Amy Schumer Broke Into a Boys’ Club. Now She Wants to Blow It Up.
America’s funniest feminist firebrand — back with the personal new show 'Life & Beth' and a high-profile gig hosting the Oscars — is on a mission to banish the creeps of comedy: "I don't think that those guys should be allowed to come back."
“Hey. Crazy time right? Lot going on,” her post began in June of 2020. The pandemic was raging, as was the Black Lives Matter movement, but Amy Schumer hit pause on parenting and protesting to praise the many women who had come forward with stories of misconduct at the hands of comedians in particular. Earlier that week, Chris D’Elia had become the latest to trend on social media, with several women alleging sexual impropriety, which the comic denied.
“There are great men out there,” she wrote to 11 million on Instagram and a few million more on Twitter. “And there are men who humiliate and abuse women and girls because of a power dynamic or, because when they were that age, girls wouldn’t talk to them.”
Schumer offered a warning to those men — “we are watching you and we are all together now” — and an open call to their victims: She was there to listen. A phone number from an app that allows anyone to send her texts sat prominently in her profile. Soon, Schumer’s inbox was so flooded with #MeToo tales that she began reaching out to other famous women about trying to set up some sort of a help line. When that plan didn’t pan out, she started gathering victims — four from this guy; three from that one — and passing them along to lawyers, counselors and even the press.
“It’s all been really sad and disappointing,” she says now, sprawled out on a couch on the other side of a Manhattan hotel room in early February. “And I don’t think that the coercion and the taking advantage and the masturbating in front of people is cool, and I don’t think that those guys should be allowed to come back.”
Schumer, who exploded into the public consciousness with a few filthy minutes at Comedy Central’s roast of Charlie Sheen in 2011 and an aptly titled Mostly Sex Stuff special the following year, is keenly aware of the opportunity that she has to make a difference, and she doesn’t want to squander it. It propelled her decision to stump for Hillary Clinton, to get arrested for protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation and to blast former President Donald Trump as a “sexual-assaulting monster.” It also inspired the now 40-year-old to get real about a series of recent medical procedures, including a hysterectomy, IVF and, yes, liposuction, on her social media. But she’d be lying if she said her particular blend of brassy confidence and unflinching feminism hasn’t come at a cost.
In recent years, Schumer has watched her venues shrink from 15,000-person arenas to 5,000-seat theaters and has been pilloried from all corners of the internet. “And the male comics are mad at you and mean to you and it doesn’t feel good when those were your friends,” she acknowledges, “but also fuck them.” Schumer didn’t break her way into a boys’ club to let it continue on unchanged, and as the first and only female comic ever to headline Madison Square Garden — which, for the record, she sold out — she feels she’s earned the right to speak her mind. And now, after a prolonged period of hibernation (at least by her standards), she’s reemerging with a deeply personal Hulu series, Life & Beth, that she’s written, directed and stars in, dropping March 18, and the Oscars, which she’s been tapped to co-host, a week later. She has no intention of quieting down.
“She’s really, really, ridiculously honest, and she’s fearless,” says her friend and mentor Chris Rock. “She’s also as funny as any person walking the earth.”
Rock, who hosted the Academy Awards as recently as 2016, has been one of many industry veterans advising Schumer on what, she admits, can be a thankless gig. And while another vet, Judd Apatow, who directed Schumer’s 2015 smash hit, Trainwreck, has suggested to her that this isn’t the right climate for a roast, Rock’s encouraged Schumer to be unabashedly herself, even if it terrifies the Academy and its host network, ABC. As he sees it, they had two options in selecting an emcee: They could hire a tram or a roller coaster, and with Schumer, who’ll be joined by Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall for the three-hour telecast, they very clearly chose a roller coaster.
