Comedian Whitney Cummings: Bewitching, brazen and with jokes to make you blush

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 9:50 PM

IN BALTIMORE -- "I don't know how long you have to be on cable TV before they start bringing you takeout menus," says Whitney Cummings, prancing around the greenroom in faux-diva mode before her set in a group comedy tour.

"What, you're too much of a snob for deli meats?" says fellow comedian Brad Wollack, forking some curled slices of roast beef.

"Brad said she's the hottest thing in L.A.," offers Whitney's mother Patti, shutting the mini-fridge and opening a can of diet Red Bull backstage at Rams Head Live.

"Oh my God, Mom, this is so embarrassing," Whitney brays. Patti takes a sip and shrugs.

"Yeah, I guess I did say that," Wollack says. "She's very popular right now. She's blowing up."

Whitney Cummings, who was born and raised in Georgetown, and her tourmates are all regulars on "Chelsea Lately," the late-night talk show on E! hosted by comedian Chelsea Handler. In January, Cummings will film a test episode of a show to follow "Chelsea." She's done "The Tonight Show" twice this year. She and "Sex and the City" creator Michael Patrick King have written a sitcom pilot that's awaiting a buyer. She's hosting MTV's New Year's Eve special with the cast of "Jersey Shore," a high-profile if dubious gig that will render her a household name (in the houses of tube-glued teenagers, that is). She's written her own pilot for an NBC sitcom tentatively titled "In Between," starring herself as a woman who's afraid of marriage. If it's picked up, she will be one of two female creator-writer-actors in a network sitcom. The other is Tina Fey.

And screenplays are coming her way. Problem is, all the characters are a certain type.

"I open up the script and in the character description it says something like 'Claudia: a volatile [rhymes with witch],' " Cummings says, removing her flapper hat, shaking out her raven mane, revealing sculpted eyebrows and Vermeerian cheekbones. "And she's like an insane whore who [bleeps] everyone. Do I give that off? I guess it's the roasts."

It's the roasts.

Over the past year, Cummings's most visible gig has been her appearances on Comedy Central's roasts, wherein bloated icons of pop culture (William Shatner, Bob Saget and so on) are subjected to ridicule by a stable of B-list comics (Lisa Lampanelli, Gilbert Gottfried and so on). Cummings has stood in front of David Hasselhoff, Joan Rivers and Quentin Tarantino and incinerated them with flaming barbs that are unprintable here. Suffice to say they involve grotesque analyses of the roastee's private parts, with kickers invoking Jim Crow and T-cell counts that stunned even the coldest members of the Friars Club, into which she was inducted last week in New York.

"A lot of people consider me edgy, and definitely the topics I talk about are taboo," she says. "I'm talking about porn, I'm talking about relationships and sex. But I don't really curse. What I'm doing now, people will look back in 20 years and not think it's edgy. I guess it's just contextual."

Except she does curse. Often. Onstage and off. She can't place a takeout order -- salmon, shrimp and extra broccoli -- without ornamenting it with invective. Otherwise, she's clean as a whistle: She's off sugar, wheat and caffeine, since she equates being a good comedian with being a super-fit athlete. She's tall and bony, with traces of gangliness remaining from her high-school basketball prowess. At 28, she's the youngest comedian on the "Chelsea Lately" tour but thinks she looks 50. Which makes sense, she says, given all the traveling, all the late nights. But someone once asked who did her cheeks.

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