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“I’m proud of what I’m doing now, but I’m nowhere near where I hope to get,” Amy Schumer tells me as we sit down to record the eleventh episode of the Awards Chatter podcast.
Talk about ambition! This year alone, the 34-year-old comedienne won the first-ever Emmy for best variety sketch series for Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer (for which she won a Peabody Award in 2014); anchored her own HBO comedy special under the direction of none other than Chris Rock; signed a book deal worth some $9 million; and was chosen by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
(You can play the full conversation below or download it — and past episodes with Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Danny Boyle, Eddie Redmayne, Jason Segel, Ramin Bahrani, Michael Shannon, Ridley Scott, F. Gary Gray, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Ian McKellen, Brie Larson, Sarah Silverman and Michael Moore — on iTunes.)
Oh, and she also wrote and starred in one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters, the big studio comedy Trainwreck, which could be a major player this awards season, not only at the Golden Globe Awards, which recognizes comedies (and musicals) in categories separate from dramas, but also at the Academy Awards, where Schumer could — and should — land up with a best original screenplay Oscar nomination. If Bridesmaids did, why not Trainwreck, a movie that generated comparable reviews and box-office?
So what’s it like being Amy Schumer right now — and how did she get to this point? “Every time I tweet, every time I try out a new joke, there could be, like, five think-pieces on it,” she laughs as we embark on a 40-minute conversation. “Comedians are treated like politicians now and it’s difficult, but I’m committed to being authentic — that’s the only way that I know how to be.”
Schumer, who was born in New York, says she wasn’t especially ambitious as a kid. “I seriously did not ever have a dream,” she insists. “I just always loved performing, but I didn’t see myself as a movie star or a comedian.” Like many comedians, her youth wasn’t happy-go-lucky — “I had a very tough childhood,” she says, which encompassed “some tragedy” that left her “in a lot of pain” by the time she began her studies at Maryland’s Towson College, from which she graduated in 2003.
While at college, she concluded that she “wanted to make a living performing and entertaining in some way,” but was just as open to acting as to comedy. “I’m a trained-ass actress,” she says with a laugh when I ask her about the fact that she got her college degree in theater, then studied the Meisner technique for two years and then began working in movies and on TV shows shot in the Big Apple (while simultaneously waitressing at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse at Grand Central Station and at Times Square’s Blue Fin). “A lot of comics are pretty good actors because there is that pain behind all the jokes,” she notes.
Meanwhile, in 2004, she stumbled into stand-up comedy, for which there was a significant learning curve — “I think people have to be somewhat mentally ill to do standup,” she says only half-jokingly — and which led to “a bunch of false-starts” in the world of comedy. An appearance on an episode of Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham led to a run on the NBC prime-time reality show Last Coming Standing, which was followed by a memorable turn on Comedy Central’s roast of Charlie Sheen, an hour-long special and then, fatefully, a pilot for Inside Amy Schumer.
On Inside Amy Schumer and in Trainwreck, Schumer plays a girl named “Amy” and acknowledges, “There’s a lot of me in those roles.” Both real and fictional Amy are fascinated by sex — indeed, it’s as much a part of real Amy’s comedic sensibility as any comedienne since Mae West — but real Amy emphasizes that she is far less adventurous than her fictional counterpart. “I’ve always been interested in sex,” she says, “but I’m not someone who has had a lot of crazy sex. I’m not a freak. I mean, still, I’ve never had anal sex, no one’s ever cum on my face, nothing crazy.” She adds, “I’ve only had one one-night-stand.”
Her ballsy and innovative work on Inside Amy Schumer — including a full-episode parody of 12 Angry Men in which jurors debate her “f—ability” (she directed it) and a sketch about middle-aged celebrities called “Last F—able Day,” which “was the hardest to get made” — quickly brought her to the attention of and impressed the biggest names in comedy. One, Judd Apatow, asked to meet her, as he does with many up-and-coming comics. She recalls, “I was just blown away that I got to meet him. It was the biggest deal in the world to me.” She was, therefore, beside herself when he encouraged her to turn an idea of hers into a movie script. She did so, but that initial script did not develop into anything — but it gave her the confidence to pursue her next idea that intrigued him, which ultimately became Trainwreck.