“And you get a little scared on roller coasters, they make you throw up sometimes, but when it’s all over, you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to do that again,’ ” says Rock, committing to the bit. “It’s the ride on which we advertise the whole amusement park. They don’t say, ‘Come to Six Flags, get on the bumper cars’; they say, ‘Get on fucking Rolling Thunder.’ So, yeah, there are lovely trams out there that can host the show, really lovely trams, but Amy Schumer is a fucking roller coaster.”
Early on, when Schumer was just a young comedian trying to get noticed in a man’s business, talking graphically about sex, often in heels and tight clothing, became as much a tactic as it was a crutch. It was her way of sneaking in, and it was successful — particularly in those open-mic days, when the crowds were packed with male comics, who, in her estimation, were “so ready for the girl not to be funny.”
Schumer shudders now at the lengths she went to fit in with the guys; but she needed to surprise them into laughing, and she knew how. Still, labeling her a “sex comic” didn’t give her nearly enough credit. It was also, arguably, sexist. “I feel like a guy could get up here and literally pull his dick out and everyone would be like, ‘He’s a thinker!’ ” she would joke of the gender double standard, a common theme in her comedy even then. By the time she rolled out her Comedy Central sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, in 2013, those feminist messages had become so explicit that the series and its viral sendups — including a pitch-perfect parody of 12 Angry Men, featuring a panel of famous jurors trying to determine if Schumer was “hot enough” for TV — earned both an Emmy and a Peabody.
Had Trump not been elected president, leaving an increasingly in-demand Schumer “totally depressed and without anything helpful to say” with her sketch show, she insists she would’ve continued with its already-ordered fifth season. Instead, Comedy Central’s then-head, Kent Alterman, offered his prized talent the kind of arrangement Larry David had on Curb Your Enthusiasm: “We told her, ‘Any time you want to come back, we’re here,’ ” he says. (And though Alterman himself became a casualty of consolidation, his successors reapproached Schumer when launching Paramount+ and asked if she’d revive the series with five stand-alone specials. Back in the writers room now, with much of Inside Amy‘s original staff, she’s hopeful they’ll allow her to do more.)
Rock had yet to see her sketch show, much less her stand-up, when Schumer asked him to direct her first HBO special. Before he said yes, he went downstairs at the Comedy Cellar in New York to check out her set, and then home to watch everything else she had done up until that point. “I kept being like, ‘Shit, she’s really good, and she hits hard,’ ” he says. So he agreed, and spent the next several months on the road with Schumer for a 2015 special that he’s so wildly proud of, he counts it as one of his own. In the years since, Rock says the two talk all the time. “In this new landscape, I’ll call Amy just to walk me through shit, like, ‘OK, what the fuck should I be doing right now? What the fuck can’t I say?’ “
Jerry Seinfeld has become a close friend too. Though he credits his wife, Jessica, whom he calls “the socially functioning member of the Seinfeld team,” for initiating the relationship with Schumer, the two comics regularly workshop material and vacation together with their spouses. Before he met Schumer, he’d already heard the hype around her. “Other comedians just kept telling me about this woman who really seemed to have figured herself out,” says Seinfeld. “And that’s what comedians have to do; we have to figure ourselves out. It’s, ‘OK, who am I? What do I talk about? How do I talk about it?’ And when someone succeeds at that, which is rare, people talk about it because it’s exciting.”
The gigs kept growing — clubs became theaters, theaters became arenas, and before Schumer knew it, she was making eight figures for a Netflix hour. With her 2015 hit Trainwreck, which she wrote and starred in, she became a bona fide movie star, and, with her Girl With a Lower Back Tattoo essay collection the next year, a best-selling author. Along the way, she hosted Saturday Night Live and the MTV Movie Awards, and graced every major magazine cover, from GQ to Vogue. There were Emmy nominations and Grammy ones, even a Tony nom for her leading role in Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower. She was, admittedly, everywhere, and an activist, too, lobbying for stricter gun control laws with Sen. Chuck Schumer, her second cousin once removed, after two women were tragically killed at a screening of her film in Lafayette, Louisiana. Then came the backlash: accusations of joke stealing, which she maintains she’d “never fucking do,” and cultural appropriation, along with pile-ons and death threats. At one point, she says, “the entire internet hated me.”
