'Inside Amy Schumer' EP on Season 4 Surprises, Celebrity Cameos and Schumer's Massive Fame

"It would be weird to not comment on it after the year she's had," co-creator and executive producer Dan Powell tells THR of Schumer's rising profile.
Mark Seliger/Comedy Central
Amy Schumer

The third season of Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer wrapped in July 2015 and since then, the comedian has enjoyed a massive level of mainstream fame, thanks largely to the box-office and critical success of her movie Trainwreck. She landed an HBO special, Schumer: Live at the Apollo, hosted Saturday Night Live, was named one of the most fascinating people of 2015 by Barbara Walters and just announced her first book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo. Between seasons, Schumer has been everywhere — a fact not lost on the minds behind Inside Amy Schumer, who used her "overexposure" to promote the new season.

So when the team returned to the drawing board to map out season four, which premieres April 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, was there pressure to somehow acknowledge Schumer's rising profile? No, according to co-creator and executive producer Dan Powell. "We just went in saying: Let's keep doing what we've been doing," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "That's not to say we didn't work our asses off."

Here, Powell talks to THR about the power of the viral sketch, the surprising way they book their celebrity guests (like Julianne Moore and Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda) and other season surprises in store.

The last year has been a breakout one for Amy — how did that influence the show when you returned to the writers room for season four?

There are a couple sketches this season where Amy does comment on some things she's starting to learn about fame and maybe the darker side of fame. We don't hit on it too much because we know that's not a universal experience, but it's something Amy's been experiencing and she wanted to comment on it. And frankly, we thought it'd be weird to not comment on it a little bit after the year she's had.

Now that everyone's watching, do you feel the pressure?

I don't feel it now, but come Friday morning when the ratings are about to come in, I probably will start feeling it. But also, to be perfectly frank, the year she's had took the pressure off a bit. When we first started this show, it was like, "Well, if this doesn't work it could put a huge dent in your career — this show could either make or break you." But now, given her trajectory and where she is and given the show's success, we kind of just went in saying, "Let's keep doing what we've been doing and have fun and not stress out too much about having to try to top ourselves." That's not to say we didn't work our asses off.

Last season, there were a handful of sketches that went viral: "Last F—able Day," "12 Angry Men" and "Girl, You Don't Need Makeup," especially. Going into this season, what topics did you know you wanted to tackle?

In our second episode, we tackle gun violence. We have a sketch and then a little bit of stand-up and an interview in the wake of the shooting at the Trainwreck screening [last year]. Amy met with the victims' families and felt that it was an issue that was important to her. We spoke a lot about it in the writers room and we even explored a few longer-form things, but we felt that a little goes a long way with this subject matter. Amy wrote a sketch that opens the third episode that I think hits points that we haven't seen before in a really funny and unique way.

The premiere tackles the topics of a couple's sex life going sour, a gynecologist visit and female upkeep (a "Yo Puss" yogurt skit sees Amy schooling guest star Rachel Dratch on how to keep things fresh down there). I noticed a bit of a theme.

It's funny, when we started doing the series in season one, we actually did have 10 themes that we were writing off of, and then we discovered pretty quickly that it felt like we were working backwards. We scrapped that and decided the best path to having the funniest show is to let all ideas be brought to the table and to shoot the 50 funniest sketches that we have. We find that common thematic threads are better than the ones that are more obvious. We have a couple sketches this year where Amy's in a gynecologist's office, but "Dr. Congress," which you see in the premiere, is very different from the gynecologist sketch that we did with Missi Pyle that airs later in the season. We could have put them in the same episode, but it's almost too on-the-nose.

The season promo was uncensored and very NSFW — is this season the most outrageous yet?

Certainly it's a TV-14 show, and if it wasn't bleeped it would be TV-MA. We don't really think about broadcast standards and practices issues that much when we're writing the show. We drop the c-word numerous times on the season, and it's obviously bleeped and won't be on the DVD. But we certainly don't walk into the room and say, "OK, how can we freak out standards and practices this season?" As the show gets more and more established and people know what they're in for, you can make more of a case to that we should be able to get away with this and that. To Comedy Central's credit, they've always been very cool about having that conversation.

