At this stage in her career, it’s not at all difficult for any outlying individuals to reach this conclusion: Amy Schumer – comedian, actress, all-around awesome babe to the nth power – is poised to steal the “hardest working legs in showbiz” moniker from under the nose of an
unsuspecting Tina Turner.
Hyperbole, you say? Not in the least. Let’s assess. The “hardest working” portion is obvious. Since her star-making debut on Last Comic Standing, Schumer has been consistently fanning the flames of her funniness with guest appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Comedy Central Presents, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. (Lady Ellen herself was quoted as saying, “Amy is one of my favorites, I expect to see big things from this girl.”) Every week, she can be seen on Fuse co-hosting A Different Spin with Mark Hoppus, and has, in the form of guest roles, brought considerable comic spice to the already considerably spicy comic behemoth NBC’s 30 Rock as well as ABC’s Cupid; and you’ll be able to spy her on the upcoming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
And for the legs? Well, you’ll have to check out the March issue of Cosmopolitan, where we meet our hero rocking the mic at NYC’s ultra-famous Comedy Cellar, wearing nothing but a sly smirk. (And perhaps not even that. The subject may not be under wraps, but the pics currently are.) Thankfully, Amy had time to take momentary pause from ruling the comedy-osphere (she’s also about to record an album for Comedy Central Records in Denver Jan. 20-22) to shoot the shit with Punchline Magazine about how she draws personal strength from the spirit of the stage, her criminal record, and how one can be a little bit comedy and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Proud Mary, meet Ass-kicking Amy.
If you could give your comic persona a name, what would it be? And don’t say “Amy.”
My comic persona. Um… god, “slutty” came to mind right away. That sounds like it’s been done, but it’s just true. I guess slutty, or honest.
I read online that when you were a kid, you would create imaginary characters for yourself. Have any of these personalities worked their way into your comedy?
They are now. Like, not those actual ones: [when I was a kid], I’d be like, “Everyone in the living room! Come! I have a story.” Then I’d get up and start telling a story about these two rabbits that lived together…or some other terrible story, usually about rabbits or dinosaurs. My dad videotaped everything, so there are hours of footage of me making my parents listen to stories about fictitious animals coming to life. Sometimes I would try to be like, “This one’s true!” And they’d be like, okay, and then I’d be like, “These two rabbits…” and they’d be like, oh, god.
Now, my stand-up has been getting more and more like, if I watched myself on a video that was silent, it looks like I’ve been getting more and more vaudeville. I’ve been less and less worried about how I look; instead, I’m more worried about communicating what I’m trying to say.
|Amy Schumer – Exclusive – HPV|
Where do you think that stems from?
Maybe me connecting more with the stuff I liked doing when I was a kid, and making my siblings laugh. I’m just trying to communicate to the audience what I’m trying to say, so I’m not that worried about the presentation of it, physically, if that makes sense.
You studied theater in college and pursued acting professionally before you turned to comedy. That struck me as interesting, because that sequence is usually executed in the opposite. What initially drew you to stand-up?
I was a funny kid. It’s funny, because now, when I go to headline, I think back to how I used to make my parents and my friends and my siblings sit there and listen to me tell stories and try to make them laugh. It’s ridiculously clear – for as long as I can remember, I wanted this specific type of performing. After college, I found that you don’t get to perform as often as you do in college. I found a group of people backstage, or god knows where – an improv group, of which the leader was like this total schizophrenic – and one of the girls in my improv troupe was a comic. She did stand-up. She was like 45 years old at the time, and I went and saw her. I was like, oh, this is really appealing. I had seen a lot of stand-up before, and I’d never really thought about the possibility of doing it, but then when I saw this girl from my improv troupe doing it, and getting some success, I was like, I can do this. I tried it within a week or two, and I liked it right away.
But I want you to know that that question is hard for me to hear, because I still totally act. I have a theater company called The Collective, and we introduce plays and mostly original works. I’m not trying to brag, but I want you to know that I’m going to be on Curb Your Enthusiasm this season, and 30 Rock. I’m filming a movie with Parker Posey: the role is kind of funny, but it’s also kind of serious. I think that, if I didn’t have dramatic work in my life, I would not enjoy stand-up as much. Or vice-versa. The whole time when I was beginning stand-up, I was just starting out, and I was in the two-year Meisner program with William Esper, I learned that they totally leant themselves to each other. I think I’m just drawn to manic depression.
I’ve noticed that your comic cadence is very conversational. Was it a conscious choice to style things this way, or has this always come naturally to you?
Yeah, that totally comes naturally to me. I’ve never made any conscious decisions about the direction I want my act to go. I’ve talked to other comedians like that, and maybe it’s just because I’m lazy. I might have thought about my set-up and punchline set up a little bit, but from the second I did my first stand-up bit, it was very conversational, and I hope it’s still that way. If I stop feeling conversational and I hear myself sounding a little too… performer-y, then I’m unhappy and I have to remind myself, you know, to stay in my body and not go on autopilot, so I can remember why I wrote this, and remember the truth of this stuff.
|Amy Schumer – Amy Jewmer|
How did you react when you’d heard Ellen DeGeneres called you one of her favorites in the comedy game?