Though Schumer’s inner circle suggests she is more sensitive than she lets on, not caring what others think is part and parcel of her persona. She tries to see whatever mud is slung her way through the prism of a compliment. “It’s like, who gets the most hate? LeBron James? Tom Brady? It’s people at the top of their game,” she says, acknowledging that comparing herself to either athlete will only infuriate her haters more. Besides, she reserves the harshest criticism for herself, and there’s plenty in her past that makes her cringe. “I’m disgusted with some of my old material,” she says, citing one joke in particular about Black people not being able to swim. It was after reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste that she better understood its racist roots. She has “so much undoing to do,” she admits, and she’s been busy educating herself to be a better ally — a process that entailed participating in Black Lives Matter vigils and workshops every day for six months following the murder of George Floyd.
Still, when life under a microscope started feeling like too much, Schumer did what plenty in her position would do and retreated from the spotlight. She studied with the chair of the graduate directing program at New York University and threw herself into activism. She also fell in love, got married, shot a special for HBO Max and later a cooking show for the Food Network, and had a child. In that time, she also wrote Life & Beth, her most intimate project to date; then she returned to Hollywood, where she convinced a team of executives to let her make it her way.
“I’m better behaved now,” she says as the conversation turns to Hollywood, “a little more housebroken.”
Though her longtime collaborator Kevin Kane says Schumer has always operated with a “this is the last thing they’re going to let me do” mentality, she insists she’s genuinely surprised that she’s lasted as long as she has in the industry. For starters, she’s remained in her native New York, which she wears as a badge of honor (on this day, quite literally, with a “New York or Nowhere” sweatshirt). And unlike with stand-up, TV and moviemaking require multiple layers of executives, most of whom have opinions that Schumer hasn’t historically been interested in hearing, much less incorporating into her work. In recent years, Schumer says she’s gotten better at saying “I’ll think about that, thank you” when an executive gives her a note — a marked difference from her old reply, which was often some variation on “That doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t work for the story.” Her bigger issue, however, is that she wasn’t interested in being part of Hollywood’s formula.
On the heels of Trainwreck, which earned $140 million and adoring reviews, Schumer was deluged with offers. (And she took a few, too: Snatched, a 2017 romp with Goldie Hawn, which critics panned, and 2018’s I Feel Pretty, which they flat-out savaged.) Schumer had become part of a frighteningly small contingent of women who could get movies made — though, she’d soon learn, not necessarily the way she wanted to make them. The most eye-opening example came in late 2016, when she was tapped to star in Sony’s live-action Barbie and, with her sister and frequent writing partner Kim Caramele, took a pass at the script. It was described at the time as a fish-out-of-water tale about a woman (played by Schumer) who gets kicked out of Barbieland for not being perfect enough.
Four months later, Schumer announced she was dropping out, citing “scheduling conflicts.” The truth was more complicated. “They definitely didn’t want to do it the way I wanted to do it, the only way I was interested in doing it,” she says now. Just how far apart their visions of imperfection were — Schumer had written Barbie as an ambitious inventor; the studio asked that her invention be a high heel made of Jell-O — should have been apparent when she was sent a pair of Manolo Blahniks to celebrate. “The idea that that’s just what every woman must want, right there, I should have gone, ‘You’ve got the wrong gal.’ ” Greta Gerwig is now writing and directing the movie, and Margot Robbie is set to star.
By 2018, with Schumer feeling her career “getting a little stagnant,” she parted ways with her longtime representatives at UTA. “I loved those guys, but I just didn’t feel support for, like, ‘This is who Amy is and she’s not going to be this other thing,’ ” she says. “I felt like I was disappointing my team by not being Barbie.” She signed with Sharon Jackson, then a partner at WME, who was every bit as intimidating as she was, and Schumer went to work on cleaning up her reputation among Hollywood execs. (That reputation doesn’t trail her in stand-up, says Elizabeth Furiati, GM at the Comedy Cellar, where Schumer is beloved, and not just because she’s donated tens of thousands to the club’s workers, all of whom she once invited to the Trainwreck premiere.)