Schumer wrote the script while simultaneously making her TV show, which was no easy task. “I worked so hard,” she acknowledges. “I was like, ‘If this doesn’t happen, it’s not gonna be because I dropped the ball in any way. He [Apatow] would want a rewrite and I would send it to him in a week or less.” Interestingly, Schumer enjoys the writing process — which, she says, she performs while laying in bed (“like a woman in hospice”), tapping away on her laptop (“a filthy Mac”) and sending scenes to be read by her sister Kim Caramele (who also writes on Inside Amy Schumer) and her “partner in everything” Kevin Kane (a producer on Inside Amy Schumer) — even more than performing. “I’m kind of all about the work that happens before the thing,” she says. “Writing is the most fun, I love it.”
Schumer also talks about the importance to her work of a “theater collective” — modeled after the legendary Group Theatre — that she and six fellow acting students started 10 years ago. They meet in a theater every Monday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and dissect and rehearse each other’s work. Every episode of Inside Amy Schumer and the script of Trainwreck have been workshopped there. “I’m a secret theater nerd,” she chuckles.
As opportunities in increasing quantity and quality have come her way, Schumer has chosen very carefully. For instance, she was asked to replace the outgoing Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, but declined: “When it was brought up to me as a possibility I just was so moved that they thought I could handle it,” she says. “It is a little bit of a family at Comedy Central, so I felt like my parents were saying, ‘We’re giving you our nicest car,’ and I just was so flattered and just really thought about it and I really considered it.” However, she concluded, “I’m more excited about not knowing the paths I’m gonna go down.”
Rumor has it that she also was approached by Rock — who she regards as “probably the greatest living comedian,” and whose partnership on the HBO special “was like my Make a Wish” — to co-host the 88th Oscars with him in February. Asked about it, she dodges the question and instead says with a twinkle in her eye, “I can’t wait to see him host the Oscars, so anyway …”
One relationship she is “excited” to discuss is her friendship with Jennifer Lawrence. Schumer recounts, “I am such a fan of hers. My sister and I are crazy Hunger Games fans … we just loved her, like everyone else. … She saw Trainwreck and it sounds like she kind of felt the same way, and she emailed me.” Schumer says Lawrence suggested she write a movie for them to do together, so “I sent her like six or seven scenes and was like, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking.’ ” The two started working and socializing together and became fast friends. “We don’t need each other in terms of work, but it does feel like we need each other in terms of our friendship,” Schumer says earnestly. “There are just some things I feel like we really understand about each other. I believe people come into each other’s lives when they need them, and Jen and I just kind of like clung to each other, like this is happening for a reason.”
Asked for details about the movie on which she’s collaborating with Lawrence, Schumer had this to say: “The two of us and my sister have been writing this script together. It’s funny, for sure. I would say it’s a comedy, but, in the way that Trainwreck had some heaviness to it, this movie definitely has a lot of truth and a lot of heaviness. But, yeah, it is hilarious — I feel comfortable saying that. It’s not connected to any studio or any director or anything — right now, it’s still just the three of us girls and our friends and people in the industry who’ve read it to give us notes. But it’s exciting.”
With great success has come responsibility, Schumer feels, particularly in regards to the issue of guns, which hit very close to home for her: back in July, a crazed man shot up a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana where Trainwreck was playing, killing two before turning his gun on himself. “These two girls, Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, they died and they really didn’t have to,” Schumer says somberly. Because of that, she joined her cousin, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), at an August press conference calling for stricter gun control.
Reflecting on her step into the limelight to discuss the least funny of subjects, Schumer says, “I’m someone who right now is in a position to be heard. I know when I would see an actor or a comic kind of speak up about politics, you’re kinda like, ‘Stay in your lane,’ and I totally understand that. But I feel a real drive and responsibility to try and get stricter checks on guns. And what my cousin and I are lobbying for is: if you’ve been convicted of domestic violence, or if you are severely mentally ill, that you not be able to get a gun. That seems pretty logical to me.”
This sort of thing invites only further comments about and criticism directed at a woman who already receives plenty for her unconventional looks, work and the like. She sighs and says, “In terms of any sort of flack I’ve gotten, it’s a lot — it’s really a lot to adjust to, having every word, every outfit you wear, be analyzed. And I have just committed to myself to be as authentic as I can be.”
Fortunately, she says, the vast majority of people out there — from one of her heroes, Gloria Steinem, to many young girls, including those she sends up comedically — have very positive feedback for her (“I just feel so much support and love out there”), which motivates her to keep fighting, in her own unusual way, for them. She says, “I really like the idea of encouraging young women so that they don’t waste any time with not being empowered or not liking themselves.”
Trainwreck was released by Universal on Sept. 18 and now is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Awards voters are being asked to consider it for all musical/comedy Golden Globe categories and for the best original screenplay Oscar.
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