Whitney Cummings on Turning Pain Into Creativity (#84)

Tim Ferriss and Whitney Cummings

“In order for art to imitate life, you have to have a life.”

– Whitney Cummings

“I promise: if you just tell the truth and get your heart broken as a comedian, you will have a house.”

– Whitney Cummings

This episode how to turn pain and struggle into amazing creative projects.

Whitney Cummings (@whitneycummings) is a Los Angeles-based comedian, actor, writer and producer.

She is executive producer and, along with Michael Patrick King, co-creator of the Emmy nominated CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls, which was recently picked up for a fifth season.

Whitney also wrote, produced and starred in Whitney, which aired on NBC from 2011 to 2013.

She has headlined with comics including Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari, and others.

Her first one-hour stand up special, Money Shot, premiered on Comedy Central in 2010 and was nominated for an American Comedy Award. Her second stand-up special, Whitney Cummings: I Love You, debuted on Comedy Central in 2014 and she is shooting a third hour for HBO this August, which is set to air in 2016.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#84: How to Turn Pain Into Creativity (Whitney Cummings)

Want to hear another podcast with a world-class comedian? — Listen to my conversation with Bryan Callen. In it, we discuss eating corgis (yes, the dogs) and improving creativity (stream below or right-click here to download):

Ep 47: Bryan Callen on Eating Corgis (Yes, The Dogs) and Improving Creativity

This podcast is brought to you by MeUndiesHave you ever wanted to be as powerful as a mullet-wearing ninja from the 1980’s, or as sleek as a black panther in the Amazon? Of course you have, and that’s where MeUndies comes in. I’ve spent the last 2-3 weeks wearing underwear from these guys 24/7, and they are the most comfortable and colorful underwear I’ve ever owned. Their materials are 2x softer than cotton, as evaluated using the Kawabata method. Check out MeUndies.com/Tim to see my current faves, some of which are awesomely ridiculous.

This episode is also sponsored by OnnitI have used Onnit products for years. If you look in my kitchen or in my garage you will find Alpha BRAIN, chewable melatonin (for resetting my clock while traveling), kettlebells, maces, battle ropes, and steel clubs. It sounds like a torture chamber, and it basically is. A torture chamber for self-improvement! Ah, the lovely pain. To see a list of my favorite pills, potions, and heavy tools, click here.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What really offends you, and how might you analyze the reasons to improve yourself? Please share in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Huffington Post | Salon | Slate | Psychology Today | Jezebel | The Frisky

  • Watch Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech, Make Good Art
  • Learn more about the Friar’s Roast
  • Enjoy standup from a few of Whitney’s recommended comics:

Sebastian Maniscalco | Tig Notaro | Jerrod Carmichael

Natasha Leggero | Chris D’Elia | Neal Brennan

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Show Notes

  • Whitney Cummings’s tattoo stories: leadership, emotional intelligence, and managing trauma triggers [6:33]
  • Strategies for handling the weakness of impatience (aka “the impatient dick syndrome”) [19:33]
  • Has emotional intelligence work removed the magic of her success? [25:53]
  • The story of when Whitney realized her workaholic nature was killing her [34:13]
  • The emotional habits which helped Whitney to achieve so much at such a young age [37:03]
  • On managing the challenges of immediate gratification [40:33]
  • The process behind Whitney’s best writing [42:53]
  • Deconstructing Whitney’s most recommended work [55:13]
  • Defining “blue” comedy and exploring why it’s a strange title [45:48]
  • On roasts, insult comedy, adulation from fans, and differing comedic styles [1:08:08]
  • Whitney Cummings’s training for taking someone from beginner to stand-up comic in 8 weeks [1:23:33]
  • On equine therapy [1:57:23]
  • Most gifted books [2:04:18]
  • When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person to come to mind? [2:12:43]
  • If you could put a billboard up anywhere you wanted, what would be on it, and where would it be? [2:20:48]
  • Advice to her 20-year old self [2:25:18]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

101 Replies to “Whitney Cummings on Turning Pain Into Creativity (#84)”

  1. Thank you Whitney. It’s really helpful to hear how you worked through negativity and perfectionism.

  2. I’m really looking forward to listening. Just heard an episode of Professor Blastoff with Whitney Cummings and the way she described codependence was illuminating. She explained that it’s not just clinginess and an desperation for acceptance but it can also be a way of over committing yourself to help others that puts a strain on relationships.