These days, Schumer’s yeses are fewer and farther between. She says she’ll continue to pop up in other people’s work — as she did in the 2021 adaptation of The Humans and, after a text from Martin, the upcoming season of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building — but she’s much more focused on making her own stuff. In fact, as this story was being put to bed, she was out pitching “a big, dumb comedy about girlfriends” to the streamers. The film, which she intends to direct and star in, is inspired by Schumer’s own girlfriends, a tight-knit crew that dates back to high school, and her love of The Bachelor franchise. “I’m always watching that show imagining, like, ‘What if I was just fucking on there, just my body, in a bikini, next to the rest of the girls,’ ” she says. So, it’s about “this shitty lawyer, me, who fights this claim for her client who was fired because of ageism and then uses that to get her and her friends on The Bachelor.”
Life & Beth, which a very pregnant Schumer pitched while “violently ill and about to crown” in 2019, is dramatically different in tone. The concept — about going home and dealing with the pain of your upbringing in ways that you’d never accepted or confronted before — came to her as she was refurbishing her father’s old farm in upstate New York. She’d bought back the property a few years earlier, some two-plus decades after Schumer and her family lost it when they lost everything else. Her dad’s once-lucrative business, importing high-end baby furniture from Europe, had gone belly-up when she was still a preteen; around the same time, her dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her mom, a speech and hearing therapist for the deaf, left him for the then-married father of her best friend. Schumer’s never been too sure of the precise timeline because, she says, “my parents both struggle with reality.”
If Trainwreck explored Schumer’s tight, messy relationship with her father, Life & Beth (the latter being Schumer’s middle name) would do something similar with the tight, messy one she has with her mother. “My mom was really destructive and did really harmful stuff, and also I felt so special and loved growing up,” Schumer says of an incongruity that’s examined over the show’s 10-episode first season. She made sure her mom got to see every script and, later, every episode; in fact, they watched the whole thing together, even the parts that weren’t easy to watch together. “And she’s been really fucking cool about all of it. She’s like, ‘I’m 73, I own my mistakes,’ and that’s the thing: My mom is insanely flawed and I also love her an insane amount.”
It doesn’t take much to see how closely the love story at the center of the series parallels Schumer’s with her now-husband, Chris Fischer, a farmer, chef and James Beard-winning cookbook author. The couple met four and a half years ago when she hired Fischer to cook for her family during a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. (He wasn’t familiar with Schumer’s work at the time, he admits, but began a deep dive, starting with her book, shortly after.) Schumer fought to cast Michael Cera, and not “some British lumberjack,” to play her love interest, a farmer who’s likely on the autism spectrum, though he doesn’t know it yet, just as Fischer didn’t when he and Schumer began dating. Early on in their relationship, Schumer found herself asking often, “Are these red flags? Am I ignoring red flags?” — which were questions that she wanted her character to ask as well.
Fischer read several drafts of the show’s pilot, and later spent time with Cera, who studied his behaviors even if he didn’t intend to mimic them, and on set to make sure the food and farming pieces were accurate. Many of the storylines mirrored moments that Fischer and Schumer had shared, including the time she worked his booth at the Martha’s Vineyard farmers market. “She loved it and she also immediately had rivals — Amy definitely had words with the women at the alpaca booth,” recalls Fischer. “But it was also really important to her not to make it a parody of a farmers market and this world, which were big parts of my life.” Like Schumer, Fischer says he loves the idea that they will now have this time capsule of their love story through the show.
