Amy Schumer opens up about storming the comedy frat house
Comedy Central may not quite be the cable-channel equivalent of a dude adjusting his junk in the way that, say, Spike TV is, but it’s still generally pretty bro-centric. This is, after all, the same institution that brought us The Man Show and helped convince every college-age guy resting his Oakleys on the brim of a baseball cap to yell “I’m Rick James, bitch!” at any available moment.
That’s what makes Amy Schumer’s success all the more impressive: While you might expect the “ironic Patrick Bateman” stylings of her fellow showrunner (and ex-boyfriend) Anthony Jeselnik to do well among the network’s target demographic, it would have been hard to predict that Schumer’s sketch show would do even better. The first season of Inside Amy Schumer has aired to impressive ratings and appreciative critical murmuring, and its star is already holed up writing season 2. We caught up with her for EW’s New Hollywood Issue and chatted about her newfound success and where she plans to go from here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Have you found it’s been easier working on the show now that you already have a season under your belt?
AMY SCHUMER: Now I don’t have that first-season anxiety of, “We have to make this good, this might suck.” I just trust myself and the writers and everybody more, and we know everyone all the way down to craft services. I waited tables for a long time, and opening a restaurant always sucked. Did you ever do that?
No. But I’ve eaten in restaurants, so…
You’ve eaten food, right. Being there when a restaurant first opens is so much work, it just sucks. And that’s what it was like. But now it’s a little more relaxed as far as the TV show goes, but what I realized is that when you do something that people respond to well, you get more work. So I have exciting opportunities going on, but that leads to more work and more stress.
It has to feel good that your show has been pulling in great ratings across demographics.
I had no experience in what makes people watch what television, so that was kind of a crap shoot, but I’ve been on the road doing stand-up for so long, and I see that the crowd is a wide range. It’s never more male or female. It’s never more old or young. There will be people 18 through 60 at shows. So I know that those people are coming out and like me, but I didn’t know who would watch the show.
Not a lot of female comics have their own show. Do you feel like you’re shouldering a mantle of sorts, or do you find that question to be annoying?
I don’t find it annoying at all. I’m aware of the fact that there aren’t many female comedians who have television shows, and I know that there are not an equal proportion of female comedians to males. There’s no question, there are very few female comedians making it on the road compared to male comics. I know that I’m a prominent female comedian right now and that people aren’t all that exposed to female comics, so I feel the weight of it.
People have described your persona as someone who says filthy things, but daintily. Do you accept that?
People definitely say that, but I don’t feel especially dirty. Because a lot of my stand-up is talking about how my performance in bed is lackluster, and that I’m lazy, and I don’t know what I’m doing in bed, but because I’m broaching the subject of sex, people experience it as “She’s dirty.” Like, I’ve never had anal sex. Nobody’s ever come on my face. It’s those words, people hear them and think of you a certain way. I want to talk about the things that interest me and I think are funny, and sex is part of that. And hopefully if you’re a comic, you’re always evolving like any other artist, so the stuff that I was talking about two years ago, I’m not really talking about now.
My favorite was NPR’s Terry Gross asking you, in her dulcet tone, “Do you think of yourself a slut?”
That was rough. And I love that show. Just hearing her say your name is so crazy. But she was definitely talking to me like she’s never seen a penis before. And I was like, “Terry, can we just be real right now?”
Plus, a lot of male comedians talk about sex. There’s a whole category of jokes identified as dick jokes, whereas there isn’t really such a thing as a vagina joke. People generally whisper “vagina” like there’s one nearby that will overhear them.
There’s certain things that you’re just not supposed to talk about as a woman. Sometimes I’ll do a show and get offstage and the promoter is like, “You know, you talk about sex a lot.” And I’m like, would you say that to Jim Norton or Dave Attell? As a female comic, I would say 70 percent of the tweets I get or the feedback I get is whether or not they want to have sex with me. Every day I get a lot of, “Am I crazy that I want to sleep with her?” I’ve been getting feedback on whether or not I’m f—able since 2007, so I’m just used to it and I’m not affected by it. Am I disgusting or am I really pretty? Well, they’re both right! I’m writing a scene right now where there’s supposed to be a focus group on the TV show and they’re supposed to be deciding whether it’s funny or not, but they’re just discussing whether they’d want to f— me.
To be fair, when the first season of Louie premiered, all anyone ever talked about was whether they would f— Louis C.K.
[Laughs] As good as this show is as a stomping grounds to voice that female aggression, I still just want to be funny. And I am aware of the demographic that Comedy Central does pander to, and I don’t ignore that either. If something’s feeling too female, like only women would really appreciate it, I’ll nix it. I want it to appeal to both genders.
Inside Amy Schumer was almost a talk show, right?
Yeah, it was. We thought that’s what Comedy Central wanted. The other EPs and myself were like, “Okay, we’ll make a talk show.” And then I went out with Jessi Klein, who is one of the exec producers. We were just drinking and had too much and I just wasn’t that excited about making a talk show. Maybe I would one day, but I don’t want to talk to celebrities and say, “Wow, this movie was amazing!” So she was like, “I think you should make the show you want to make, the show of your dreams.”