  3. Great episode!

    What really offends me is: racism, sexism & homophobia.

    How might I analyze the reasons for improving myself?

    I grew up with a dad who was a macho Marine, in a small town, with “traditional values.” Realizing that we don’t have to tolerate and teach our next generations that. Racism, sexism & homophobia are not funny or cool. Although I was raised “that way” (not quite Confederate flag flying, but close) and as a youth I went along with my crowd, I see that I totally lacked compassion and empathy. I’ve found it now, and make every effort to spread those values.

  4. Love all your podcasts, tim. Especially, liked the Whitney Cummings one. Just listened to it and it sounds like you two have great chemistry. Am I wrong? 🙂

  5. I appreciate you letting us into different parts of your life Tim. Not the usual productivity type of podcast, but a little more human. I have literally read every book and blog post of yours. I’ve never said it before, but thanks for everything. I just started my muse and made my first sale. Thanks for everything.

  6. What was the word that fitted exactly right because i didn’t heard it well? The part with ‘impatient dick syndrome’ made me laugh lol.

  7. Thank you Tim for bringing this show to life. It has changed my life. It took me out of the bottom. I’ve been hearing you a lot the last weeks, and I’ve always felt identified. It’s not easy, but we are all together, laughing and crying 🙂

  8. You should definitely try comedy Tim.

    I could see you doing some kind of aggressive or “impatient” style of comedy. (A new category?)

    Use the impatience to your advantage.

    Examples of quotes that I’ve actually found funny:

    “Well, if you’re fat, you’re clearly eating…. (so you just switch out the default meals).”

    “I’m sick of tech.” <- and that whole episode, where you rant on stereotypical pitches and imitative nature of most startups.

    The impatient style is actually funny.

    If you make fun of the things people should be ashamed of, helping them laugh at themselves and their faults, you're actually using comedy as a teaching tool.

    Also, quote I've read that might be useful: "The definition of aggressive comedy is teasing, without causing offense."

    If nothing else, listen to old stuff and pay extra attention to things you've said that people have laughed at. That'll show you potential "tools" for creating comedy.

    1. Also thanks to Whitney. I expected little, having seen her comedy before listening to this episode. But her self-awareness was just extraordinary. Gave me lots of material for self-improvement.

  9. Nice job, Tim. I think you’ve hit your stride interviewing the lady folk. I was ready to unsubscribe until I listened to the Amanda Palmer episode, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Whitney’s interview was also entertaining, insightful and relatable. I also appreciate the notes and links provided. Super helpful!

  10. OMG my favorite podcast of yours so far!! LOVE Whitney effing Cummings. I laughed out loud. I didn’t cry but learned a lot. My husband and I LOOOOVE “2 Broke Girls”. BTW ‘M’ really is the new ‘N’ word. And I’m not only saying that because I’m 4’11.

  11. One of my favorites. As usual, can never judge an episode by the guest’s name, career, or level of recognition alone. I expected fun banter, but it was a raw, meaningful episode that helped fuel my Saturday run.

  12. Tim I haven’t watched this yet I just have to comment on the faux pas of slides with no socks and pants.

  13. Bookmarked Tim.

    We’re huge fans of Whitney. Love 2 Broke Girls and we also dug her former NBC show, which should still be on the air.

    Thanks for sharing!