By late February, Schumer and her family are about to decamp to Los Angeles, where she’ll spend the next several weeks preparing for the Oscars. This wasn’t the first time that she was asked to host; it was simply the first time she said yes. After two years in a pandemic, she’s eager to be able to gather with people and laugh again, and she’s never been one to fret about having a target on her back. Plus, the initial plan, which has since changed, was to have Schumer emcee only the first hour, which meant that she could still be home in time to put her son, Gene, to bed. For a woman who used to crack jokes about not wanting children, bedtime with her almost-3-year-old is now easily her favorite part of the day.
She’s still trying to figure out how much she can and should push the envelope on Hollywood’s biggest night — or at least its most prestigious. She’d pitched the show’s producers a few ideas over Zoom a month or so back, which were met with deafening silence. “I was like, ‘Can you guys hear me?’ ” she says, laughing about it now. Her many “pussy jokes,” as she characterizes the subgenre, are unlikely to make the cut — certainly not the raunchy bit she’s written, which starts off, “My husband is going down on me, or as he calls it, Squid Game. So, he’s in my Nightmare Alley …” Instead, she says she’ll likely take “a couple risks,” but stop short of anything that would get her sued: “I emailed my lawyer about two jokes the other day, and he was like, ‘No!’ “
Schumer hasn’t been this busy in years, which thrills and terrifies her — and only in part because she’s familiar with the life cycle of fame, particularly for a female: “People will get sick of me, I’ll get burned at the stake, and then I’ll disappear again,” she says. The last time she tangoed with the zeitgeist, she didn’t have a toddler and chronic pain to contend with as well. As anyone who follows Schumer on social media knows, the past few years have been marked by a dizzying array of health issues. It began with a ghastly case of hyperemesis gravidarum (i.e., nonstop puking) during her pregnancy, which she documented through barf bags and hospital visits for HBO Max’s Expecting Amy — and will do so again in Arrival Stories, a forthcoming collection of essays that she edited with fellow mom Christy Turlington Burns. More recently, Schumer’s been open about her struggles with endometriosis and an unsuccessful round of IVF for a baby No. 2. Those closest to her can worry that she puts too much of herself out there, or that the stuff she does can be misinterpreted. “She’ll have these super personal things, and I’ll be like, ‘Amy, you don’t have to give anybody that, that’s yours,’ ” says Kane. “And she’ll think about it, and then she’ll go, ‘Oh, fuck it, I’ll put it on Instagram, it might make somebody feel good.’ “
That certainly factored into a January post, where Schumer revealed she’d had liposuction and was now weighing in confidently at 170 pounds. “Everybody on camera is doing this shit, I just wanted to be real about it,” she says now, adding that she never imagined she’d go under the knife — but then her “uterus didn’t contract for two and a half years” and she turned 40 and she finally accepted that she wanted to feel better about her body. “It’s not about needing to be slamming, because I’ve never been famous for being hot, but I’d reached a place where I was tired of looking at myself in the mirror,” she says, clutching an area above her C-section scar that “grilled chicken and walks” wasn’t going to fix. So she underwent liposuction, and she has no regrets — not about having it done, nor about telling the world.
As one might expect, Schumer intends to work it all into her next stand-up set, which she’ll start taking out on the road later this year. She has no idea what crowd size to expect this time around, though she maintains she never saw her shift to smaller venues as a demotion. “I was saying what I really think, which is freeing,” says Schumer. “And also, I came into this business with enough awareness to know that it was going to be rocky.”
Still, she won’t pretend that she isn’t interested in getting back to the world’s biggest stages. “I’m not Chappelle or these comics who I guess have more integrity than me, who are like, ‘I’d rather do five shows [in more intimate venues],’ ” she says. “I’m like, ‘I want to go where the hockey team plays.’ ” In the meantime, Schumer is going to keep fleshing out her set at the Comedy Cellar — unless, of course, she turns up and sees on the lineup the name of a man with whom she’s no longer comfortable sharing a stage. In that case, Schumer will do as she’s done plenty of times before: She’ll turn around and go home.
This story first appeared in the March 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.