Against all conventional logic, the glass ceiling in the comedy world remains intact. One would think that if Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller could achieve great success almost half a century ago, we’d be flush with popular and successful female comics in 2009. Instead, the woman with the biggest draw is Lisa Lampanelli, who has extrapolated “I’m fat and I bang black guys” into a large venue following. Meanwhile, the brilliant Maria Bamford – easily one of the ten best comics working today regardless of gender – is better known for her recent commercials for Target than for her consistent excellence as a writer and performer. Don’t blame her for that.
Over the years we’ve seen Roseanne Barr and Ellen Degeneres and Whoopi Goldberg find tremendous success, and during the 80’s comedy boom there were several that were household names. So what’s wrong in 2009? There’s no shortage of strong current female comedians worthy of adulation, but fewer are breaking through at the level that many of the male comedians attain. Try asking a friend to name five current female comedians. You’ll likely get Lampanelli, Sarah Silverman…and a blank stare.
Maybe they’ll come up with Wanda Sykes or Margaret Cho or Kathy Griffin, all of whom have had wider exposure thanks to multiple television shows. I doubt many would come up with Whitney Cummings, but after laughing my ass off listening to her first album (Emotional Ninja) I predict that will change very soon.
Cummings doesn’t have a schtick or a character, and her material is pretty much old school observational comedy about sex and relationships. But while she can be crude and vulgar, she’s also ferociously funny. She’s strong with a quick one liner but also has well-structured longer pieces that pile one laugh on top of another. She’s able to play both ends of the men vs. women card in such a way that you laugh at all of it regardless of your gender…probably because you realize most of what she’s talking about is absolutely true.
Cummings doesn’t talk down to the audience, she places herself within it, so we’re on her side even when we’re the butt of the joke. She’ll humble herself with a self-deprecating stinger, but she’s no victim. She might launch some vitriol towards the losers and bad dates, but she’ll also admit to being a sneaky manipulator. Basically she’s showing that we’re all playing games…so let’s get those cards on the table and laugh at how shallow and absurd it all is.
The bits that aren’t about relationships are topical but universally funny, like the banality of social networks, the true definition of yoga and wondering why we reward our friends’ biggest mistakes with gifts. I won’t spoil the punch lines, but my favorite bits – her breast exam, sleeping her way to nowhere, how women snoop on and argue with men – had me rolling. She excels at stringing together a wealth of material with exceptional timing and delivery, adept at a pregnant pause before a punch line or punctuating a sarcastic retort.
I’m not exactly going out on a limb here by praising her work. In the past couple of years her profile has soared; she’s been tagged as a rising star by Entertainment Weekly, Variety and Alternative Press. Her panel time on Chelsea Lately is usually brilliant, and her breakout performance on the Comedy Central roast of Joan Rivers was a logical next step (she had been writing for them for a couple of years). Cummings is only in her mid-twenties, yet she’s already proven to be a prolific writer and a strong performer. She’s attractive, she’s very smart, and she is fearless.
There are thirty-three tracks on Emotional Ninja, most under two minutes, and there might not be a clunker in the bunch. This is truly one of the funniest comedy CDs of the year – go get it.
Buy Emotional Ninja online
Whitney on Showtime’s Live Nude Comedy
Her killer set on Comedy Central’s Roast of Joan Rivers
Compilation of panel bits from Chelsea Lately.
Whitney Cummings website.