  14. This was one of my favorite podcasts so far. My wife is going through inpatient therapy for PTSD from childhood trauma and I stumbled across this episode on my hour long drive to visit her. Hearing Whitney’s story and therapy really helped me understand and recognize some of the things my wife is going through and the intense therapy required to be able to function successfully in the future. Not to mention she grew up with horses and hasn’t been around them in a while. I immediately google’d the nearest equine therapy site. The timing and truthfulness of Whitney’s life story and the Podcast really made an impact on me and I just wanted to thank you both for it. I’m a huge fan and can’t wait to see who you will have on next.

    Rob Ringlehan

    1. Rob, I hope you found an incredible place for your wife. If you are looking for a place in the Los Angeles area, I do equine therapy/equine-assisted coaching at Connemara Ranch in Malibu and would be happy to help your wife. The horses are incredibly healing at our ranch and it does work wonders for trauma. – Kate Neligan

  15. The speciality of language you were looking for is Semiotics, specifically Linguistica Signs in the Structuralist Linguistic view of Ferdinand Saussure. He considered sign/signifier as the definition of the word and /signified/referent as the contextual and use reference of the word.

    Note: Since I discovered your podcast, I wait for it every week. Interesting that some of us are not afraid to think.

      1. Semiotics is the study of the language in terms of meaning. Aetiology is the study of the cause or reason of something, often expressed in terms of historical or mythical explanation.

  16. I can leave a comment without discus. Anywhoo? I loved this interview. The two of you together have great chemistry, in so many ways, which come across in the interaction. I wonder if there is genre of comedy where a man and woman work together in the same comedy act. Something, you two might want to think about.

  17. Awesome episode TIm! Thanks for showing us this side of Whitney. I’ve seen her shows and stand-up, so to hear her thoughtful, matter-of-fact way of acknowledging and coping with mental health issues is refreshing and really inspiring.

  18. Loved this episode. I couldn’t help but notice it sounded like Tim and Whitney had great chemistry. Did my ears deceive me?? 🙂

  19. Tim, your podcast is pretty much the only time I spend on self-improvement work. Don’t stop man. Your work is therapeutic.

  20. Another great episode Tim. I was so impressed by Whitney’s willingness to be so open and honest about struggles in her personal life, especially given her outward appearance of Success and achievement. This is a woman who could easily have deflected the difficult questions with humour, but instead decided to show her insecurities and vulnerability. I think it’s awesome to see that talented and successful people are just as self aware and committed to self improvement as the rest of us.

    Unfortunately after listening to the podcast I spent the rest of the day watching her live shows instead of going to the gym and working on my procrastination issues!

  21. Tim,

    You made made me laugh a lot on this podcast. The funniest moments were from your comments that made Whitney laugh.

    You should definitely have her train you for 8 weeks for Stand up Comedy. When you’re up on the stage, pretend your interviewing the audience on your Podcast.

    Great show with lots of substance beside the laughs!

    Thank You

    Patrick Gallagher

  22. I haven’t even finished the episode and I’m already touched. It’s so important for influential people to talk about trauma and trauma related challenges. Yes, it’s heavy. It’s not really sexy to talk about but more people are affected by it than we realize. Why do you think there is road rage? We are all in fight or flight.

    I have done a lot of trauma work and still work daily on healing the damage.

    Here’s to healing!!!

  23. So who was the genius woman who tells you all the things that kill you? I want that morning shake formulation.

  24. Really proud of your achievement. I hope more people embrace their shortcomings and benefit out of it.

    Keep it up 🙂

  25. Life is hard….for everyone. It is always good to demystify the lives of the famous. I appreciate Whitney letting us know what is inside her bag of tricks that keeps her healthy. She has worked very hard to figure out how to maintain a balance in her life, and at a young age, nothing is magical here. Love her holistic approach too.

    I haven’t heard about equine therapy and am eager to try it out. I wished she talked more about her other therapeutic approaches that she did.

    Great show Tim, thank you! Whitney is very inspiring.


  26. Hi Tim,

    I heard you saying you don’t have anything funny to talk about and I couldn’t believe it. You can talk about your writing process and all the adventures you go on. Like that girl whom didn’t think her swimming carrier was interesting; you have some great material.

