Whitney Cummings’ life may look glossy but, as the comedian, actress and now-author explains, she’s come a long way. Her new book – I’m Fine…And Other Lies – will show those struggling like she did, that they are not alone. We couldn’t think of a better subject for our newest column – The Rewrite – than Cummings, whose recent pivot to authorship made her the perfect first candidate. In her new book, Cummings addresses how she completely rewired her brain, talks about her past eating disorder and recounts her “love addiction.” Whether we suffer from codependent tendencies like the comedian or not, her advice to young girls is something we all need to hear today. We sat down to talk insecurities, if comedians are perceived as “dark,” and building self-esteem…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Ideally, I’d have all food that comes from dirt and not from cans or bags. I travel a lot when I do stand-up, so end up eating a lot of red dye #5. I love having eggs in the morning with parmesan cheese. For lunch, I’d want a whole bunch of fruit and a salad because I’m so bad at drinking water that I have to eat for hydration. For dinner pretty much every night, I eat quinoa pasta with random toppings in the form of whatever is about to go bad in my fridge. Then around 11 PM, I would love to eat a half a pint of coconut milk chocolate chip mint ice cream for good measure.
Growing up, was food important or unimportant? How so?
It was very important to me. I was alone a lot as a kid, and food was kind of my best friend. I lived for new cereal boxes because I loved doing the games and quizzes on the back. My aunt was an amazing cook, and I learned a lot from her, notably that hanging out in the kitchen cooking means you get to avoid socializing. It’s a great place to hide out and avoid fights about politics.
What are your morning and nightly beauty regimens…
Hi-def cameras have been a disaster for performers, so I compensate by doing a lot to my skin before I go to sleep. I use a derma roller, which makes tiny holes so your product can really sink in. I only wash with gentle cleansers and oftentimes use oil, then I just put more and more oil over that. I am not kidding: I have a giant bottle of grape seed oil, which I follow with tomato seed oil, then I use some lotion from Tata Harper that smells amazing. I also scrub my face a couple times a week with a Dr. Lancer scrub. It is rough, but it makes me feel like I’m scrubbing off all the bad energy from my day!
How do you always start your day on a good note?
I let my dogs jump in my bed and snuggle for a couple minutes. It re-connects me to what really counts and to my playful side, so I don’t take myself too seriously. In the morning, I also take a big sniff of pine oil, which totally jump starts your brain.
What is one insecurity you’ve always had, or had for a long time, and how did you overcome it?
Oh, wow, I have so many! I have a general fear of never being “enough,” which is probably why I became funny. It is very hard for me to not be “on” around people. I get insecure that I’m being boring or wasting people’s time or that I’m not asking the right questions, etc. I just have a lot of social anxiety about being perfect, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I end up seeming weird, distracted and inauthentic. I have been working with my rescue horse to overcome it because horses have an incredible ability to help you work through inauthenticity issues, fear, and a struggle with being present and self-accepting. They are magic, really. I also am convinced that my face is crooked.
What’s been the biggest obstacle in your life? How did you overcome it?
I was diagnosed with codependency, which is essentially an inability to tolerate the discomfort of others. It manifests in not being able to say no to things, doing things out of obligation, and generally being in situations that you’re not comfortable with. I have done a lot of work in therapy, notably “inner child” work, and again, my animals have really helped me train my brain to always do what is best for me and to make sure my motives aren’t sticky. I did many, many other things as well to heal this, but you’ll have to read my book for that because it is way too much information for an article!
In the course of your life and career, what was your most impactful turning point? Why was it so important?
Probably when I learned how to train dogs: It blew my mind how hard it was for me to discipline them, how worried I was about being liked, and how dysmorphic my outlook on what others can handle and need from me was. It really did change the way I saw the world.
What’s your go to curse word? Use it in a sentence…
I love “What in the Sam Hell” for some reason. “What in the Sam Hell is she doing over there?” I like old-timey curse words! I also like calling people “hellions.”
Why did you decide to be a comedian?
I don’t think you decide, really; it is more of a compulsion, over which you have no control. It is so challenging and so difficult that you really have to have an inner magnet pulling you toward it, despite getting rejected and pummeled so frequently. I think, for me personally, I had a deep need to be seen and heard. Making people laugh became my drug at a young age, and stand-up kind of folded all those things into one job that checked every emotional box.
Do you think some darkness is necessary in being a comedian?
I think everyone has darkness, and as I type that, I’m not sure it should even be labeled as that. I think emotional pain is more human than it is dark. The more I talk to people about this book, and how I illuminated all my emotional struggles, the more I am realizing that suffering is pretty universal. I’m trying not to malign or stigmatize. I don’t think comedians necessarily have more darkness, but I think it may seem that way because we broadcast it. I know some very light spirited comedians and some very dark souled non-comedians.
What usually makes you laugh the most?
Falling. People falling kills me. That is very embarrassing because it is just so hacky and so juvenile, but falling makes tears come out of my eyes. Not when they get hurt though or it looks too dangerous – I‘m not a complete sociopath.
How was writing this new book different than writing for television? What made you decide to write it?
I wrote an article on codependence for Lenny Letter, and people were coming up to me in airports thanking me and saying that I changed their lives, which I did not anticipate at all. When I was working on healing my brain, I read a ton of self-help books. They were all very depressing. I personally need levity and humor to get through painful moments, and self-help books were making me even more depressed about my situation. I think of all the people who need humor, the people buying self-help books need it the most! So I decided to write a funny, informative self-help book that outlined all the things I did to rewire my brain. I just wanted to write the book that hadn’t been available to me ten years ago, when I needed someone to outline their flaws so I felt like I had permission to have my own. There’s such a stigma around mental health issues in this country, and I want to do my part in fighting that.
What advice would you give young girls, feeling alone, who are struggling with being self-confident?
Stop following models on Instagram, first of all. Only surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself. If people make fun of you, cut you down, judge you, critique you? They gotta go. I have had many people in my life who made me feel bad about myself, and I didn’t even realize it. It didn’t occur to me that I could end relationships and that I deserved better. Find your tribe, the good hearted people who want you to shine and who don’t enjoy hurting and putting down others. Get animals! I find they are great for building self-love and self-esteem. Forgive your parents. When we forgive others, we build self-esteem. Do scary, risky things; overcoming adversity builds self worth. Try some hard sports, hobbies, challenges, arts, whatever seems difficult to you. I promise you are better than you think, and taking on big things will make you realize how awesome you are.
What are your favorite restaurants? What do you order at each?
I love Carbone in New York; I order simple pasta with olive oil. Barrel & Ashes in LA for fried pickles, and Katsuya in LA for baked hand crab rolls.
If you could have a dinner party with any five people, living or dead, who would you have over and what would you serve?
Charles Darwin, Freddie Mercury, Mae West, Marina Abramovic, and Katharine Hepburn. I would serve Lunchables.