IT’S NOT THE best day to be interviewing Amy Schumer. Overnight, The Guardian has run a generally glowing article about the fast-rising US comedian that suggests she might have a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to race. Aware of how any hint of scandal can dent an online reputation, she has quickly posted a lengthy response on Twitter, saying: “You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’, but you are wrong. It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it.”
Most people agree, and over the next few days the story shifts to whether “it’s just a joke” is a valid defence, before fizzling out. But when speaking to her via phone from the US, it’s not surprising she’s guarded on the subject. Asked about the way she’s increasingly known as much for her feminism as her comedy, she says, “I’m a feminist, and for some reason the culture is just looking for somebody [to be a spokesperson]. I feel fortunate that it’s me for the time being.”
The stand-up comedian, a 34-year-old New Yorker, came to prominence with a string of television appearances at the start of the decade, and in 2013 gained her own Comedy Central series. A sketch show with stand-up segments and interviews interspersed, Inside Amy Schumer is largely based on her stage persona. It has sketches on everything, from constructing the ideal man Weird Science-style and how people value their pets more than people, to an instant-classic parody of 12 Angry Men where the trial is about whether Schumer is attractive enough to be on television.
Her new movie, Trainwreck, takes her raunchy sketch comedy persona, puts it in a more traditional rom-com structure, and then cracks that structure wide open. In it she plays Amy, a 20-something magazine writer who, thanks to some hilariously misguided advice from her father, is a committed commitment-phobe...until she meets sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader). With a great cast (including Tilda Swinton and basketball star LeBron James), a lot of laughs and some solid emotional themes, it’s one of the funniest films of the year.
Directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin; Knocked Up), the project began when Apatow contacted Schumer after hearing her on Howard Stern’s radio show. “He called me up and asked me if I wanted to develop something together, and I said, ‘Hell yeah!’” When it comes to comedy, she says, they’re on the same page. “Oh yeah, we’re very similar in that we both have a tendency to over-share and keep it very real. I think that leads to the most pain and the best comedy, so we were a good team.”
Initially, Schumer didn’t expect to star in her own film. “I thought that I would just write it and they would cast a model-y actress. I always thought I could play it but, with Hollywood, the romantic lead in a movie is always like a model.” Now it’s hard to imagine the film working with anyone else in the lead, so strong is Schumer’s comedy persona after three seasons of her television show.
While co-star Hader is best known for his comedy work on Saturday Night Live, he branched out into more serious fare with The Skeleton Twins last year. “I think we just had to be believable together as a couple,” Schumer says. “Judd really likes you to be able to see the chemistry between two people, so I think our chemistry had to be believable above everything. You see these two people falling in love and breaking each other’s hearts, and you want to see them together.”
Apatow is well known for encouraging improvisation on-set with his cast. Even as the scriptwriter, Schumer was relaxed about going off-script. “It was fun! That’s how my television show is, too. I’m not really precious with my writing – I’m really supportive of my characters and making people understand where they’re coming from. In terms of which joke makes it in and what line makes it in, so long as they’re on point with the character, I’m happy to collaborate. These are the funniest people that I know, so we want their thoughts and their words.”
While she’s not planning to lock down her career in any one direction – it was recently revealed that she declined taking over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart, saying she didn’t want to be tied down for the next five years – more movies are likely to be on the agenda.
“There’s a project I’m working on with Paul Feig [director of Bridesmaids (2011)], so if they greenlight that I’ll be starring in it,” she says. “Basically, I like creating stuff and working hard.”
by Anthony Morris
» Trainwreck is in cinemas 6 August.
This article first appeared in Ed#489 of The Big Issue.