And you sold a script to CBS too at one point.
The way that works is you go in, and I pitched all the networks. And then CBS was interested and I was like, great, so I wrote a single-cam show for them and then they decided not to make it.
What would a network Amy Schumer show look like?
I don’t know the answer to that. I really can’t even fathom it.
Less dildo jokes?
Probably a lot more, a lot more dildos. I feel lucky that that didn’t happen. I don’t think I would have been ready for that. I was ready for this.
You were on Last Comic Standing and Reality Bites Back and have been doing stand-up since age 23. And yet people still talk about your “meteoric rise” or put you in a New Hollywood Issue, like we just did. Do you feel like New Hollywood? You’ve got that New Hollywood smell.
[Sniff] You’re right. Recently for the first time when I landed at LAX, I was coming down the escalator and I saw the paparazzi and I looked around and was like, “I wonder who’s here.” They yelled, “There she is!” and then realized it was me. I’d never had a group that was waiting for me. So I feel like New Hollywood.
Is there a strong sense in the comedy world of having to pay your dues?
I definitely think so. There’s no fast-forwarding to being funny. I think you can be funny, but to be a good stand-up, you have to clock many hours to be really strong.
Do you ever look back at old routines of yours and think, “Wow, I’ve changed since then”?
I’m proud of all the specials that I filmed. I’m proud of the stand-up that’s on camera for me. It’s painful to look at yourself in old footage at all just because you’re like, “Oh god, I’m decaying.” But the content, I’ll forget about those jokes. And sometimes someone will come up to me and say, “Me and my girlfriend liked this joke,” and I’m like, “I forgot about that joke.” I miss my jokes, they’re like old friends.
You’ve been very open about your personal life, including your relationship with your partner in prime time, Anthony Jeselnik.
Early on when we were dating, nobody gave a s— who we were. Maybe a local radio station would say something. Then we did the Roast together, and it was part of the jokes. But then people asked about it, and I’ve never been guarded or withholding with my personal life. “Oh, we broke up, but we’re still friends” — just honest about it.
You’ve been on his show multiple times since.
Yeah, I was on the first episode of his first season and this season. We’re really good friends. So that’s lucky. Yeah, from now on I think I’ll try to be more private. It feels like what I’m supposed to do, so why not?
At what point do you feel entitled to become more of an a–hole?
Never, I think, for comedians. That’s why I stayed in New York. I go to the Comedy Cellar every night and we just talk. And nobody lets anyone get a big head. Louis [C.K.] and Chris Rock and those guys and the people around the table will make you feel like you aren’t s—. I don’t think I’ll ever be an a–hole, I hope.
I don’t think anyone’s ever accused comedians of being too well-adjusted, though.
Oh no, I did not mean to sound like I thought I was well-adjusted!
Do you feel like you follow in the mold of stand-up comic neuroses?
Oh my god, yes.
How many hours do you book on the couch?
I’ve been in therapy for so long, I’ve booked double sessions with her. I feel like a comedian, I feel like I have the same hangups. I’ve had a similar road. I had a tough time as a kid and comedy started as a defense mechanism, but I found that I liked making people laugh.
It’s pretty accepted that comedy can be great for working through difficult issues. Tig Notaro, who writes for your show, is probably the most memorable recent example of that with her instantly iconic set about her cancer diagnosis.
Tig is my good friend and I had asked her to write for the show and then she got cancer. She was like, “I don’t know what to do.” I said, “After your mastectomy, move to New York. We’ll get an apartment together and I’ll take care of you.” Her and her writing partner Kyle [Dunnigan]. “We’ll all live together. We’ll write jokes, we’ll make a show, and when you can come to work, come to work.” So that’s what we did, and she wound up being very healthy after, thankfully.
I feel like if you’re a stand-up at this point in time, you’re expected to have formulated a position on rape jokes. You’ve made them yourself in your routine.
I think for me, I’ve kept things real and been true to myself so far, and I think that if you’re not an a–hole, it’s going to be okay. People can take quotes out of context, but the people who accidentally slip out something they believe, they were an a–hole to begin with. I know I’m not racist and I know I don’t want women to get raped. And I don’t make rape jokes where the punchline is, “Isn’t it funny when women get raped?” My goal is I want to make people laugh, but I also want to talk about things that could use some attention. I’m not above a total dick joke, of course I’m not, but I do like the idea of shining a light on something or making someone feel less alone through stand-up.
How much more do you prefer New York to L.A.?
Whenever I visit L.A., I have a good time, but I’m always very happy to come back. It’s like Biggie said, “Cali, great place to visit … ”
So Biggie over Tupac?
Oh my god, no question.
How many seasons of Inside Amy Schumer do you have…
… inside Amy Schumer? I don’t know, season 1 felt good, so I hope a bunch more? I think. Sure. Maybe?
Inside Amy Schumer