When did people start saying they were fine when they were the opposite of fine? Actress and comedian Whitney Cummings wants to know why she can’t say, “I’m really not fine at all, and in fact, I may stab you in the eye with my fork if you don’t shut up.” In her debut book, I’m Fine... and Other Lies (Putnam, Oct.), the creator and star of Whitney, and co-creator and co-writer of 2 Broke Girls, wants to make it fine to be not fine at all.
“I feel like women and men aren’t allowed to show their insecurities and fears,” she says. “I wanted to write a book that is about removing the shame from being human and making mistakes. It’s okay to say, ‘I’m not doing so well.’”
Those who follow Cummings’s Twitter feed know that she has no problem “going there.” Every other post seems to come with the warning: “This media may contain sensitive material.” She says, “I’ve always been obsessed with the taboo, what’s off limits, because that’s where we find who we are. I have dark thoughts, but when I started sharing them, people laughed. So I thought, I’m not alone.”
Cummings got the idea for the book after going through a traumatic period when she was struggling with anxiety over things she couldn’t control. “I was in lots of draining relationships, taking on more work than I could handle. I couldn’t say no to people. I got very sick as a result, but I had learned that when someone asks you how you are, you aren’t allowed to say ‘not okay,’ ” Cummings notes. “I found myself always saying, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’ when really I was on the edge of a mental breakdown.”
A therapist diagnosed Cummings with co-dependence. “I didn’t even know what she was talking about. I thought it meant you spent too much time with your boyfriend. She explained that it’s when you can’t tolerate the discomfort of others. You are reactive to others rather than proactive. I was unable to stand up for myself and ask for what I needed,” she says.
Cummings’s therapist said that fine is actually an acronym for F*cked-Up Insecure Neurotic Emotional. After writing about it in Lena Dunham and Jennie Konner’s newsletter, “The Lenny Letter,” people began stopping Cummings in the street to tell her how they also struggle with this. So she decided to expand the essay into a book.
In I’m Fine… And Other Lies, Cummings says that she wrote about things that some of her friends don’t even know about her. She broke her shoulder trying to make a guy like her, and another time she almost got sent to a Guatemalan prison.
Cummings says that her journey to comedy and publishing began when she was 12, and found Paul Reiser’s Couplehood at a yard sale. “He was complaining about mundane things, and I thought, this is how I think. This is what comedians do, they obsess over justice. Why does Starbucks call it a venti, why not call it a large? I can lose three hours over that. When I read that book, it made me feel less crazy, more understood.” Actually, maybe, somewhat fine?
Today, 8–9:30 a.m. Whitney Cummings will emcee the Adult Book and Author Breakfast, Special Events Hall.
Today, 10–11 a.m. Cummings will sign in the ABA Members Lounge booth (721).