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Brain on Fire and a Pocket Full of Condoms

I've always felt like a fish out of water. I'm loud, I'm tall, I'm clumsy. I never seem to agree with the zeitgeist: I'm not obsessed with Taylor Swift, I got bored after the first episode of Serial, and I don't think Beyonce is the penultimate feminist.

Growing up I was always the pariah. I constantly had head lice so I was often sent home early from school, only to return with humiliating bowl haircuts. My sister always managed to convince me to let her give me piercings, so I would often show up to school with weird scabs and a bleeding face. On my first day of catholic school, I showed up with blue hair, a nose ring, and the wrong uniform. I looked like Alicia Silverstone from Clueless but with an attitude problem and incongruously drawn-on eyebrows.

Ten years and a lot of drug and hair color experiments later, my brain was on fire. I had a million secrets but nobody to tell them to. My demons led me to the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd., where a lot of broken, lost souls go to figure out who they are. My self-esteem wasn't high enough to be a stripper, so I gravitated to stand up. I was hurting and I wanted somebody to care. Even if those bodies were a captive, drunk comedy club audience forced to be there.


After doing stand up for the first time, I knew it was going to help me feel sane, even though I only performed for three people who didn't speak English. Drugs didn't work, alcohol didn't work. But standup worked. It didn't matter if I was getting laughs or not, I felt like I had a voice after a long time of feeling invisible.

I felt like I had a purpose, and yet, still a fish out of water. Comedy clubs were where I wanted to belong, so I felt like I had to write jokes about what everyone else was talking about: politics, air travel, online dating, Facebook. Well, let's be honest, at the time it was probably MySpace.

A couple years into doing open mics at the Comedy Store, I started getting some coveted late night spots. I would go to bed at 9pm and set my alarm at midnight so I could perform around 12:30 am. I was trudging along, trying to conform and be what I thought people wanted me to be. But one night, that changed. I had recently reunited with a guy after a terrible break up. He had cheated, though he convinced me he hadn't, so we were back on. He fell asleep and I went to do my late night Comedy Store spot. I affectionately and playfully put his coat on to wear to my set (because, like, once every five years, I'm a hopeless romantic.) As I walked up to the comedy club, I put my hands in the jacket pocket and felt something in there. My heart broke when I pulled out some condoms.

I was hit with that feeling where it seems like your heart is excreting into your stomach. Sorry to be gross, but you know exactly what I mean. It was 12:30 and I had to go on stage. I tried to swallow my rage and stick to my act, but once the lights hit me, I snapped. I just broke open. I abandoned my jokes about politics and airplanes. Instead I told the crowd what happened to me: I cried, ranted, bled. It was uncomfortable and pretty embarrassing, but it was the most I'd ever connected with an audience.


I wasn't trying to be clever or interesting. I just hemorrhaged the truth instead of saying what I thought would make me fit in. A couple comedians hugged me when I got off. They knew I had found my voice, as Fran Drescher-y as it can sound sometimes. I finally felt like I belonged there. Sometimes I still feel alone, but with other alone people all trying to speak the truth and share their stories. I realized that night that if you do fit in perfectly, you're probably not doing life right. You're supposed to be different. If you're just like everyone else, you're probably not telling your truth, as ugly as it can be.

And to answer your question, yes, I did get back together with the guy.

Whitney Cummings is the co-creator of the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls and was the creator and star of the NBC sitcom Whitney. She is currently on tour. For locations, visit


Whitney isn't the only one with a story about the tragic comedy of trying to fit in and ending up having to find her voice. Babylon, a new series by Danny Boyle and co-created by Peep Show's Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, stars Brit Marling as PR maven Liz Garvey who, fresh off of her hit TED talk, arrives at a tough new job all guns blazing and without a clue of what she's walking into.

Whitney is sharing her story as part of a sponsored series by SundanceTV to introduce the series Babylon. Share your story about work place mishaps or being a fish out of water in the comments below or on our site at .


And check out Babylon which premieres on SundanceTV tonight Jan 8 at 10 PM ET.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between SundanceTV and Studio@Gawker.

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