You may recall Whitney Cummings from her self-titled sitcom, “Whitney,” which lasted two seasons. Then she briefly appeared on E! with “Love You, Mean It With Whitney Cummings,” which alas, was also cancelled after one season.
Now she’s back -- sorta -- and still delivering the comedy goods. On Saturday, February 8 at 9 p.m. ET/MT, Cummings hosts “Just For Laughs Presents: Whitney Cummings’ Bleep Show.” Filmed live at Montreal’s famed Just For Laughs Festival, she brings the best in filthy, raunchy comedy as she moderates (and probably encourages) seven other comics.
HuffPost Canada TV chatted with Cummings about the special and what fuels her creativity.
HuffPost Canada TV: The Just For Laughs Festival has been around since 1983, and has featured such big names as Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, Jay Leno, Lily Tomlin, David Chappelle and Jim Carrey. Did you get a sense of that rich history?
Whitney Cummings: Doing the Montreal comedy festival, for a comedian … there’s so much history in it. When you first start out in the business, all you want is to get to Montreal. It’s such a big deal. I hadn’t been in four years. I was travelling so much before it happened. I was sitting in my dressing room and I remember seeing on the TV the past galas that were shot. It was Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. I was like, “Oh my God. I’m hosting this show.” It was a huge career-defining moment for me. There’s nothing funny about that, but it was a really magical experience. When you’re moving so fast, you never have time to celebrate your accomplishments. I remember sitting in the dressing room and being like, “This is happening. All my heroes have done this, and here I am doing it.” It was a really special moment.
And the show is pretty raw. My goal was to make it feel like what it actually feels like in a comedy club, when the comedian is being edgy and uncensored. I was a little nervous how the Canadian sense of humour was going to embrace it. And you guys are disgusting, filthy animals. You’re a bunch of pigs, so that worked out great because I really covered what is normally off-limits for television.
Why has it taken you so long to do a stand-up special like "Bleep Show"?
It’s interesting because you can’t really do that on TV. Comedians are in clubs every night, being themselves, being uncensored. Then they get a TV spot and they have to do something totally different. They have to button up and amend their act. “You guys can’t say this. You can’t say that.” Why do it if you’re not going to do it right or in an authentic way? It really took HBO saying, “Hey, do you want to come do whatever you want?” I was like, “Do you really mean that?” It really took a network to be that supportive and mean it.
At the beginning of the special, you mention how you hadn’t been on the road lately. Was getting back up on stage like riding a bike or was there a momentary awkwardness?
It is like riding a bike. In a weird way, taking a little bit of time off was even better. I felt even better on stage because you’re so grateful for being there after not doing it. As a comedian, on a cellular level, you should be on stage. Before I did this television show, I was doing three or four spots a night of stand-up. I was kind of taking it for granted. I feel like I was going through the motions. It was almost like the grind. Then after taking some time off and coming back to it, it was like I cherished every single second so much more. This was the thing that makes me happy, so it’s almost like I came back and was even stronger. I was so present and wasn’t just going through the motions. I had shed all my bad habits that I had fallen into.
You always have to come up with new material. What continues to fuel your creativity?
Anger. A bad childhood. That’s the same reason you become a writer or anything. You have these screaming voices in your head that you feel compelled to share with people. Issues you feel compelled to do something about or the need to be heard. For me, it’s not a matter of “What am I going to talk about?” It’s like, “OK, what do I not talk about?” because there’s so much chaos in my head. Sex and relationships are pretty much what I talk about in my act. As long as I’m in any kind of relationship, I have a lot to say.
Is there anything you consider taboo?
I love that question because I think people see me as this rebel, where nothing is off-limits. I really only talk about sex and relationships. I would never talk about the Holocaust or cancer. I don’t even really talk about politics or religion. I like to relate to people. I like people to come up to me after shows and go, “Oh my God. The same thing happened to me.” I don’t really want to polarize or rouse anything up.
Why do so many comedians single out audience members?
There’s something really cool about the fact that you never have the same audience twice, therefore you never do the same performance twice. As a comedian, the last thing you want is to say the same thing over and over every night. Every audience is going to influence you. It’s not a monologue; it’s a dialogue with the audience. I think it’s cool for the audience to see you do something you’ve never done before or say something you’ve never said before. They feel like the performance is custom made for them. It’s all about being present and honest and raw.
Telling a joke is an art form. Not everyone can do it. How funny were you growing up?
I wasn’t at all, so zero. When you hang out with comedians, and as you can tell by talking to me right now, we’re not that funny as people. Comedians are actually very serious people and usually the funniness comes from the ability to tell the truth and say something that is surprising. For me growing up, I became funny because sitting down at dinner with my family was like a roast. You would be getting attacked for your clothes, for your hair…. I got funny because I had to learn to defend myself. And my last name is Cummings, so that’s just a constant barrage of insults when you’re in school. I was such a serious kid. I thought I was going to be a politician. I would write songs. I thought I was going to be Sarah McLachlan’s songwriter and write these really dramatic ballads. I was so melodramatic. It wasn’t until much later I figured it out.
The "Bleep Show" was filmed in Montreal. Give it to me straight. What’s funny about Canadians?
You know what’s weird? There are all these stereotypes about Canadians. I feel like Canadians are a group where the stereotypes are all compliments. Most people would say, “White people are snobbish and jerks and are white trash.” For Canadians, it’s, “They are so nice they hug you. Canada is so safe.” None of them are insults. I’ve had nothing but great experiences there. I love Toronto. I love Montreal. It’s actually annoying because I have nothing bad to say about Canada. Anywhere else when I tour in the States, I can do a good five minutes on any state on how much of a shithole it is or how backwards it is. In Canada, I’m like, “Why isn’t everywhere like this?” I also think because it’s so goddamn cold up there, you guys are trying not to freeze to death. I feel like the crowds are grateful. I fell like you laugh a little harder at things because your joy is so low at this point with all the goddamn snow. No, I really have nothing bad to say.
Catch “Just For Laughs Presents: Whitney Cummings’ Bleep Show" on Saturday, February 8 at 9 p.m. ET/MT on HBO Canada.
Past Just For Laughs Toronto Lineup: