing shows like this about relationships or couples that have been together, a married couple or anything, it can be really tricky because you have to pull off that you’ve been in a relationship for three years and not knowing someone at all a lot of times that could feel false. So we’re really lucky that Chris and I have had a preexisting relationship so that when we started shooting the show you could kind of feel our history. I think that’s something that is really hard to do with just throwing two actors in a room together who have never met.
How similar the on-screen Whitney is going to be to the off-screen Whitney?
Whitney Cummings: That is something in the writers room we talk about a lot. And there really is no difference because it’s like it doesn’t make any sense for me to do a TV show where I’m not playing myself because it’s like then I’m just an actor. And I’m a comedian and I’ve worked really hard to develop my ideas and my point of view and my I guess voice as a lot of people call it. And I have worked really hard to figure out what that is on the road and doing standup. So to depart from that in any way after knowing sort of what works and what I believe to all of the sudden get a show and then be someone else I think doesn’t make a lot of sense. And also I’m lazy and have a really hard time remembering lines so if it’s something that I would actually say that makes the work a lot easier. And I think the goal is to be really honest and to be the same person in the show as I am outside of the show. And we have to make sure standards lets us put the show on the air so sometimes we have to make little adjustments. But I think it’s a really big thing that I do. It’s like would I really say that, would I really do that, would I really think that? So I try to keep the on-air Whitney as close to the off-air Whitney as possible although the on-air Whitney has much better lighting and makeup and hair and clothes.
Are the characters based on people whom you have had a relationship with?
Whitney Cummings: Yes. I wrote every character on the show based on somebody I know. I don’t know if that is just a lack of creativity or lack of talent or if it’s just the easy way out. But I wrote with Chris in mind so it was so much easier for me to write his role obviously just imagining what he would do or think or say. And all the other characters on the show I wrote based on friends of mine. So for me it’s like I don’t want to sit around and imagine some character. I try to start from real and go from there. But it’s interesting in the writers room because we spend a lot of time holding a mirror up to who I actually am. A lot of times I’ll be like yes and then I do this. And that’s not really how you are, I sometimes have a skewed perception of who I am so the writers constantly remind me about myself. So I’m doing a lot of learning about myself in a very short intense period of time.
Any tips from other comedians?
Whitney Cummings: Something that’s so amazing about being a comedian, because we all work in clubs and comedians at every level work in clubs, you can be shoulder to shoulder with your heroes just on any given night. I remember when I was an open miker at The Comedy Store, I’d be standing in the hallway waiting to go on and Chris Rock would come by and I brought up Chris Rock when I had been doing standup for two years. It’s an amazing community where you get to meet your heroes at every stage and every level. And there’s not like a caste system of the big ones only hang out with the big ones and the small ones only hang out with the small ones. So I have luckily been able to meet a lot of my heroes and to have a lot of advice from people that have had this experience. And it’s been great. And another thing is that we have a lot of writers who are very experienced in working on shows like this. So we have this guy who worked on Roseanne for a long time. So for him to be in there, advice from him and heads up from him, I think just as valuable as well as someone who has been through it. But I’ve been really, really lucky to have a lot of great advice and mentors.
How hard do you think it is for people to have a relationship on their own terms free from expectation?
Whitney Cummings: What I talk about in my standup I think is a lot about that. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of purity in relationships. A lot of it has to do with the culture we live in of like we grow up watching these romantic movies and it’s you fall in love and you get married and happily ever after and you get so many conflicting messages I think these days. Our generation is a generation that grew up with a lot of divorce so you grow up even if your parents aren’t divorced you have friend’s parents or you have the kids down the street’s parents are divorced or your uncle is divorced. We grew up seeing relationships fail and be optional. And knowing that half of all marriages end, this is a statistic that we all know and I have a stuttering problem. The media tells us happily ever after and you two should get married and this and this. So I think there’s just a lot of conflicting messages and conflicting expectations and pressures that we’re feeling while trying to just have a good thing and live day by day and enjoy a relationship. But there’s just all these rules and pressures and stresses and it’s really tricky. And that’s what this show is about. It’s about trying to just have a good relationship despite your damage, despite social pressures, despite expectations and rules and all that. It’s about customizing your relationship. That’s what Chris and I’s relationship in the show is we’re doing our version of love, not society’s version of it. And our thing is I want us to stay together so bad that I don’t want us to get married because that seems to be when everything falls apart, at least in my experience as the character.