    You could even talk about how it feels interviewing industry leaders and celebrities. I hear in every episode you say something like, “here is when I show my inexperience,” and then you say something that is usually close to spot on so I assume you’re feeling vulnerable at those times which Whitney said is a great place to derive humor from.

    I can think of several other examples just from reading and watching what you post. I hope that helps if you didn’t come to that conclusion already. Thank you for all you do!

  27. Great podcast as usual! Thanks for pointing out underrated comedians, I checked out Sebastian Maniscalco thanks to you. Had the best evening ever, I had a good laugh.

  28. Hey Tim,

    I read your book, The Four Hour Work Week, 2 years ago, and yesterday my wife and I launched our own small business, Bright Signs Learning, using many of the techniques and practices you described in the book. You’ve provided loads of knowledge and inspiration via the book AND podcast (I think I’ve listened to every one) over the past couple years. We also used many of your sponsor companies in the creation of our business. The logo was designed via 99Designs and the Trademark work & LLC formation was all done via Legal Zoom. I’d love to tell you more about the business if you’d care to hear about it.


    Ken Rideout

  29. I am so impressed by the funny, creative, and honest podcast with Whitney Cummings. I live in France now so I am not up to date on comics and I just laughed so much from watching her vidoes. Thank you for doing what you both do! You are making a difference! xoxo

  30. Tim, I love the podcast! Every week it seems to get better. One question for you: How do you get people to open up about their lives so much on your show?

  31. Was so pumped when I saw this interview pop up on my podcast app. Can’t believe you got to interview Whitney; love her stuff.

  32. Thank you for posting this Whitney! It’s nice to be constantly inspired by motivational people like you!

    To answer the question(s) of the day, I’d like to say that people who have no respect for other human beings irks me to no end. When it comes to how I analyze the reasons to improve myself, I meditate and focus on my faults. I take time to understand myself and situations and create a bright and positive outlook.

    Hope to hear more inspiring insights from you!

  33. it was refreshing to hear what a pro she is, rather than how she comes off on stage. Very insightful and entertaining interview, as always. I have to admit, now more than ever, I love Whitney for her mind…

  34. Really enjoyed this one. Whitney is incredibly well spoken and entertaining. Also, Neil Gaiman’s name didn’t show up in the “People Mentioned” section. Speaking of which, it would be awesome to see Gaiman or Demetri Martin on your podcast! Cheers!

  35. Came across this post completely randomly, but am so glad I did. It’s rare to laugh out loud, feel moved and inspired all at the same time. Thank you both for such a fantastic discussion!

  36. What a great podcast! I always get a nugget or two out of every episode, but this one was the best one for me yet. Thank you for constantly introducing me to new people and ideas.

  37. Tim, I will leave the man-crush comments for another time. You’re an inspiration to say the least — a little crazy but inspirational. I’m from Africa and I’m having trouble to get your TV show from iTunes (assuming it’s not available from my location) Is there any alternatives to this? Or am I a dummy? Tbh I’m more of an Android guy and might just be struggling with the iTunes situation…any help would be great!

  38. Definitely in my top 5 of my favorite podcasts of yours. Finally a woman I can relate to- i was beginning to think there weren’t any haha

  39. Another amazing content rich podcast and thanks to Whitney for such honesty and being so generous with vulnerability. You guys had such great rapport in this conversation. What was the 12 step co-dependence program Whitney mentioned at the start?

  40. Tim, when are you going to get Matt Damon on the show? Cmon, you know you want to — The Borne Identity practically informed all your career projects. =)

  41. I like the Friday Email idea. Bite size, right size. On the blog with Ms Cummings, I think her advice for 8 weeks of immersion of getting out there and doing Stand Up is the recipe for decontructing world class performance. After the fireworks tonight, I am going to order up some of her bits. Last thing, her story of 17 million dogs purchased in the U.S. at pet stores and 3 million executed yearly really jumped out at me. Very compelling. All of my pets came to me “used”. Why would I buy “New”?

