If you’ve somehow managed to sleep on Amy Schumer’s unusually rapid rise to fame, here’s a quick primer: Though she’s been performing stand-up and sketch comedy for over a decade, Schumer has entered (dominated, really) the zeitgeist this year thanks to a series of sharply satiric, deeply feminist, and oft-subversive sketches on Inside Amy Schumer, a critically acclaimed Comedy Central show in its third season that she writes, directs, and stars in. Schumer’s comedy is at turns gleefully raunchy, patriarchy-smashing, culturally incisive, and utterly surreal—one minute she’s sending up Hollywood ageism with help from Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the next she’s mocking the holier-than-thou martyrdom of twenty-somethings who adopt rescue dogs, then directing an episode-long shot-for-shot parody of 12 Angry Men that sees the likes of Paul Giamatti and Jeff Goldblum debating whether she’s “hot enough” to grace America's television screens.
This weekend, Schumer’s bringing her uniquely brazen and bizarre brand of comedy to the big screen with Trainwreck, which marks both the first movie she’s written and starred in and the first film Judd Apatow’s ever directed that he didn’t write. It’s a shaggy, sexy, surprisingly moving, and loosely autobiographical rom-com that follows Schumer as Amy, a men’s magazine writer who’s completely turned off by monogamy until she’s assigned to profile Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), charming sports doctor to LeBron James (… LeBron James), and has to reevaluate her aversion to real intimacy. Last month, to promote the film and raise money for various nonprofits, Schumer headlined the Trainwreck Comedy Tour, a seven-city, eight-night sprint across the country that saw her performing stand-up alongside co-stars Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Dave Attell, and Apatow. As she touched down in Chicago, I caught up with her to talk about subverting both the rom-com and the male gaze, whether she worried about Apatow’s ability to serve a female protagonist, why she makes so many movie references, and how many glasses of wine she drinks on a nightly basis.
I need you to know that I fucking love you.
Oh my God. Shit. Thank you. That’s really sweet. That’s awesome. I really like your outfit. I want to have your outfit.
You can have it. My jeans are ripped, though.
Great. I’ll take it all. Sold.
I had no idea you were such a great dramatic actress.
Yeah. It’s like… people are surprised. I still get emotional watching it. It was hard.
What are you thinking about when you go to that dark emotional place?
What I’m saying. The way I was trained as an actress was to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances, so I’m living it out when it’s happening. I just get myself in that place and really say the words. It’s kind of like being trapped in a nightmare. [Laughs.]
In 2014, you gave a powerful, inspiring speech at the Gloria Awards, touching on self-esteem and body image and sex and female empowerment; this sort of kick-started the current “moment” you’re having. Much of your work before and since has been overtly feminist and critical of the patriarchy. Are you cognizant of the point in your life when you stopped buying into our culture’s sexist bullshit and started railing against it? And was it always your goal to create comedy with a feminist bent, or is it just something that happened organically?
That’s a good question. I don’t know what the moment was. I think it was probably just, like, building up. I’ve always felt this kind of fury over the expectations placed on women, and from a really young age. But I had an experience, the one I talked about at the Gloria Awards, I just mentioned it briefly: An editor at Men’s Health used a model’s picture instead of mine [for a piece I wrote], and they said, “We don’t use the writer’s picture for these.” But the nature of the piece—it was weird they didn’t use my picture. And it really hurt. But more than it hurt my ego, it made me furious that that was the condition of things. I just like fought it. I went back and was like, “No. I’m not gonna be embarrassed and be quiet about this.” I was like, “No. That’s not okay. And I’m gonna do what I can to change that.”
Early on in your career, you talked about how you'd be criticized for talking about sex in a way male comics rarely are.
Oh, yeah. I still feel like that.
“WE’RE ALL GIVEN THE MALE GAZE. IT’S JUST INSTILLED IN US.”
There are obviously a lot of people—and a lot of them are men—who don’t “get” you. Someone just the other day wrote a piece about how you’re not “really feminist;” another recent piece included a photo of you just sitting on a couch with the caption, “Amy Schumer in a provocative pose.”
