• Amy Schumer on making people squirm, death threats and her comedy evolution (Laughspin Interview)

    If 2012 was a good year for Amy Schumer – and it was – 2013 will undoubtedly be a great one. Having premiered her first hour-long stand-up special Mostly Sex Stuff (videos below) on Comedy Central in August, Schumer is now in the midst of shooting her own sketch series for the network. You’ll have to wait until April 30 for the first episode. But the good news is that you can see the lovably crass comic live onstage from Feb. 28 through May 19 as she travels the country for her first theater tour fittingly dubbed “Inside Amy.” Tickets are now on sale at LiveNation.com.

    With so much going on with the New York City-based comedian, we thought it was a good time to check in. We chatted about her album, Cutting, how she handled getting death threats, her love of uncomfortable situations and much more. Check it out!

    I’m a huge fan of your flavor of comedy, and I really enjoy your work. I’m based in Austin and saw you at South By a few years back – I really enjoy comedy that’s deeply personal and sometimes really hard to listen to or watch. How did you get started on that path?
    I’m glad you said that. South By was what, two or three years ago now, right? I’d like to think I’ve gotten even more personal. I think for me it was a natural progression: it wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t somewhere I thought I was going to move into, in terms of telling more personal stories. I started out liking jokes, just total jokes. There might have been some truth to them, but they were just jokes I wrote and I would perform them. And then, naturally, over time, I just started telling things that were more personal and things that I had heard other people talk about. Not everything.

    Some of the things, I wouldn’t necessarily hear other people talking about it, but it must happen to other people, and I want to talk about it. It’s fun if you hear people saying, “Oh my God, that’s so true, and I’ve never said that.” It’s comforting to hear somebody else say it. It means it’s okay. I’m really into that. I’m really into speaking about things that people are uncomfortable with. I’ll struggle through the discomfort to get them to a place where they’re more comfortable through laughter with themselves, and maybe with something that they’re not necessarily proud of. Or even just little human things that seem too personal, but maybe shouldn’t be.

    I loved your album, Cutting, and one of my favorite things about it was the final moment when you walk offstage with what seems to be a serious remark about your sister cutting herself. Can you talk a little bit about how you arrived at that as the conclusion of the album?
    Every stand-up set, even if it’s 15 minutes, I always throw something out that’s kind of just for me or for people that would just understand, like you. It’s funny because it’s the worst. It sucks the air out of the room. Some people hate that stuff, but I love those—you ever see that movie Made?– it’s so uncomfortable, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s just like, “Ugh, just stop doing what you’re doing.” So with that, sometimes now onstage I’ll be like, out of nowhere, “Have I talked about my dad’s murder yet?” And people are just like, “Ohhh.” You know? And my dad wasn’t murdered, but people are just like, “What?!” It’s just so—no one wants to hear that. And it’s so uncomfortable, and it ruins the moment, but I just think it’s so funny.

    So with that specific joke, I think I just thought, “What if I closed on stating that?” I just thought it would be really funny. I tried it, and it was just working. It worked every time except for once. People are always like, “What?” and then they laugh, and then they realize I’m really leaving, and they clap, and they really clap, like, “She’s actually leaving on that.” But once, and I don’t remember where it was, but I said it and I walked offstage and just like… no one clapped. People were really confused. I think they thought I just admitted something I’d never said before. It was really awful. But then later I thought it was funny. It only backfired once.

    That’s really funny – I would have loved to have been there for that.
    It was so uncomfortable! It was really uncomfortable. But I like that stuff. I’m not afraid of discomfort. I like to sit in it.

    Do you feel like there are any topics – and I’m sure you’re asked this a lot – that you don’t want to contend with onstage, that you feel like are off limits to joke about?
    I think probably. I used to say, “I don’t think there’s a way to make cancer funny,” but right now I’m living with—my roommate just had a double mastectomy, and so just seeing it up close—I just had this thought the other day, whenever you find out someone has cancer, immediately you’re like, “Oh my God, how old was she?” Like we ask right away. And I realized that’s to determine how sad we’ll be, or how comfortable we’ll be that someone got cancer. If it’s like, “She’s 40,” you’re like “Oh my God.” But if it’s like, “She’s 78,” you’re like, “…okay, she had a good run.”

    In doing roasts, they were preparing us for the Sheen Roast, they were like, “Don’t make any jokes about Mike Tyson’s dead son.” We were all like, “Of COURSE. Yeah. Of course not!” So, yeah, there are totally things that are clearly not funny in any way. But it’s not like a list of things. I think someone’s dead kid would be on that list. But I don’t know. I don’t know anything else. I like talking about rape, I like talking about different diseases and death a little bit. So I don’t know.
    So my answer is yes, but I don’t know what it is.

    It seems like that willingness to go to dark places invites some pushback. I’m curious—after the Roast, where you made a joke about Ryan Dunn there was some pushback—how have you dealt with that kind of negative reaction lately, if you’ve gotten any?
    That’s the thing—I haven’t. I was just ready after the Roseanne roast, I was like, “What’s the thing going to be?” just bracing myself for this backlash, to get another wave of death threats or to get a ton of mean tweets or something. It just never came. I was kind of surprised, and I was really happy. But I had been bracing myself so much that I physically experienced it anyway.

