Amy Schumer had to be talked into making the show of her dreams

Amy Schumer had to be talked into making the show of her dreams

Anyone familiar with Amy Schumer’s act would be forgiven for wondering how the stand-up’s new show on Comedy Central will work, exactly. Schumer, whose most recent stand-up special was called Mostly Sex Stuff, has a predilection for material that couldn’t exist on network (and most cable) television without continual bleeping. That’s not to reduce what Schumer does to mundane shock comedy, because it’s never that banal. Her jokes veer into well-trod territory—relationships, racism, family, etc.—but she tends to take them into dark, usually graphic territory that other comics would avoid. On Inside Amy Schumer, which debuts April 30 at 10:30 Eastern, she gleefully careens in this direction: The first scene of the first episode entails Schumer auditioning for the “Two Girls, One Cup” video. A mixture of filmed scenes, stand-up, man-on-the-street interviews, and interviews with regular people, Inside Amy Schumer stands out in a crowded field of new Comedy Central series from comedians. Before it debuted, Schumer spoke with The A.V. Club about making her sensibility work on TV, boundaries, and the influence of HBO’s Real Sex.

The A.V. Club: Comedy Central released an uncensored trailer for the show a week ago, and it’s something that couldn’t exist on TV without a lot of bleeping. How is this going to work on basic cable?

Amy Schumer: [Laughs.] How is this going to work? We have standards and practices like everyone else, and we pushed it as far as we could—and really, I swear to God, not for the sake of doing it. It’s just my sensibilities. That’s just how they sort of lend themselves, I guess. And it works. I’m so used to spending all my time with comedians and being uncensored, I’m never in an environment where I need to worry about that at all. Right now we’re like, “Oh, we need to show a clip of my show on The View and on Conan. And what about this scene? That’ll be great.” And then we watch it and we’re like, “No, everyone kills themselves at the end of this,” or, “Her legs are over her shoulders and he’s fucking her.” I’m just, right now, like, “Hmm. Content.” But everything has been cleared. Some of the episodes are only allowed to air after 9 p.m. They were like, “Hey, if you want to use this stuff, it’s not going to be a rerun at 4 p.m.” And you’re like, “All right.” So wish me luck!

AVC: That’s going to be tricky.

AS: Nothing’s been compromised, though. Even watching it with the bleeps, we had some things that were pretty sensitive with the content, and we had standards-and-practices people on set, so we’ve been conscious of it on set. So, if you’re more conservative and don’t enjoy that sort of thing, it’s my sensibilities and the stuff I like to talk about, and I don’t think it’s going to be for everyone. I think it might be a little too raw and—no one wants to hear the word “edgy.” I don’t even think that’s the right word; it’s a limited word comedians get, but I think the people that dig that kind of intimacy and freedom will be on board. 

They definitely, in the clips they show, they want to sex it up, and I’m not somebody who has ever shied away from that, but that’s not all the show is. It’s not My Sex Sketch Show. It’s a lot of what is on my mind and a lot of what I write about, so it’s definitely represented. The first scene that opens it—the “Two Girls, One Cup” scene—that was always going to be heavily bleeped. There’s just no way around that. 

AVC: What’s something you had to discuss about what you could do and what you couldn’t?

AS: There’s a scene that we, affectionately, named “P.O.V. Porn.” Which is a whole genre of porn that I had never heard of, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not, but it’s point-of-view porn: Someone holds the camera in a way where it looks like you’re having sex with the person. So on stage I’m telling a joke, and I’m saying how my friend was telling me that she was going to send me this porn for women and it was this, like, P.O.V. porn for women. I was joking with her and said, “What is it like? The camera is looking out at the room, zooming in and out of the headboard? What do we see when we have sex?” So we filmed this scene where it was me and Amber Tamblyn sitting on the couch, and I’m like, “You have to watch this.” I’m kind of playing the role my friend was, and it’s P.O.V. porn for women and we watch it. It’s one of our writers, Kurt Metzger, and his actual girlfriend. We filmed a scene, and it’s sex from the woman’s point of view. Really, all it is is Kurt, like zooming in and out of his chest and his face when he comes, and looking around the room and looking at her nails. At one point, you see her leg over his shoulder, and it was just very specific stuff from standards and practices. They were like, “We can’t see her foot. We don’t want to see her foot, ever, and we only want to see her knees for, like, under five frames.” I don’t remember what it was specifically. So we took them up on all they offered and used what we could. And you never see anything sexual—you never see a breast, you never see a penis, but it is pretty graphic-looking. [Laughs.]