Right? The [press] always says, like, “Kate Hudson flaunts her bikini body.” And you’re like, “What? She’s just at the beach with her kids.” We’re all given this male gaze. It’s just instilled in us. In every movie, it’s still the slow pan from the shoe up the girl’s thigh, and we’re watching it, like, “Well, that’s not how I look at women.” That’s why we’re not comfortable with the male form. So it’s so funny when we see a guy naked, but when a woman’s naked, it’s like, “[Moans].”
How do you put up with all of that without going insane?
It’s so out of your hands. There’s no control over it. I think making fun of it is what I like to do. Just be wearing, like, Spanx, and being like [Mockingly], “Am I lovable?”
[Ed. note: Mild Trainwreck spoilers in the section below.]
Trainwreck, somewhat surprisingly, mostly adheres to the traditional rom-com structure. But it still manages to feel like it breaks the mold—for instance, your lead characters, Aaron and Amy, seem so real and lived-in, and their relationship resists those rom-com tropes of, “there’s some huge secret that will tear them apart” or “he's cheating” or “she hears him talking about her and misunderstands it as an insult” or whatever. They’re just dealing with real-people issues. Did you try to actively avoid those traps when writing the film?
Yes, [we avoided those tropes] like “we had a misunderstanding” or “you made a bet with your friend.” I wanted the movie to reflect what would really happen. I probably would have wanted to end it where it didn’t work out between them. But Judd is very smart and really knows audiences and knows the balance of comedic and dramatic that people are comfortable with. I think you really develop feelings for these characters—I do when I watch movies—and if it doesn’t end up good between them, you’re like, “Well, fuck you!” But the truth is that putting yourself out there like that, having that grand gesture, just saying to this person, “I want to try,” is a huge step—definitely for me. And I don’t know what happens to them after the end of the movie. Maybe they go and have dinner and like, she gets drunk at dinner. So it’s like, I don’t know what happens after that happy ending, but you’re left with that moment.
Did you set out to subvert the rom-com with Trainwreck?
I didn’t really make fun of romantic comedies, not that I can think of. I like romantic comedies, I enjoy them. And it was really important to me to really research what it was like to work at a men’s magazine as a woman. And really research what it’s like to be a doctor, working with these athletes, and a surgeon. I met with these people and talked to them for hours and hours, and just wanted to do a good job—I didn’t want anyone to see their lifestyle in it and think, “Well, that’s not what happens.” And the only thing I feel bad about is—okay, anytime someone sleeps with their subject in a movie, I feel really bad. I’m like, "[Groans]."
I mean, I do that all the time.
I know, of course. It’s like, “If I’m doing a story on you, I’m fucking you.” But I do say that to Ezra [Miller, who plays Schumer’s intern]. He’s like, “What mistakes can you make [in journalism]?” And I’m like, “Don’t fuck someone.”
There's a point in the movie where Aaron tells Amy that it bothers him that she smokes weed and drinks and has had a lot of sex in the past, and she eventually gives that stuff up for him, throws out her booze...
—well, she doesn’t throw it out. She gives it to the homeless man. I was so excited about that idea. [Laughs.] To gather the booze, but still, it will be used. It will go to use.
What message were you were trying to convey with that particular storyline? As a proponent of both booze and marijuana in your stand-up and interviews, do you really believe it’s necessary to “clean up your act” in order to find love? Do you think you—the “royal you”—can still be a responsible, monogamous human and still have “vices” like that?
I really didn’t want it to be like, “He saves her, and everything she’s been doing is bad.” I do believe that there’s room for all of that. And I hope that this movie is a little bit of a gateway to tell people, “Don’t judge everyone so harshly.” Do you watch The Bachelorette? Last week, this one guy, his ego was hurt because [the Bachelorette] kinda wasn’t into him, and he was like, “I have a great job, I’m hot, I have sex with a lot of girls.” For him, it was like, “Cool! Oh, great!” But if a girl said that, you’d be like, “Oh my God. Let’s take her to the hospital.”
I think there’s gotta be a balance. If you’re healthy about your vices, it’s not fair that they should be okay for men and not women. If you’re happy and you’re enjoying your life and you’re figuring it out and that’s what you wanna do, then yeah. I drink. I will have sex with someone. You know? It’s like, that’s okay. I feel fine about that. The only thing that’s not fine about it is the way other people will react.