  42. Just read your email about the Friday-Five–brilliant, thanks, I hope you’ll keep doing it. I don’t Tweet (I’m very selective about social media, otherwise I’ll unhappily spread myself too thin in that area) and therefore can’t let you know that way what I think about this, so I followed the link at the bottom of your email, which landed me here. Thanks for all you do!


  43. Love your bullet offerings- will of course increase your reach to new networks and give fans access to new resources- a plus all around;

    Been meaning to let you know the best relationship advice I ever got: Don’t talk to friends about any issue with your partner that you haven’t first discussed directly with your partner…requires different level of honesty and yields different level of intimacy;

    Appreciate your increasing vulnerability – Whitney interview was a good example;

    You are doing a good job and a lot of us appreciate your work. 5-bullet Friday is a good addition. So is Whitney.

  44. Another fantastic podcast. Thank you, Tim for not asking the obvious questions. You always seem to get the most out of your guests by taking this route and running with it. Loved Whitney’s honesty!!

  45. Tim, please ask your interviewees if they drink alcohol. Frequency? other vices? How human are they?

  46. Great idea! Would love to see these emails

    on Friday (or whenever you feel like it).

    Thanks Tim

  47. Not finished this episode but full of gems, will need a relisten. The Friday 5’s a great idea also. Cheers.

  48. Hey it’s time to do a TFE on DMT (aka ayahuasca). Your species has forgotten its roots. Help show them the way back by doing it first! 🙂

  49. FIRST, thanks so much for doing this extraordinary podcast-ian inquiry into the nature (and nurture!) of excellence. Absolutelt love it.

    Second, thought this episode was a standout. Especially intrigued by the discussion of equine facilitated learning.

    Worth checking out the Stanford Red Barn Leadership Program at Stanford University’s equestrian center in Palo Alto. Wonderful equine-facilitated leadership-education opportunities there. Many execs and teams have done sessions and raved about the results.

    I currently work at the Red Barn; feel free to email me if you want to learn more.

  50. Well Tim you have done it again. Another Podcast which I initially wasn’t that super excited about, but eventually listened to. And am I glad that I did. It was not only interesting and fascinating but highly enjoyable! You were BOTH extremely funny 🙂

    And I also agree with the poster below, you guys really did have GREAT chemistry. Just saying! 😉

  51. Hi Tim I think it might be time to start including the really hard words you both as a link below so I can go away and look them up! 😉 starting with Nefarious and Obsequious!!!

  52. Tim – love that you asked about equine therapy! If you would like a free session in Malibu, I’d be happy to work with you as you seem so genuinely intrigued.

    Whitney – love that you went and did this and described it so eloquently. You are right, it is “like magic” and they do serve as mirrors (my book is about this). I went from VP at a movie studio to following my calling to work with horses healing humans. If you ever want to visit our ranch in Malibu, please let me know as we would be happy to have you!

    – Kate Neligan

  53. About an hour in the word Whitney wanted was etymological not etilogical or morphological. Etymology is the study of where words came from and how they’ve changed. Anyways great podcast 🙂

    1. I didn’t expect to get so much out of this podcast, but it was a great one! Thanks for putting this together Tim and Whitney!

  54. BEST episode yet, and the last place on earth I would have expected to hear about equine therapy – Tim, you have an open invitation to come to NC and try it!

  55. I’ve been what some would call a closet fan for some time now Tim, but this episode in particular brought me out! Really great questions! You seemed more “relaxed” also. I love how you asked about the 5 minutes of the performance and what went in to developing that.

  56. Very nice episode Tim! I think you should have Whitney boot camp you to do a stand-up comedy show for the second season of The Tim Ferriss Experiment!

  57. Tim and y’all – from this episode, I found myself all week telling people about working with horses as a way to train ourselves in calm assertion. Tim: gotta see this in the next TV series!


  58. Hi Tim! A newcomer here. I’ve been enjoying your show tremendously. Just caught this episode today (I jump around a lot.) A quick search told me this question was not answered – apologies for the duplication if it was.

