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Amy Schumer Talks Feminist Comedy & Pussy Magic In Our In-Depth Profile

“I’m rich now,” Amy Schumer says, onstage at the Hollywood Improv, to a Saturday-night crowd. “I go to the waxing places that change the paper.” The 32-year-old comedian isn’t actually that wealthy, but it seems appropriate that she would address her newfound notoriety with a joke. After nearly a decade working the stage as a standup, Schumer now stars on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, a stunningly subversive sketch show she created. She’s also just joined the ranks of Kristen Wiig and Lena Dunham as Judd Apatow’s newest development partner: Hollywood’s fairy godfather of smart, funny, boundary-pushing women is producing and directing Trainwreck, a movie Schumer is writing and starring in (due out July 2015).

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[Shoes and Dress: Christian Siriano]

Tonight, she’s dropped in on the intimate, influential Los Angeles comedy club to warm up her act. When she returns to her home base of New York next week, she’ll perform two nights at Times Square’s 2,000-plus-capacity Best Buy Theater, as part of her Inside Amy Schumer’s Back Door Tour. But riffing on her recently elevated level of fame is only the beginning. The rest of Schumer’s 10-minute set rolls from body image (“People ask me about my weight. They’re like, ‘Amy, how do you keep it right at disappointing?’”) to self-esteem (“Sometimes I wake up and I’m like, ‘My pussy’s fucking magic!’”) to getting stopped by TMZ (“They asked me, like, a slut question. Because that’s my thing.”) It’s a crash course in what makes her comedy not only offensively hilarious but also damn important. Because while it may seem like Schumer’s just cracking wise about relationships, porn, friendships, blow jobs, and even abortion, what she’s really talking about is women, and the raw deal we’re handed on a daily basis. And she’s doing it in a way we’ve never seen before. Take, for instance, her now famous—and controversial—bit about sexual assault. “We’ve all been a little raped, OK?” Schumer says during a season-one episode of Inside. “Just a skosh. Just a hair. It’s not all black and white; there’s a gray area of rape. Grape happens, what do you want me to say?” It’s a joke that’s jarring on a few levels, not least of which is how true it rings. You can just imagine every woman in the audience both laughing outright and simultaneously thinking, Yes, that’s happened to me.

“Sometimes I Wake Up And I'm Like, ‘My Pussy’s Fucking Magic!’”

When Schumer meets me in the bar at the Improv before her set, she’s not wearing the cute dress and high heels that fans of her 2012 Comedy Central special Mostly Sex Stuff might expect, but rather ripped jeans, a white V-neck (which she later refers to as “a shitty shirt”), black boots, and a messy ponytail. As we make our way up a stairwell, down a hallway, and past the kitchen to an office where we can chat in peace, she’s greeted by comedians, servers, and food runners alike; you get the sense she’s like a family member who’s gone off to college and has come home for the holidays. Which makes sense—performing standup in clubs all over the country is how Schumer got her start. In 2007, she placed fourth on the comedy-competition show Last Comic Standing, which upped her profile. But it was her role as a Comedy Central roaster, first of Charlie Sheen, and then of BUST’s very own advice columnist Roseanne Barr, that really broke things open for her. The roasts gave audiences an early taste of her no-fear ballsiness, something she demonstrates in nearly every bit, even—especially—the ones other comedians wouldn’t go near. “There’s always been something in me that’s like, ‘We should be allowed to be honest about this, and we shouldn’t feel bad about it,’” she says, sitting across from me in a rolling desk chair when I bring up the “grape” joke. “When I was starting out in standup, a lot of [my friends] had terminated pregnancies, but it was still a thing they felt really ashamed of. And HPV, that was another thing—I got HPV in college, and I was like, ‘My life is over.’ I was so ashamed. And then after college, my friends and I were out for drinks and they were like, ‘Oh my God, I had it too.’ We had all gotten it, but everyone had this bad moment. So when I go to a college, especially, I’ll be like, ‘You’re all going to get it, and don’t feel bad.’ I want to make people feel better.” Making people feel better might be at the top of Schumer’s agenda, but when I suggest that she’s blowing the lid off of women’s issues and making people think about them without even realizing it, she is clearly pleased. “That’s the secret goal,” she says, tightening her ponytail. “Some of my stuff is just stupid, quick things I thought of that made me laugh. And then some of it is stuff I want to call attention to, that I think isn’t fair. I’m trying to make it palatable for everybody—I want there to be men and women in the audience. But it’s more important to me that the women are psyched after a set.”