I had an interview yesterday, and this woman in Toronto was like, “So you’re easy.” And I was like, “No, I’m not.” And she was like, “But you are.” And I went, “No, I’m definitely not easy. Any guys that know me know that I’m actually pretty hard to have sex with.” And I said, “That’s so rude. You’re so rude.” It’s a risk that people might misunderstand [the movie]. I just want people to leave it having laughed and feeling better about themselves, and also people watching being like, “I’m not gonna be so quick to just label this person as a drunk, easy girl. What’s going on with her, why is she this way, what is she evolving into?”
You've said in a few interviews that Trainwreck is “me taking a look at me.” When writing it, how did you figure out the balance between sharing and oversharing?
Judd [Apatow] was like, “What would people want to see from an Amy Schumer movie?” so I didn’t make some completely dreary Sundance-type thing. But I wasn’t really worried about representing my stand-up character so much—that’s in there, all of that’s a part of me—but it’s a lot of me in the movie. I unfortunately don’t have as much sex as her or drink and abuse substances… I do it, but not as much. But that struggle of getting yourself somewhere where you can accept love—where you’re like, “I am lovable, I deserve to have somebody love me, if I want them in return.” It was also just what worked for the movie. My sister, we’re really close, and she’s married, but they don’t have kids, they don’t live in the suburbs, I love her husband. But for the movie it made it better if it was a bigger divide—if they were very “happy home”—and so it was a compromise of straight-up from my life, and then also just some stuff that was like, “Well, we are making a Hollywood movie.”
Judd Apatow has been critiqued in the past for underserving his female protagonists. Did that worry you at all? Why’d you select him to take on your story?
I just don’t agree with that. He’s definitely had male leads before—he’s a guy. I write all female leads—am I gonna get criticized for that? No, I wasn’t reticent about that at all. He made Bridesmaids happen, he made Girls happen. My biggest concern was to represent this girl in a fair way so you couldn’t just dismiss her as a party girl with no soul. I cared so much. And I think he really likes that. He likes a new performer who’s like, “I really give a fuck.” He was just like, “Trust me. You’re good. I’ve got you.” And I was like, “I don’t trust anybody.” But as we got closer and closer to the final cut, it was like, “Oh, he’s got me. We’re good. He’s someone to trust.”
There are so many cinematic references in this movie—you wink at everything from Manhattan to the The Usual Suspects to the typical Sundance movie. Why?
[Laughs.] I have too many movie references. I’m always thinking in terms of movies. I’ve always been crazy about movies. I can’t help it. In our house we would watch a movie until it didn’t work anymore. We would just kill movies over and over again. I’m still like that a little bit. I’ll watch a movie over and over. If anything, I have to pare down my references, because that’s how I think.
Have movies always been the goal for you?
I’ve never had a goal, honestly. I have no goals now. I have nothing on the radar. It’s true. I’m just like, “Meh.”
“i don't even care. IF I KNOW, THIS GUY IS STUPID AND I DON’T EVER WANT TO SEE HIM AGAIN, I’LL PROBABLY STILL SLEEP WITH HIM. BUT THAT’S CHANGINg.”
How is your private persona different from your public/stand-up persona? Would certain things about you surprise your fans?
Yeah. I’ve been saying onstage a little bit that I’ve never hooked up after a show. I say, “I’m not doing this for the dick.” Because male comics get a lot of pussy. I’d go as far as to say “undeserved pussy.” But it’s just different. I go right to my hotel after the show. I’m not hanging out. I’m an introvert. I like to talk to one person, and I need to kind of recharge. I’m very close and funny with my friends and family, and then other people I’m very careful with. I’m not the girl who’d be at the bar like, “Yeah, I’ll do shots with you guys!” I’d be faking it. I’m down to have a conversation, but I’m not a party animal. I don’t even think I say that [in my stand-up], but I think what people take from what I see on stage is that, “This girl’s down to fuck, and she’s down to take shots.” I’m not down for either of those things. If I meet a guy and I want to sleep with him, I will. I’ve always been in relationships, and then when we break up, if I want to sleep with someone, I’ll do it, I don’t even care. If I know, this guy is stupid and I don’t ever want to see him again, I’ll probably still sleep with him. [Laughs.] But that’s changing a little bit.