    Blue comedy has got to be a reference to “Blue Movies” – when I was growing up in the ’60’s & ’70s (Yea, I’m old ;o) blue movies were x-rated movies. Probably soft-porn by today’s standards. They were always on late at night to keep them away from the eye’s of the children. I’m surprised the term is still used – haven’t heard it in decades. Not necessarily dirty as far a swear words.

  59. Hey Tim! Great podcast, Whitney was an amazing guest. I’ve listened to this episode multiple times. Maybe you have figured this out by now and I’m late to the party but I wonder if blue comedy has any connection with Bleu steak? A bleu steak, is as close to eating a raw steak as you can get, so maybe blue comedy is just as raw as you can get for comedy. Food for thought.

  60. …I knew Whitney vaguely from roasts, etc. and was sorta reluctant to listening to the whole 2,5 hours (!!) long episode. But i’m glad I’ve trusted Tim and finally listened… She has great “energy”, Tim probably agrees. But to call that flirting is a bit much…

    Sooooo, great episode, this is why I listen to podcasts 🙂 Thanks

  61. My favorite podcast so far!!! I absolutely love how vulnerable Whitney is. She’s an amazing human being. It’s very re-assuring to know that people of her success are so open and honest about their weakness and their struggles. I’ll definitely be watching more of her shows- very soon. Needless to say, I loved the great chemistry and energy I felt the two of you had during this podcast-it was so entertaining! Thanks Tim for such a great podcast-keep them coming. I listen to them every week.

  62. This is my favorite podcast so far- I absolutely love Whitney!! it’s impressive of how open and vulnerable she is about her struggles and weaknesses considering her success -it’s very re-assuring to hear it. Needless to say, I loved the chemistry between the two of you and energy I felt coming from this conversation. Thanks Tim for this podcast and all the others- keep them coming…I love listening to all of them!

    1. I believe its The Reflective Horse in Topanga. I also do equine-assisted coaching at Saffyre Sanctuary, a rescue ranch in Sylmar, CA (15 mins from Burbank/30 mins from Westside). [Moderator: links removed]

  63. Hey Tim, I found your podcast a while ago and have been devouring all of the content. I’ve jumped around a bit and I put this one off for some time, even though I find Whitney Cummings funny. I was surprised at just how insightful and well spoken she is. Wonderfully deep podcast. I agree with a few of the other posts about “blue comedy” referring to low brow, raw, blue-collar type of comedy. Really loving your content; new and old!

  64. What a great episode. I enjoyed every minute, I laughed and I could relate and I learned some new interesting things. I came here to look for the list of the comedians Whitney mentioned, I love how organised you are and how easy I can access to everything mentioned.

    Tim you are doing a great job, thank you so much for that.

  65. Thanks so much for this podcast. Whitney is not only funny but deep and any podcast that turns to Codependency is hella funny! I only recently found your podcast and I jump around. I even bought your book tools of titans. I suggest you have more women on the podcast ..Debbie Millman and this podcast are my favorites. Oh, and Tony Robbins.

  66. In January 2017, I drove my Lexus off the side of a cliff. Not intentionally, but in an attempt to avoid an oncoming vehicle that drifted into my lane. I lost consciousness when my car hit the guard rail because my head slammed into the side of my window which really was for the best given that the report indicated that my car proceeded to go over the guard rail, through a tree/stump and then stop on/at a second tree. The accident was traumatic but the aftermath that followed was far more traumatizing for me. This year has presented some of my darkest moments but I’ve managed to find a silver lining in each of them, and this life event has continously proven to be a blessing in disguise. I’m writing to you about this in a comment of a blog post from 2015 because I was reading the interview with Whitney in Tools of Titans on Sunday and had a moment when I came across the line “look for the silver lining, or at least consider sharing the dark lining. It may pay for your Lexus.” I interpreted it as a sign from the big man upstairs that it’s time for me to share my story in it’s entirety, and that I should share it with you.