I almost started crying. We’re always looking for validation, you know? Even when I was on Last Comic, I wouldn’t call myself a comedian. I don’t know what defines it for other people – if they’ll start calling themselves a comedian after their first open mic – but for me it wasn’t until I was able to make a living off of it, because it just didn’t feel honest, for me. Even during Last Comic, I was still sorting mail, finishing up waiting tables and stuff, so I didn’t really feel like a comedian yet. That sort of happened during that process. So to have someone I thought of as such a great comedian sort of endorse me and say, “I want you to be on my show, and I want to tell people about you,” I was like, “I’m a comedian!” It’s one of those things where you’re like, I should be doing this. I’m not wasting my time. I shouldn’t be just trying to trap someone into marriage and punch out some babies.
But again, it wasn’t like I was such a great comedian, at that point. I know that now I’m not just getting away with headlining. I am putting on a show I’m really proud of. I can go out after the show with my head held high, not being like sorry, I hope no one asked for their money back. Right after Last Comic, while I was headlining, because, you know, they have you headline right away, I was just like, faking my way through that shit. And now I feel like a comic. I think every comedian is still always looking for that validation.
I think it’s interesting that you co-host a show with Mark Hoppus, since some would say musicians are just frustrated comedians and vice-versa.
Yeah, my brother is a jazz musician, so for sure. You’ve interviewed musicians, right?
Yeah, a couple.
So yeah, totally. It’s like, if I’m talking to the black guy from the Comedy Cellar, it’s like a black and white thing. I remember I was standing in the back of The Punchline in Atlanta after the show, and I was smoking pot with one of the guys who was security. Me and this black dude, we’re talking and we’re like, ‘Oh, you like The Wire, too?!’ We loved all the same shows and were just connecting. We loved all the same stuff and the same moments on all these shows, and then he was like, ‘Do you know that show…’ and he named some BET show, and I was like, ‘…no. What about Arrested Development?’ And he was like, ‘…no.’ We could feel the moment that we lost each other.
So I feel like, with my brother being a musician and having interviewed musicians on the show with Mark, we connect so much on conversation together, but then we hit that roadblock of such fundamental differences. Musicians: they’re a lot that envy us, for what we get to do, but I don’t know any comedian who wouldn’t think it was pretty sweet to get to do their greatest hits, night after night. We have to keep up the illusion like it’s the first time we’re saying anything.
Let’s talk about Cosmo a little bit. Whose idea was it to pose nude: yours or theirs?
I’d written this article about a cowboy in the big city. It was inspired by me meeting this guy from Montana, who I met while I was there. I fell in love with him, and then he came out to New York, and seeing him out of his environment was really awful to me. I noticed that he was like really racist, and he was pointing at homeless people and men holding hands. I slept with the guy anyway because he had flown all the way here from Montana and I was 18 and thought I had to. Now I know that it’s never too late to get out of effing someone. Unless it’s like, a crime.
The concept was really simple, but then this article is about how I gained confidence as a comedian, and also how I gained confidence with men. It’s just from making so many mistakes, that ultimately, when you’re bombing, you’re trying to get to the next joke, and maybe this one will go better – it’s the same way if you meet somebody. It’s about getting confidence from being completely vulnerable and realizing that you like yourself.
So I was like, “Why don’t we do [the shoot] at the Comedy Cellar?” The editor-in-chief of Cosmo is like the coolest chick ever; she suggested the Cellar, and I was like, totally. We were talking about what the article was about, and I was like, “the fact that I’m completely comfortable with myself.” I still have moments of feeling vulnerable and ugly and sad, so what better way to convey that than to be like, well, how about being naked onstage? I’m about to turn 30, and I think my stock about to plummet.
I wonder if I’ll regret it. There are definitely things I’ve done that I feel icky about, but, I don’t know. I really like this idea; I’ve seen some of the pictures, and I feel pretty good about them.
|Amy Schumer – Blackout Drunk|
I was really surprised to read that your uncle is Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York. Being a CNN and MSNBC junkie, his is a name I was immediately familiar with.
Where does it say that he’s my uncle? Does it say that on Wikipedia?
Quite a few places, actually.
He’s my dad’s cousin. I definitely grew up knowing him – not knowing that it mattered that he was in politics, and not really dealing with it at all. The first time it came up was when my sister and I were arrested for shoplifting. We were arrested for grand larceny, and [the cops] were like, ‘You’re lucky you have this last name.’ And they pleaded it down, to like disturbing the peace or something. I really thought that shit was off the record, until I was on Last Comic and they asked me if I had an arrests, and I was like, “Eh, not really.” They have real lawyers – it’s like General Electric – and they knew everything I’d stolen.