 

[White Dress: Alvin Alley; Rollerskates: Five Stride Skate Shop, Brooklyn, NY]

And most are. But raising the issues that Schumer does—on a national platform, no less—isn’t without repercussions. Mostly Sex Stuff includes a joke about going to yoga after taking Plan B: “Can these people tell I’m mid-aborsh?” she wonders. And in another one of her standup bits, she re-enacts getting a facial (not the relaxing kind). “People are like, ‘Are you a whore? Are you a filthy whore?’” Schumer says of reactions to her more edgy material. “It is somewhat of a sacrifice because people don’t know what’s real and what’s not.” To be fair, some confusion is understandable. Her “characters” are all named Amy, and her real-life personality seems to share quite a few similarities with her stage persona. For the record, though, Schumer’s sex life is much more reserved than her act would lead you to believe. She was a virgin until her senior year of high school, and she didn’t give a blow job until she was in college (she graduated with a degree in theater from Maryland’s Towson University). She’s also had only one one-night stand in her entire life, and that was within the past six months (after her breakup with fellow comedian Anthony Jeselnik). If at one end of the spectrum is her cat-T-shirt-wearing Inside Amy Schumer character who’s eating dry spaghetti out of a colander while watching a black-and-white romance and trying to sext (“I want to hug your dick”), and at the other end is the hot-to-trot nympho people perceive her to be, the real Schumer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

“People Are Like, ‘Are You A Whore? Are You A Filthy Whore?’ They Don't Know What’s Real And What’s Not.”

Her interest in sex started at a very young age. In preschool, she was the girl chasing boys around the block, trying to kiss them. And her fascination only grew. She recalls bringing an issue of her mother’s Redbook magazine, complete with sex tips, to school in the fifth grade. “I was like, ‘Look at this, you guys.’ And everyone was like, ‘Whoa, we’re not ready for this,’” she says. “I got yelled at by their parents.” It was probably her own parents who should have taken her to task, but that’s not the kind of childhood she had. Schumer grew up in Long Island, NY, with an older brother (a jazz musician who now lives in Chicago) and a younger sister, who lives with her husband just blocks away from Schumer’s Chelsea apartment in N.Y.C. (“My sister and I are as close as I think you can be with a sister without it getting creepy,” she says. “It’s probably a little creepy.”) When she was young, her family was quite wealthy, but they declared bankruptcy while she was still in elementary school. Her parents divorced a few years after that. 

She describes them both as “oversharers.” “They treated me like I was a friend, and I think I probably liked being talked to like an adult. So I tried to make them feel like that was OK, but I was definitely too young to be told the stuff I was told,” she says, absent-mindedly adjusting the neckline of her shirt. “I think I probably initiated the oversharing, because I was always interested and wanted to talk about sex. I was like, ‘What’s the deal? What’s going on?’” Her dad was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and, now in his 60s, is in an assisted-living home in Long Island. But he’s still a “wise-ass” who, Schumer says, is effusively proud. She even receives a text from him during our conversation, about how he wishes he could be at her next show. Schumer and her mother are also still close, though not “too close,” as she tells me they used to be. It was right before Schumer turned 30 that she realized her relationship with her mom might be a tad unhealthy. “She called me and she was like, ‘Here’s what we’re doing for your 30th birthday. We’re going on a helicopter ride around Manhattan, and then we’re going to get hibachi,’” Schumer says. “I was like, ‘Am I on a Millionaire Matchmaker date with you?’” It was then she decided to set some boundaries.

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It was her family’s lack of them, however, that no doubt shaped her ability to talk openly about pretty much anything. And her childhood influenced her taste in comedy as well. She tells me she grew up revering “funny, badass” women like Gilda Radner and Whoopi Goldberg, and watching shows like I Love Lucy, Laverne & Shirley, and The Muppets (“I thought Miss Piggy was so fucking funny”). But one unexpected icon seems to have a played a bigger role in Schumer’s career than even she realized. “I loved Shirley Temple. I watched every Shirley Temple movie, and she—It’s funny, because in those movies, she’d be really cute, but then she could also be a little asshole,” she says. And then she has an epiphany: “That’s totally my thing!”