    That is such an interesting thing—it was interesting while it was happening. It sucked. I was getting frightening death threats that were serious enough that I had to cancel a couple of dates. But I was not apologetic for real, I stood by that joke, and just for the principle of it. I knew my intention. People put a different meaning on what I said, and I just said I was not apologizing. I just kind of rode it out, but it felt like it was going to go on forever. I was scared, I was on the road, and I was scared that someone would physically hurt me, which was very weird. Unless you’re someone who has ever experienced that, the threat of violence, you can’t really explain it.

    You’re already vulnerable enough onstage, meanwhile I’m going to Ryan Dunn’s hometown thinking, “Tonight’s the night someone’s going to break a bottle and come up onstage.” And then nothing ever happened, time passed, and I got less and less angry tweets and Facebook messages and whatever. And this roast I got almost no negative feedback.

    I’m friends with Jenny Johnson who’s dealing with this Chris Brown insanity right now, and I’m reaching out to her several times a day just checking in, because I know how she feels. It’s really intense to go through it. She’s getting a ton of death threats and people saying mean things, and her Twitter feed is filling up with mean things and poorly spelled messages from teenagers who love Chris Brown, and they love the Jackass guys, and I know how she feels. I’m telling her the things I wish people had told me, which is that it’ll go away, it’ll wind up being a good thing, and I don’t think anyone’s really going to hurt her.

    With respect to the Chris Brown situation, Twitter makes it really easy to be critical of people and so does YouTube – does that make it harder to do comedy?
    They’re pulling tweets off of her feed, old tweets she wrote. What I said to her was like—they’re misquoting her, they’re lying, websites that are supposed to be reputable just make stuff up. She’s trying to correct people, saying, “I never said that.” But I said to her, “Jenny, it is out of your hands now. You are not even a person. You’re just a thing. Just let it blow over. People are mad. It’s not you, they’re not a person, they’re just projecting whatever’s wrong in their lives right now onto you.” I had a good handle of that when it happened to me. You have no control over what’s pulled from Twitter or what quotes are pulled from YouTube. People just say, “This is what this person stands for,” but they don’t look at what you said before it, or after it. I honestly think you have no control over it when that stuff happens. You can choose to either crawl in a hole and not put anything out there, or just keep doing what you’re doing and know that this is a possibility and hope that that doesn’t happen again. I am willing to risk it to get my material out there.

    You really have no control over it, so just do what you’re going to do. I’ve had some feelings of like, “Oh God, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe I should get knocked up and stop going on the road.” But then I was just like, “No.” It made me want to come at everybody harder, and I really think I did.

    That requires some fearlessness.

    Shifting gears pretty drastically, I want to ask about your Comedy Central show and how that’s going.
    Yeah! It’s going so great. We’ve shot two days and it feels like a dream come true. It’s so fun, I’m so proud of everything we wrote. There’s no scene that I’m dreading filming. I’m just so excited and proud. Just to get this stuff out, I just wish it could go on television tonight, the stuff we’ve already filmed. It’s funny, it’s going to be really funny and really different. I can’t wait for people to see it.

    That’s so exciting.
    Thanks, I’m so excited about it.

    When will people be seeing it?
    It’ll start April 30.

    That’s fantastic. How is that production process different than the stand-up comedy on the road that you’ve been doing?
    I’ve been working as an actress longer than I’ve been a stand-up. I was in a theater company in New York, done some off-Broadway shows, and I’ve gotten to be in all the New York comedies. I’ve been acting, and I love doing both so much. I’ve been just kind of quietly producing shorts or acting in them or appearing in TV shows throughout the years, and people will be like, “Was that just Amy Schumer?” about a show. I feel like I’ve been in this production system my whole life.

    I started just eight years ago, producing little stupid videos on my own, and you learn from that, and the bigger scale, and then I took it to live stand-up shows. With my theater company as a collective, we’d have a comedy night and we’d get a huge theater and I’d book comedians that were my friends, and it would be a great lineup. One night I remember was Patrice, Todd Barry, Judah, and I think Norton. And we’d start with a scene I wrote, and it was like—running those shows was just like good practice. Now I’m basically doing the same thing, but there are cameras rolling.

    Being on Delocated, that show on Adult Swim, that was the most regularly I’ve been on anything, and just being there for that process and watching prepared me. I was shooting an episode of Girls, and I was watching Lena Dunham—I’m not directing my series, but I now have the vocabulary to know how to communicate with the director. If I want to give someone a note, I know how to do that. The only reason I know is because everything’s been for practice for this. I do feel ready, but you know, there are some things—I still have so much trouble reading a call sheet. I don’t know when I’ll become a pro at that stuff. But it’s nice, and I’m still going on the road a lot of weekends, so it’s not like I’ve crossed over.

    For tickets to Amy Schumer’s “Inside Amy” tour go here. For more info on Amy, check out AmySchumer.com.

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    Carrie Andersen

    In addition to writing for Laughspin, Carrie is a graduate student in Austin, Texas, where she researches popular culture, new media, music, and social movements. When not reading or writing in any official capacity, she spends her time playing the drums, watching crappy TV, and eating copious amounts of tacos and barbecue. She also blogs sporadically at carrieandersen.com.

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