The best way to view Whitney Cummings' first hour-long stand-up special, Money Shot, is as the logical evolution of her debut album Emotional Ninja. On that 2009 record, Cummings seemed to include every joke and routine she had come up with since becoming a comedian, and the result was something that was intermittently very funny but had too much filler between the really good bits. So it helps that there's a time limit on her Comedy Central special Money Shot (at least, the way it's been edited; for all I know, the special is culled together from a three-hour show, though I really doubt that), because it forces Cummings to focus in on her best material and toss the dead weight to the curb. The results are still uneven, but the special overall is stronger than Emotional Ninja and a better indication of who Cummings is becoming as a comedian.
Money Shot finds Cummings riffing on a lot of the same topics as Emotional Ninja (in fact, many of the same bits and jokes have been carried over wholesale) -- chiefly, the differences between men and women and how both tend to behave in relationships. And before you roll your eyes at the very thought of another comic covering this well-worn territory (and it is extremely well-worn), Cummings has found an approach to the material that's just unique enough to make her take on it compelling. She's a foul-mouthed "guy's girl" who surrenders none of her femininity in order to be accepted by the male half, and she's just as honest and critical of women as she is of men. Her act never turns into "we're smart, you're not." Well, mostly.
For every joke in Money Shot that works, though, there are two or three that don't. It's not that the jokes don't land; it's just that they fail to surprise us, and that's where Cummings is best -- when her punchlines take a really dark or foul turn that we aren't expecting. It's why she's been such a star on the Comedy Central roasts. Nothing in Money Shot is ever as edgy as the roast stuff, and I get that -- Cummings is trying not to pigeonhole herself as that kind of comic. And though much of her material is foul-mouthed and frank about sex and porn and grosses guy habits, Cummings never gives off the vibe that she's being dirty for the sake of being dirty. She's not just going for shock value; this is who she is and how she talks. I appreciate that Cummings isn't adopting a pose or inventing a persona; it would be easy for her to try and be that really pretty comic who says horrible things. Sure, Cummings is both of those, but you don't feel like she's trying.
Whitney Cummings' rise in the comedy world has been so fast and high-profile that it's easy to forget that she's still young and hasn't actually been doing comedy for that long. There are flashes of greatness in Money Shot, accompanied by flashes of familiarity. If she can ditch the latter and focus on the former as she continues to grow as a comic -- and I suspect that's exactly what she'll do -- she'll be a real force to reckon with. Money Shot is a funny special, but, more importantly, it showcases an excellent comic on the rise.
- Comedy Central Premiere Date: 8/21/10