What is one of your most memorable sketches?

"Girl, You Don't Need Makeup," which won an Emmy for best original song and lyrics last season. It's just one of those sketches where everyone worked at the top of their ability and everything came together in a perfect way. I think it's just about as perfect of a comedy sketch as you can put together. Amy's performance in the sketch is a wordless performance, I think she says one thing, "I'm trying." Everything else about her performance is all in her actions and emoting. Also, the song — it's a great song! It is one of the catchiest songs. I could listen to it over and over again, regardless of how funny it is.

You feature another music video in your third episode.

Yeah, and there's another one coming later in the season.

In an interview with THR last year, Amy said: "I'm proud of what I'm doing now, but I'm nowhere near where I hope to get." Did you feel that desire from her this season, to push the boundaries even further?

The best thing about Amy is, she's one of the hardest workers that I've ever met and, especially over the past years, has been so prolific with the amount of content she's created. Between the four seasons of the show and Trainwreck, her HBO special, touring — and she's got all new material and has done original stand-up for the shows. We're talking double-digit hours worth of original content that she's either written directly or is overseeing over the past few years. You'd think there'd be a level of exhaustion there, but she comes in and there's not a single sketch idea on the show that isn't pitched directly to Amy where she doesn't give her input. She's just sort of tireless in wanting to perfect everything and get it in the best shape it can for the show. And it's not that every sketch we're looking like: Is this going to be viral? Because you can't predict it. She's extremely confident in her sense of humor, so I think that if she knows something is funny and interesting to her and makes her laugh, there's going to be an audience for it. She really uses her own taste as a barometer, and it's been extremely successful for us so far!

She's spoken about the power of self-deprecation. Is there anything she'll say no to, or anything, at this point, where you are shocked she will want to go there?

She says no to things all the time. If she feels that it's an idea that has been well-trod before or if the commentary doesn't really interest her. We pitch hundreds of ideas a season, and only 50 or so sketches make it on the TV. In terms of boundaries, she never really wants to do anything shocking for the sake of shock. It's always: Is the shock value in service of some sort of larger joke or commentary? Certainly we do shocking things, but I like to think that they're always funnier than they are shocking.

The show is also known for its celebrity cameos. Were you getting calls from stars who wanted to guest on the show this year?

There's a degree of that. Most of the celebrity casting is just done directly by Amy off of Twitter, being like, "Hey, come on my show." We have a sketch [in the third episode] with four football players and Von Miller, who was the Super Bowl MVP, had agreed to do it weeks before. Then the day before the sketch was to shoot, and we had no way of moving it because it was our last day of shooting, Peyton Manning decided to announce his retirement. And so Von had to be there for his teammate and he pulled out on us. And Amy's like, "What are we going to do?" Our supervising producer told her she was just going to have to tweet out: What NFL players are in New York right now that can join us on set tomorrow? She did and we got a player from the Jets and Michael Strahan ended up coming over, and so it worked out great. You'd be amazed at the power of the combination of Amy's charisma and Twitter to land numerous guest stars on the season.

The premiere also sees a sketch starring Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda where he plays himself and Amy pitches him her own hip-hop opera. How did that come about? (Watch it here.)

That sketch was written by Amy's sister, Kim [Caramele], who is a supervising producer and writer on the show. Kim and Amy went to see Hamilton and it blew them both away, but it had an especially strong effect on Kim. It was in the wake of seeing that that she pitched the sketch, titled "Betsy Ross." Some of our sketches are written and there aren't many changes between the first draft and when we shoot, and then there are other sketches that are radically altered by the dynamic of the room and the punch-up of the session, which is more the norm. But in this case, Amy and Kim kind of took the reins on the sketch and it didn't change very much from the initial draft to when we shot it. If anything, it was like three minutes longer than the version you saw and we had to chip away at it to get it down to time. And it's still one of our longer sketches.

I think it's safe to say that "Betsy Ross" will probably go viral this season.

I will say that him winning a Pulitzer Prize certainly doesn't hurt.

Do you try to predict the big talkers of the season?

