Best of 2014: Inside Amy Schumer's military rape sketch
In an InsideAmy Schumer sketch that premiered this spring, Schumer takes up a controller to play her boyfriend’s Call of Duty-esque game. But when she chooses a female avatar, she doesn’t encounter enemy fire. Instead, her character is raped—and when she moves to try and convict her assailant, she is faced with bureaucracy and character assassination. It’s a sketch in which the humor comes from how unfunny the situation actually is.
EW talked with writer Christine Nangle about how this powerful sketch got on the air. Click here for more stories behind the year’s top TV moments.
Inside Amy Schumer writer Christine Nangle kept waiting for someone to say no to her sketch about sexual assault in the military. But despite the difficult material, no one did. “The night before it aired, Dan Powell, our executive producer, texted me and said, ‘We can’t do it. Colbert is doing something similar,'” Nangle says. “‘We can’t do it.’ As soon as I got the text I started crying. And then he immediately texted me: ‘Just kidding, I’ve been waiting for six months to do this.'” Powell said in an email that he checked his records, and even the network’s standards executive called the sketch “awesome.”
“As soon as she pitched it, we were all so excited, and we knew it was going to be a big deal,” Schumer says. “It was also fun because it was Christine’s first season writing on the show—to let her know we want to do this stuff, and we’ve got your back, and we’re psyched. Thank you for thinking of it.”
Nangle had heard stories about the military’s sexual assault epidemic in the documentary The Invisible War. But the specific idea for the sketch came when another writer brought up Call of Duty during a pitch session. “It was like two parts of my brain just made a connection,” Nangle says. “I almost jumped out of my seat and said, ‘What if this happened?'” Nangle had already been thinking about how strangely realistic some video games can be. She later brought a more official pitch to the table. “We all kind of saw our way in and trusted each other enough that we would be deft about it, or that we would be artful,” she explains. “When it came time for the rewrite at the table after I had done a couple of versions, we really did take our time and talk about it and try to find a nice balance between what’s true, what’s funny, what’s too heavy-handed, etc.”
Nangle recalls that one version of the sketch had Schumer’s boyfriend reacting in a more horrified fashion, frantically flipping through a manual when he sees what’s happening. For the final sketch, however, Nangle says the writers were more into the idea of him being lightly chiding. One of the final lines of the sketch? He tells Amy, “It’s probably best you don’t play”—a line that Nangle recalled during the GamerGate controversy earlier this year. As she says in a follow-up email, there’s “this idea that when women enter into what some men consider ‘their’ arena, there’s a price to pay, because the only POSSIBLE outcome is she’ll ruin our fun.”
Schumer and Jon Dore’s performances help sell the sketch. “[Amy’s] just such a good actress, which I think a lot of people are always a little bit surprised by. She doesn’t play it like a comedy, but she also doesn’t play it like it’s a tragedy. She’s just playing it very real,” Nangle says. “Jon Dore has such a sweetness to him that his ignorance is relatable, not repugnant. You’re kind of like, ‘I know that guy,’ instead of, ‘That f—ing jerk.’ That just sold it. They just found the right guy.”
Even though there was no resistance from Nangle’s bosses or the higher-ups at Comedy Central, Nangle was still concerned about potential reaction to the sketch. She was relieved when The Invisible War account tweeted approval. “I think my shoulders unclenched,” she says. “I finally relaxed in a way I hadn’t since I had that idea.”
Over the course of two seasons, Inside Amy Schumer has proven that it’s not afraid to be viciously funny while also staunchly feminist. It did, after all, get the word “pussy” on Comedy Central. “A Very Realistic Military Game” maybe wasn’t the most laugh-out-loud sketch of the show’s sophomore year. In fact, it may have been the most terrifying
Still, its origin story isn’t so different from most of the bits on Schumer. “It is really weird to be serious when I talk about writing sketches. There’s no way to do it without sounding like I’m breezing down a hallway on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, acting like empires will rise and fall based on my 5 pages,” Nangle explains via email. “I guess that’s just a caveat there—it’s just a sketch, and I get that. I just happen to be thinking about a serious issue at the time I came up with it. If I was thinking about rat kings, I would have written some dumb sketch about rat kings sharing an apartment or something. “