Have your comedy routines shaped the direction and the content of the show so far and do any of your cast mates deliver your jokes better than you do?
Whitney Cummings: Yes. The show is 100% my standup and 100% what I’ve been developing and also a big part Chris who I wrote the show with in mind. When we sit down to write I think about what in my standup has worked, what in my standup am I still really passionate about and want to talk about that I think is provocative and interesting and worth exploring and has a lot of conflict and still makes me laugh. And then having Chris D’Elia as my boyfriend on the show, what’s a great intersection between that and him and what his point of view would be. And that’s how we come up with stories. And as far as other people on the show having my standup, that’s a huge part of it. And I think that Roxanne who plays the divorced single woman on the show and Dan O’Brien who plays Mark who’s kind of the eternal cerebral bachelor on the show tend to have a lot of my standup point of view. And yes they are much funnier at it than I am.
What are the big challenges working with so many people on a television show in the creative process versus your standup?
Whitney Cummings: The good news is you have a team of ten amazing writers and I have an amazing show runner who help you with all this, Morgan Kelly people who are super experienced and we have the best writers there are in television working on this. But it is a very different creative process because as a comedian, you write it, you perform it, you edit it, you perform it again, you hone it yourself, and you have a long time to develop something. Before I did my hour special I got to perform it 100 times over a year and keep sharpening it and keep sharpening it and you just have proof that it’s good. You just know that it’s a 100% bulletproof joke, it got a laugh 100 times, it’s going to get a laugh on the 101st time whereas in a sitcom you have three days basically to make something before you put it on TV. You write the script, you table read it, you do a producer run through, you do a network run through, and then you shoot it three days. That’s a different part of the creative process that I’m not used to. It just moves so fast. But thankfully it’s not just me, I have like ten amazing writers helping me. But that’s something that I’m adjusting to a lot. Thankfully the part of the creative process that matters the most which is the performing of it is in front of a live studio audience standup. So once we’re actually performing it, it all starts to feel really comfortable and a safe area for me.
Do you find your character to be strong and opinionated?
Whitney Cummings: Yes. It’s a weird definition for me because I’m definitely strong in terms of opinionated and I am critical about traditions that I find oppressive or confusing or limiting and I have a lot of strong criticisms of things. I tend to have an obsession with injustice and so that comes through. But at the same time, I’m very flawed. And I think that’s what we’re exploring in the series is my flaws and vulnerabilities and fears and damage. And I think I tend to come off very strong but I think some of the more interesting parts of the show and the stories where the conflict is the vulnerabilities and the flaws and the insecurities based on the unique childhood that I came from. But it’s really cool. I think everybody’s question of the year is all these women are leads in comedies now and strong women, strong women everywhere and having women writing for women really helps that.
What is the atmosphere like on set?
Whitney Cummings: Everyone on our cast is constantly texting and tweeting. Nobody actually ever talks to each other anymore. Everyone is just on their phone. But Chris and I goof off and are complete idiots all day. But I’m trying to think if it’s funny because this is how lame and nice and boring our cast is. It was one of our cast members’ birthdays today, Zoe-Lister Jones who plays one of my friends in the show Lily, and I wanted to give her a birthday present so I snuck in her dressing room to put it in there and she was peeing. So I walked in on her peeing. And that was like the closest thing. So it was an accidental trying to be nice and it turned into like really weird awkward prank and now we can never make eye contact again.
Have you gotten any feedback from married couples?
Whitney Cummings: I try to keep married people out of my life. I don’t have married friends, no I’m kidding. It’s just one of those things I always say who would tell me if it was bad feedback. Maybe people just don’t give me the bad feedback. I try not to read my replies on Twitter too much. But it seems people really seem to like it and relate to it and I am saying things that believe and it seems a lot of people think them but just don’t say them.