[Flowers: Courtesy of Teleflora]

In fact, much has been made of Schumer’s cute, girl-next-door looks, which make her asshole jokes (both figurative and literal) pack twice the punch. In the past, Schumer’s taken full advantage of this paradox, giving “Who, me?” smiles and innocent eyelash bats with impeccable comic timing. The feminine dresses and high heels she wears onstage are all part of the show as well, because, Schumer assures me, she is really a sweatpants-every-day kind of girl. “If I wear jeans to the office, people are like, ‘Do you have a date? What’s going on?’” she says. “I look like shit for real, and dress like shit, just to be practical because I feel like I have to be so efficient with my time.” But when she’s performing, her fashion sense is more nuanced. “For men, [I make it] interesting enough sexually, because so many guys, I feel like they’re like, ‘What the fuck, is she cute?’ So they stay to figure out if they want to fuck me, and then they start laughing and listening. And girls are like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cute, but I have it together more than this girl,’ so it’s not threatening for anyone.” But it’s a tactic Schumer is moving away from. “I think I don’t have to do that anymore,” she says. “I feel a little more evolved, like, ‘OK, if you want to listen, it’s because you want to listen.’” 

“I Loved Shirley Temple. She’d Be Really Cute, But Then She Could Also Be A Little Asshole. That’s Totally My Thing!”

Feminist ideologies reverberate through much of Schumer’s work (Google Amy Schumer feminist gang bang for a healthy dose of her particular brand of gender theory), but I have to ask if she considers herself a feminist just to make sure. The look she gives me is priceless. “Yeah, holy shit, of course! Are you serious? Oh my God. I feel like anyone who doesn’t consider themselves a feminist doesn’t understand what that word means,” she says, shaking her head. “That’s so disappointing to me when I hear someone say, ‘But I’m not, like, a feminist, or whatever.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Of course you are.’” It’s this conviction that makes it even more awesome that Schumer is on our TVs, on our stages, and will next year be on our movie screens. Which, actually, is something she didn’t anticipate, even after her screenplay was picked up. “Part of me thought they were gonna be like, ‘We like this script, so Kate Hudson’s going to play Amy,’” she says. “I absolutely did not expect to even be in the movie.” But she is, drawing a lot from her own life (and the lives of her closest friends) to play an exaggerated version of herself—a woman in her early 30s who’s not living the way society expects a lady to live at that age; there is drinking involved, and promiscuity. It also happens to be a love story (rumor has it Bill Hader is in talks to play the lead). Overall, Trainwreck’s got all the same hallmarks of other feministy projects director Judd Apatow has shepherded into the mainstream. For Schumer, that’s kind of the point. “A lot of his movies were special to me, they’re special to a lot of people, but Bridesmaids I saw with one of my best friends, female standup Nikki Glaser, and it just felt really special. It felt like an event. And GIRLS is so funny, but it’s also therapeutic,” she says. “You’re like, ‘Yes, please, keep making these things.’ And now it’s my turn.” 

A knock on the office door tells us it’s also her turn to take the stage, so we make our way back downstairs. We sneak into the Improv’s main room and, trying not to distract people from the comedian on stage, slip into a large white booth in the back, where the other standups are sitting. A vaporizer rests on the table, next to a few half-drunk cocktails. Schumer sits next to me, holding a letter-size envelope scribbled with notes. The guy onstage (Schumer is the only woman on the evening’s roster) isn’t particularly funny, but Schumer laughs supportively. After he wraps up, the MC announces Schumer, telling the room to welcome the Comedy Central star. As she hops up and makes her way through the applauding crowd to the stage, I’m reminded of something she told me before wrapping up our conversation: “There’s a lot of people who want you to shut up. ‘You’re a girl, shut up!’ I felt that growing up,” she’d said. “It’s like, ‘The boys are talking! The boys are being funny!’ And I’m like, ‘I have something way funnier to say.’” She’s right. She does. And finally, people are listening. 

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By Lisa Butterworth

Photographed by Danielle St. Laurent  •  Styled by Danielle Nachmani

Makeup by Daniel Martin  •  Hair by Sarah Potempa  •  Props Styled by Chelsea Maruski

[Originally Published in BUST Issue April/May 2014]

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