AVC: How did you end up settling on the show’s format?

AS: Well, it’s been a couple of years now since my first sitting around the table with Comedy Central and them asking, “What kind of show are you going to make?” At first it was like, you know certain networks will be in the market. They’ll be like, “We’re looking for a show at this timeslot, and we’re looking for maybe a talk show or whatever.” And so I was like, “Okay. I’ll make that.” Because I didn’t think they’d give me a show because I’m a girl or I didn’t have the following or whatever. I wasn’t ready to have my own TV show—and then I just kind of was. It was like enough time had passed, and I had been on the road long enough, and I was definitely going to have a show—a pilot, anyway. I was going to make a talk show or whatever that I really didn’t care about. And then Jessi Klein, the head writer, I was like, “Just make this pilot with me. They’re not going to pick it up.” She was like, “Why don’t you make the show of our dreams?” And I was like, “Oh yeah.” 

My background is in theater; I’ve done plays since I was 5, I went to college for theater and continued to do a two-year Meisner program with William Esper in New York, so that’s where my training is. I started stand-up while I was in my Meisner intensive, and I have a theater company, so we would put on these shows once a month where I would host my favorite stand-ups—the stand-ups I had access to, the great comics in New York—and it would be Judah Friedlander and Patrice [O’Neal] and Jim Norton and Michael Ian Black, people who were doing me a favor, basically. I would host and we’d open the show with a scene using the actors from the Meisner program, all these great New York actors that are all working now, in a comedic scene, and that is how the night started. I’d write them, but I wouldn’t always be in them. I just really enjoyed it, and I liked writing these scenes that had a dark twist and playing them very real, just like you’d play any stage production in New York. So I felt very equipped and excited about having scenes, and we always knew there’d be stand-up in it because that’s how people experienced me and it’s Comedy Central. I, over the years, had done a ton of man-on-the-street, and I really enjoyed that. I feel very open with people, and I’m good at disarming them and having conversations. I loved those Real Sex interviews, so those are the elements. 

AVC: Real Sex, oh man.

AS: You know what I’m talking about?

AVC: Of course!

AS: I remember loving [the street interviews]; it was like my favorite part. It was usually like, “Here comes the creepy orgy with the aging people,” and then I’d be like, “Oh, cool. This is where we get to see real people that look like people I know being like, ‘Yeah, I use a vibrator’ or whatever.” It was so cool, and it was so New York. So I went out and talked to people. Then the interview, that idea was like, “Okay, what are we going to do in this act of the show?” I think it was like, “Oh, interview a celebrity,” and I said, “No, I don’t want to do that. I want to talk to real people in a more complete way so it’s not these quick fly-bys on the street.” So instead of stumbling upon a dominatrix or a well-endowed guy or a ballerina, I’d schedule it and be able to prepare and ask questions of these people that I’ve never had access to or a conversation with. So they’re three-minute clips on the show, but there’s going to be a longer one. We took the funniest clips of the interviews for the TV show, but I obviously really got in there and asked what I was really curious about.

AVC: Is the ratio the same in every episode, like this much stand-up, this much “man on the street,” etc.?

AS: Not really. Some of them, like the fourth episode, are stand-up heavy. Then the last one is light on stand-up, and there’s one episode where there isn’t an interview and I have my favorite New York performer, frequent travel companion, and sometimes opener Bridget Everett.

AVC: Where else did you do “man on the street” interviews?

AS: I sold a web series to Comedy Central in 2007 called Amy Schumer: Streetwalker, which we filmed and then the executives who were in charge of that got fired. So that never aired, but I would make my own “man on the street” videos, and I would work with this website Black20. Michael Torpey, who is in the first episode—he’s the guy holding casting for the viral-marketing web video—he’s a part of the company, Black20. And I hosted a show on FuseTV with Mark Hoppus, and I did all the “man on the street” for that show. I did that every week, where I’d do at least one field piece on the street.