Before doing the show, did you believe all the relationship fears you had were only you?
Whitney Cummings: When I first started putting this idea together about why am I scared of marriage, why am I scared of commitment, why am I scared of monogamy, why do I have this fear? And I started doing some research about it and as I started doing it on stage people would start sending me articles and it turns out that like statistically women are waiting longer to get married, couples are living together longer before they get married. The average age of marriage is going up. And I was like okay this isn’t just me. This is more universal thing where people are monogamy and the idea of marriage has taken a little bit of a hit over the past ten years with the divorce rate going so high.
What is your reaction to the recent Hollywood cheating and divorce scandals?
Whitney Cummings: Tiger Woods, David Letterman, Jesse James, like every guy was cheating on his wife and it was just like what? Sandra Bullock got cheated on so it was like what does that mean for the rest of us? This year it was Eva Longoria, people in the public eye that it was just taking a communal toll on our faith a little bit. So the show isn’t anti-commitment or anti-anything, we’re committed and I think our point is we’re just as married as any married couple if not more so. And we’re not afraid of commitment on the show. I think it’s exploring some of these traditions that seem to cause us a lot of stress and playing around with them.
What have you discovered about yourself doing this show?
Whitney Cummings: Every day is a huge learning process because writing a show like this or even being a standup you’re forced to figure out what your opinions are about things and you’re forced to figure out who the hell you are. And the good news is that Chris and I having been stand-ups for a while, that’s something we’ve been figuring out so hopefully there aren’t too many surprises. I’m forced to figure out who I am. And I think if I have learned anything it’s that I am not as tough as I think I am. And I think I’m a lot more sensitive and emotional than I would like to think I am and that I would like to sometimes pretend I am. Doing a show like this is the ultimate like being private and public and being vulnerable. And, you know, this isn’t my standup of like me as a single slut, this is like me in a relationship, you know, so it’s putting a really like honest look of, you know, sort of what happens when it’s just you and your guy in the bedroom talking about things that hurt your feelings, you know. Sort of so when we get to that territory I kind of start learning a lot, you know, about who I actually am versus who I wish I was. This is pretty sad and maybe dark but I think that through this TV show I’m starting to believe that relationships can work which might be insane and I’m going to end up institutionalized soon. Through this TV relationship with Chris I’m starting to have faith in commitment and monogamy and in relationships. I’m learning that I have to date someone who I have to give someone a script every morning. My boyfriend has to be performing what I tell him to do. Maybe that’s bad. It’s a surreal time where it seems like what’s happening in my real life is more outrageous than what’s actually happening in my TV life. But I hope other people have the same experience because I think that every episode the idea that I get closer and closer to embracing the idea of forever and trusting the idea of monogamy and marriage. It’s weirdly really happening.
Will you push the envelope on this show?
Whitney Cummings: Beyond the envelope is where I start laughing, that’s what I think is funny. I’m not sitting around going what is America going to think it’s funny. I think it’s a really dangerous area when you start worrying about what other people like. I know this too being a standup, what has made people laugh in the past that I have said is what I’m going to keep talking about. Like it makes no sense for me to have worked so hard to develop this material that I know is funny and I know is good which I think a lot of people can agree is a little bit edgy but then get on TV and start from scratch and do something totally different. Like I’m just doing what I have always thought is funny, what I have been proven to me is funny and reliably funny, and going to keep doing it and saying it. But I think that we sit around in the writers room and on stage and it’s what do we think is funny. If other people it’s funny, great. Hopefully that will happen. But I think when you start worrying about what will other people like, are we going to offend people with this joke, is this going to be too far. I think that you get into dangerous territory and start making bad, unspecific, safe, boring TV. And especially TV now is competing with the Internet. Like we’re competing with videos of pandas eating babies. That’s horrible but I just think that TV ought to step it up a little bit.
Are you staying to the script or do you find yourself improvising a lot?
Whitney Cummings: Yes. We happen to have a lot of actors who are just really amazing so it’s sometimes we’re a little more flexible. But the science of sitcom is that you try something out, if it doesn’t work you improve it, you improve it, you add jokes, you change so it’s kind of always evolving.