Only in the sense that we're only allowed to put two clips per episode online. So we do have to decide which two that we think have the best chance. But there are some. We knew last year with "Last F—able Day" — how could that not be spread around? And "Girl, You Don't Need Makeup," too, we figured that'd be something else. But beyond that, then there are ones that are sort of a pleasant surprise when they get a ton of attention. "Football Town Nights" I thought was one of the most well-executed sketched we've ever done, but even I was surprised at how much attention that got in the media and how much that was passed around.

The third episode opens with an Oscar parody featuring a string of A-list actors: presenter Steve Buscemi introduces film clips from Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Hudson and Laura Linney. How did you pull that off?

It took a lot of working around these incredible actress' schedules, but fortunately each of them had one shot. They came on set and we had them done in 15 minutes. Maggie Gyllenhaal was like, "That's it? Is there more I can do?" We wanted women who are really esteemed actress who have either been nominated or who are always in play for the Academy Awards to give it that realism and that gravitas. But we were really honored for all four of them to come on set. Each time we got to shoot one of those snippets it was a real honor.

I also noticed Louis C.K. in a blooper for that episode. Was he involved?

(Laughs.) He wasn't involved, he just stopped by to say hi. Right as I was shooting, he wandered into the shot and we just thought we'd include it as a blooper. We had an additional one where J.J. Abrams stopped by. We were shooting and Amy was co-directing that sketch and, as a joke, when it was time for her to go in and give direction to the actors, she sent J.J. in instead to give direction. We originally included it as a blooper but it was too long for the episode, so we'll probably include it on the DVD.

Thanks to social media, we know there are plenty of cameos coming: Andy Cohen, Lena Dunham, Liam Neeson, Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy's boyfriend, Ben Hanisch, shared a photo of him in action on set. Can you tease any of those guest appearances?

Liam Neeson appears in our second episode, and I cannot wait for people to see that sketch. It's one of my favorites of the season and working with him was a very surreal experience. He could not have been a nicer guy, by the way.

What episodes does she direct or co-direct this season, to follow up last season's "12 Angry Men"?

She co-directed two sketches, the "Fantasy Normal Dudes" with the football players in episode three, and she directs a sitcom parody that she also acts in in episode seven. I think episode seven might be my personal favorite of the season. It's definitely the darkest episode we've ever done. But she does an extended sitcom parody starring Ralphie May and Irina Shayk, along with some other cameos, that I think is really dark and really special. She co-wrote it as well.

You got an early renewal for season five. Have you already started thinking about the next season?

No. (Laughs.) I know Amy's got a couple movies lined up and all the focus has been about getting season four in the best shape possible and out the door. I can't start thinking about, in the same way that I can't start thinking about football until the baseball season's over, I can't start thinking about season five until season four is completely picture locked and delivered!

How have you noticed the TV landscape change for female-driven comedy from season one to now?

What's changed is that the bar has been raised because there's so much great material out there. Broad City is an incredible show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — their joke-writing ability is jaw-dropping — and I love Chelsea Handler's new show [Chelsea Does]. Amy would be laughing at me right me, because I'm hesitant to make a joke about how it's a great time for women in comedy, because Amy makes fun of that all the time. I think, honestly, I would broaden it out and say it's not just a great time for shows that are fronted by and created by and starring women, it's a great time for TV in general. TV used to be looked down upon by the upper echelons of the film world and now I feel like all the best work and narrative storytelling and comedy is in the TV space. And part of that is a proliferation of platforms and the other part is, I think everyone is raising each other's game. All the great work out there is just forcing everyone to play at the top of their intelligence and do the best that they can. Otherwise, they're not going to be a part of the conversation. It's an honor to be part of that conversation and be a show that people pay attention to and talk about.

With Amy's rising profile and corresponding projects, we can't help but wonder how much longer this series will last. Can you predict when it will end?

Oh, no. I don't think about that. As long as Amy wants to do it, I will show up at the offices to do another season of the show. We're in season four, which is much much longer than most TV shows get. Most are lucky enough to get the pilot to air and we've had four incredible seasons. I hope it keeps going for a long time but if Amy has to move on to other things, then I'm perfectly content with the sort of legacy of the show based on what we've done so far, especially with the upcoming season.

Inside Amy Schumer airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.