Other than that, I’ve run into him a couple of times at events around New York, and he’s super nice. I’m really proud of that guy. I’m happy to be related to him at all. I don’t talk about politics onstage, but I’m as up on that stuff as I can be, from reading a newspaper a day, and watching a good amount of CNN and MSNBC myself (and avoiding Fox News, except when I’m on Redeye, of course). I’m really proud, and he’s never made a move where I’ve [disapproved]. The only criticism I’ve ever heard about him would be along the lines of, ‘That guy loooves the camera.’ Well fuckin’ yeah, because politics is like any other art: you’ve got to keep yourself hot. Keep yourself relevant, or people will forget about you.
Can you help a curious shiksa out: why are all the best comedians always Jewish?
[Laughs]. Honestly, I don’t believe the best comedians are always Jewish. Do you mean like female comics?
It just seems like, with the exception of Richard Pryor and George Carlin, there’s always been a Jewish dominance in comedy.
Why is that? I’ve thought about that, too. The other night at the Cellar, oh my god, it was all Jews. Why is it? I dunno. I guess it’s the sense of self-importance and entitlement and being unapologetic… I dunno. What is it about the Jews?
Is it something about the ethnic identity that lends itself to so much hilarity?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. Judaism, for me, is just another area where I didn’t feel accepted or like I belonged. I grew up on Long Island, but I grew up in the Irish Catholic mecca of Long Island. I’ve done some material on being Jewish onstage, and I talk about how the kids used to call me “Amy Jewmer.” And I really did: even with the parents of my friends, there was a ton of anti-Semitism going on, openly and in front of me. When it went to college, it was the first time I wasn’t apologizing for being Jewish, but there’s definitely some residual shame that I grew up with because of it.
It’s not fair, because then you find out that Long Island is like, fucking, full of Jews. You know in the movie The Land Before Time, when they finally get to that place where there’s all those leaves?
The Great Valley?
You suddenly find out that all of those leaves were just right on top of you, the whole time, but nobody ever told you about it. You thought that you were the only brontosaurus left. Now, if you go to the Museum of Natural History, you find out that there wasn’t even ever a brontosaurus! It’s like, oh, yeah, that was a mistake. It wasn’t real. Did you see that?
Yeah! They found two skeletons of two different dinosaurs together, and made them into one creature.
Isn’t that crazy? I did a book report on that. But anyway, I think for me definitely, I’m pretty good with the crowd and I can handle hecklers, so I think that comes from me having to be defensive.
You’re recording an album in Denver this weekend. In addition to the release of that, what’s up next for your comedy career?
I want to keep being on the road, like I have been. I have a bunch of headlining weekends lined up this year. I’m doing that international magazine, so I should get a bunch of colleges from that. I’m working toward being the best comedian I can be. I have no intention of stopping. I feel like I owe it to myself, without trying to sound too self-important. I’m almost 30; maybe I’ll wake up and want a kid one of these days, but for now I’m going to work my ass off and do as good at this as I possibly can. Everything I do is me going toward that; is working toward just being the best comedian I can be.
Maybe I’ll change, but I don’t think so. After I did my half-hour [special], I had to wonder, because there are a lot of people who do a half-hour special and then you never hear their names again, and I wondered if it would be like that for me. There was a little bit of a loss for material, and it was like, “What if that’s it? What if I’ll never write a joke again?” But since then, I’ve written 45 minutes – no joke – and I never thought that I’d be able to say that.
That’s 45 minutes that I’ve never done on television, that I’m really proud of and feels really good right now; but in two weeks I might like, ugh, I’ve got nothing. There are such highs and lows, but working my ass off in stand-up, I want to do an hour special. I’m filming a movie, and I want to get more acting work, so that’s really important to me. I’m just working hard, and getting funnier. And not becoming an asshole.
|Amy Schumer – Baby Safety|
Anything else you’d like to add?
Uh, yeah. ….fuck. Fuck people who leave cruel anonymous comments, especially to female comics. It keeps funny, talented women from wanting… it makes them question whether or not they should be doing this, because of anonymous comments from stupid, afraid people.
And I’m not saying I’m above it. I’m really good at giving advice to my friends who are female comics, like, “Ignore it! It’s some 13 year old in their basement!” But I still look at it, and I… [coughs]. It’s been a couple years for me – not since Last Comic – and I had no idea how big that was. Those comments really make you question yourself, like, “Maybe I am ugly. Maybe I am fat.” And that’s also kind of why I wanted to do that Cosmo article. I’m not for everyone, other female comics aren’t for everyone, but why be angry about it? It’s just fucked up. It made me stronger, but it holds women back for sure.
For more info on Amy, check out amyschumer.com.
Amy Schumer officially endorses these lady comics: Jackie Monahan, Chelsea Peretti, Nikki Glaser, Natasha Leggero, Jessi Klein, Jessica Kirson, Marina Franklin, Rachel Feinstein, Mara Herron, Andrea Rosen, Erin Foley, Bonnie McFarlane and Morgan Murphy.
Bonus Exclusive Photos!
These are from Amy’s forthcoming album for Comedy Central Records, titled Cutting.