[Colin Quinn accidentally walks into the room. Schumer screams, “GET OUTTA HERE!” at the top of her lungs.]
I drink less. But I drink, like, almost every night. Just like a couple glasses of wine. Like maybe two glasses of wine. [Laughs.]
Like you, I'm sort of casually Jewish. Do you feel like feminist and Jewish comedy—both types of “outsider” comedy—lend themselves naturally to each other?
Last night at a show I referenced my Bat Mitzvah. I was talking about how, because LeBron James is in Trainwreck, all of a sudden everybody wants to be my friend. It reminded me of when I was about to send out invites to my Bat Mitzvah. Everybody’s just like, “Hi! I love your outfit today!” And I’m like, “You never talk to me.” So, um, it’s not something that I stay away from on purpose. If a reference pops into my head I’ll say it, but my experience of Judaism was this: I went to temple every Friday, and went to Sunday school, you know, Hebrew school, and then I had my Bat Mitzvah, and then I think that might be the last time I was in a temple. It wasn’t a conscious decision, that’s just how it’s gone. Not even so much by choice. Because I liked the traditions, I liked lighting the candles and stuff. I just kind of fell out of it. I still, when someone’s like, “What religion are you?” I’m like, “I’m Jewish.” But I haven’t said a prayer or been in a temple since I was like, 14.
Did your Bat Mitzvah have a theme?
It was at Medieval Times. Like, I brought all my friends to Medieval Times. I guess it didn’t have a theme, but the theme was we had a blast and we ate chicken with our hands.
You said on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2013 that you love to say the funniest thing that comes to your mind in any given situation and be an “idiot” in public, and were worried your burgeoning fame would affect that. Has it?
Yes. Oh, that’s so sad. Because I just like to be an asshole, do the dumbest thing, and now people notice. You know, I saw Kanye [West] and Kim [Kardashian] on the red carpet, and I just pretended to fall in front of them, and I can do that because everyone will know that I’m joking. But I like doing that stuff where people think I’m actually an idiot—like they think that I actually fell. Falling is one of my favorite things. I think it’s so funny. And my favorite place to do it was on airline shuttles. As soon as it would go, because they’re carpeted and you don’t usually hurt yourself, I’d just go “oof” and fall. And my sister would just laugh. And now if I do that, it’s like, “Oh, she’s a comedian.” It’s not funny anymore. That kind of stuff—you want it to be unexpected, you don’t want people to be like, “Oh, she’s just doing her thing.”
Have you done anything like that lately that’s backfired?
Probably, like, every day. Every day I do something where I pretend I don’t know what someone’s talking about. And they walk away from the interaction thinking, “This girl’s the biggest idiot I’ve ever met.”
When you were writing this movie, who were you writing it for? Who do you picture, who are you trying to make laugh?
Myself. I’m writing it to myself, and the people I’m closest to. My family, my sister. It’s to make them laugh. And I’m so psyched that people like it. Because it could have just been them. [Laughs.]
You’re everywhere right now, which is great. But it seems like everything you do—whether it’s leaving a generous tip at a restaurant, or photo-bombing a couple’s engagement photos, or making a casual sex joke at the Glamour Women Of The Year awards—makes headlines almost instantaneously. How do you feel? Does it freak you out?
Yeah. Thank you. It’s very weird. I was really freaked out when the Glamour Women Of The Year speech flew all over the place. Glamour told me the camera was “just for the archives.” So to not only not know that it would be released, but I woke up and it had two million hits. I was like, “What?” Everything I do is a story now. I’m not gonna let it change how I am and what I’m putting out there. I’m trying not to, anyway. But it’s strange.
Like how you’re opening for Madonna?
Oh my God, I know. I’m so excited. I was just like, “Can I come to every show?” I’m gonna be screaming out “La Isla Bonita.”
Please get onstage and sing with her.
If there’s any opportunity, I’ll be doing that.