When Whitney Cummings was putting together the material for her latest stand-up special, she started to worry that there was nothing she could say in 2019 that would still be capable of shocking viewers.
“Sex isn’t edgy anymore, saying ‘fuck’ isn’t edgy anymore,” the comedian says on the latest episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I was like, what can I do in this special that I haven’t done before?”
That’s when she got the idea to bring a sex robot version of herself out on stage.
“How did you feel when you saw it?” Cummings asks me, tentatively, before explaining how much it creeps out her fiancé.
When she started bringing the robot, which looks unnervingly like her, on stage for gigs leading to the special taping, she noticed that people in the audience were collectively losing their minds. Some were shielding their eyes, others pumped their fists in the air. “A robot is kind of a Rorschach test in a way,” she says. “Everyone projects their own shit onto it.”
Can I Touch It?, which starts streaming today on Netflix, is Cummings’ first special since both the election of Donald Trump and the start of the modern #MeToo movement. It finds the comic grappling with issues of gender in deliberately more thoughtful ways than perhaps she did earlier in her career through the pair of sitcoms she created, Whitney and 2 Broke Girls.
“Generalizing about men and women paid for my house,” she tells the audience at one point in the special. “But I am evolving.”
During our lively conversation, Cummings opened up about exactly how her comedy has evolved over the past decade, what it was like to suddenly have two sitcoms on the air after years of struggling to break through, working on the Roseanne reboot before it melted down, and a lot more.
Why she decided to unveil a sex robot of herself at the end of her new special
“I ended up cutting it down to about 25 minutes, but I had about 45 minutes of material on sex robots. And look, I’m just fascinated by the next thing. Last special I talked about egg freezing, stuff that’s on the horizon and why isn’t anybody talking about it? Why aren’t we talking about the fact that sex robots are being made and in the next 20 years, they’re going to be like iPhones and everybody’s going to have one? So I just got fascinated by it. And during this moment of #MeToo, I’m reading all of these articles about how sex robots are going to ruin society! And I’m just like, no, no, on the list of things that are going to ruin society, that doesn’t break the top thousand.”
On using stand-up to explore #MeToo
“It’s such a flammable topic and I think as a comic it’s always just trying to figure out what’s a joke, what’s a movie idea, what’s a tweet, what’s an Instagram story, what goes where. For me, with what happened with #MeToo, Twitter did not feel like a smart way to express myself. Stand-up, I think, was the only way to really give it the real estate that it deserved, and the nuance that it deserved. So I actually waited until my special to really weigh in on it. Because when I would weigh in on it on social media it was just too much. It was wild. I posted something about Time’s Up and I lost like 5,000 followers. People were like, ‘Feminazi bitch!’ So I think for me I was like, this is a topic that is so complicated. And I don’t want to be the person who’s trying to get likes off of tweeting about something that’s in the zeitgeist, because that feels gross and dirty. I didn’t want to inject myself into a conversation without earning it with ideas.”
How she handled sudden success at 28 when ‘Whitney’ and ‘2 Broke Girls’ both got picked up at the same time
“I didn’t handle it. For me, it was the biggest deal on the planet. I mean, I had seven dollars in my bank account and then I could pay my bills. I got a car. So it was monumental. I grew up watching sitcoms and it was always my dream to have one. To be doing a show with your friends, it was surreal. But I think what I hadn’t really shared publicly before is that I had a bunch of tragedies in my personal life almost simultaneously. I had a very close family member go into rehab, my mom had a stroke, and then my dad had a stroke like six months later. In a weird way, thank God it was at that time because I could actually afford to pay the bills, but also I wasn’t able to really think about the amount of pressure I was under because I was so distracted by that. I didn’t read the reviews, I didn’t Google myself, I didn’t have time. I feel lucky that I didn’t because it probably would not have ended well for me. I’d probably be on Celebrity Rehab right now. I’d be a contestant on Love Island.”
On her new Amazon pilot ‘Good People’ set on a college campus
“Whenever I was doing college tours—and I’m not complaining that we’re being silenced or whatever—but when you go to a college now, they’re like, can you not talk about sports, can you not talk about drinking, can you not talk about sex, can you not talk about race? They don’t want any incendiary jokes. And I would talk to the students, who would say, this trans boy wants to play football and they won’t let him or a white girl had dreadlocks and there was a big fight about it, all this stuff. And I’m like, who is the poor bastard who has to deal with all this shit? And I found out it was something called the ombudsman’s office. They’re like HR, but they deal with student complaints about inappropriate behavior, someone wearing a MAGA shirt, someone wearing an Obama shirt, there’s someone who has to deal with that stuff. When do you let the inmates run the asylum and when do you step in? So Lisa Kudrow [plays] the ombudsman and has to deal with all of these complaints.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Comedian and co-star of Fleabag and Stranger Things, Brett Gelman.