Whitney Cummings On Why Good Comedy Demands A Live Audience

This Friday Whitney Cummings takes the stage at House of Blues on her first tour since launching two sitcoms back in 2011. Though the eponymous Whitney has been cancelled, 2 Broke Girls is still trucking, and Cummings talked to us about being back on the road and the inexplicable flak sitcoms get as a genre.

Have you been through Dallas before? The last time I was in Dallas I think was five years ago with the Addison Improv, swear to God, and I remember driving by the House of Blues and thinking, Oh my god, what if one day I played the House of Blues as a comedian?

Between working on the Whitney show and 2 Broke Girls it's been a while since you've gotten on tour. Yeah it has, that's what so exciting the last three years doing the shows I haven't had time to tour and do stand up. Psychologically the kind of person who tours and does stand up needs to keep doing it, so not being able to for a couple years I lost my mind a little bit. As a stand up you have this fire where you always want to be on stage and I haven't been. So it's really cool to be back again trying to make a bunch of drunk strangers laugh.

How improvisational do you get as you're getting feedback from the audience? Do you find you're maneuverable with your material? I used to be very by the book, but I'm writing on stage a little bit more now because I trust myself more as a comedian. The way I do stand up now is very democratic. If people like a bit I say I need to do more on that. The audience has a big say. I've been lucky, I've tried to book smaller venues so I can talk to the audience and build on that and learn from the audience. I see it as a collaborative effort.

How are you balancing the tour and finding new material with work on 2 Broke Girls? I go in as much as I can when I'm not traveling for the tour. We just shot an episode that I wrote. Since I was in a show it feels like I'm not contributing at all because I'm not in front of a camera, but I do as much as I can when I'm in town. That's a blast and that's enough for me right now. I'm not in a huge rush to do another TV show because I really want to be able to balance doing stand up and stuff as well. I think that when you're working too much, art starts to imitate art and I want my art to be able to imitate life. I remember doing 40-something episodes of the Whitney show and thinking, 'I don't have any ideas because I haven't seen my boyfriend for two years. I don't know what people fight about anymore.'

You've mentioned in other interviews that multi camera sitcoms are the best place for stand-up comics to go. Why do you think that? There are a lot of reasons, but I think mostly because it's in front of a live audience, and stand up comics are trained to hear that noise. If they say something funny they need to hear a noise. That's the rhythm and we're used to having our rhythm dictated by the audience, it helps your pacing based on how they're laughing. And I think when you say something and there's silence because it's a single camera and the crew isn't allowed to laugh, you start rushing and start being false and set your own rhythm.

I'm so used to thinking of laughter on sitcoms coming from a laugh track. It's not true, it's such bullshit. I've gotten so much shit for that. I ask all these critics who say the show is laugh tracked. I say come to a taping, come, you'll see the people laughing. I'm taking pictures of the audience, putting them on Twitter and Instagram and people just want to believe that sitcoms are fake. It's super frustrating because I spent so much time on the Whitney show that I should have been spending on trips trying to adjust the volume to the audience. The people who show up actually want to be there and they're laughing, and then we get shit from critics. That's just a really big source of frustration for me as you can probably tell.

And some of the biggest figures in television did sitcom work. Lucille Ball, Jerry Seinfeld, Mary Tyler Moore, Roseanne. People watch reruns of those shows more than they watch originals of new single cams. It's really just critics - ten critics decided they didn't like it. Multi camera shows are the highest rated shows in the country. America loves multi cam.

See also: Comedian Kathleen Madigan on Gingrich Tweets, Performing for the Troops and $35 Goats

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Luke Darby
Contact: Luke Darby