AVC: For these, you’re all decked out in your winter gear, and that seems like it would make it harder to talk to people.

AS: It was really cold, and I hope if we get a season two, that we plan it better because it was painfully cold, and I’m someone who likes to be comfortable. So I’m all bundled and people were definitely like, “Oh, I want to go home.” 

AVC: When you met with Comedy Central a couple of years ago, did they approach you or were you shopping a series?

AS: No. The same time I had a deal to make a pilot with Comedy Central, I had also just gotten a deal with Sony and sold a script to CBS. It was like my first time going through that process, but I had a deal with Sony and shopped my pitch, and CBS bought it at the same time we were filming the pilot for Comedy Central. I’m not someone who is in the rooms pitching a show every year. It was my first year going through that process, and I didn’t have an idea for a show yet, but I think it’s typical for Comedy Central to both meet with people who want to pitch shows and people they want to develop with—I’m not comfortable calling myself “talent.” [Laughs.] Oh God! But whatever I am. 

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AVC: Well, this year it seems like they wanted all the funny people on the network. 

AS: I think they actually said that. I think they were like, “Let’s just cast the widest net.” But all the people they developed with you’re like, “Good job!” There’s no one in the mix where you’re like, “Ugh, that asshole?” It’s like, “No, cool. We don’t want to lose you.”

I don’t know what their plan is. I think it’s just going to be like a Hunger Games thing, where they put us all in an arena and let us fight it out to see who gets a season two.

AVC: Is it comforting to have people you know around? Or is it—well, of course you’re not going to say it’s competitive—

AS: No, I’ll be honest with you. I’ll be totally honest with you. I don’t feel any sense of competition at all, and that might be my naïveté, but I don’t feel pitted against anyone at all. But that might just be my inexperience going through this process. I like seeing funny people and talented people getting opportunities instead of, “What’s the hot thing right now?” Everyone they developed with I just thought, “Good job.” There’s no weakling in the mix. 

AVC: You mentioned in an interview a while back that you’re “very into boundaries.”

AS: [Laughs.] What the fuck did I mean? What was I talking about?

AVC: Here’s what it was in relation to: Do people, presumably men, say or do more off-color things to you because they think your act invites it? 

AS: You know, truthfully, that doesn’t happen to me that much, and it’s equally men and women. Just like with the stripper [from the first episode]—and I don’t know if it made the final cut—but we asked her if she preferred giving a woman or a man a lap dance, and she was like, “Men. Women are more handsy and feel like they’re allowed more or allotted more freedom because they’re not as threatening.” But I think what I meant with the boundaries thing was just in everyday life; it doesn’t have to be a sexual thing. It’s sort of like the buck stops here with me with behavior that makes me uncomfortable. Whereas some others, not just women, can giggle and brush it off so you don’t have that awkward moment, I’ll say, “That makes me uncomfortable,” or “Please don’t talk to me like that.” I just like things to be fair. 

At the bank I was making a deposit and the teller, this guy, was like, “What do you do?” I said, “Um, I’m in entertainment.” And he was like, “Yeah, but what do you do?” It wasn’t because he recognized me or anything, but I don’t think it’s appropriate that he asked me that. So rather than just tell him and brush over it, I just kind of acted like I didn’t hear him. A moment like that I could have just answered him or whatever, but I don’t think it was cool that he asked me, and maybe he won’t ask the next person. That’s just the example that came to mind. 

Everyone is allowed to have their own boundaries. You just are. No matter how you dress, no matter what you say or anything, and I feel strongly about that. I was doing an interview in Minneapolis and the guy just shook my hand too hard, and I was like, “That hurts. You shook my hand too hard.” He was like, “No one has ever said that to me before.” I’m not extra sensitive to handshakes. I shake hands all the time, but maybe nobody has ever told him, maybe they just made a mental note not to shake his hand again. But with me, I’m going to say that’s not okay. 

AVC: Well, it’s surprising that it doesn’t happen more often, or that it’s not just men. 

AS: Everybody kind of assumes that. In my stand-up, I talk about sexual matters, but if you listen to it… I have this bit right now where I’ve never had anal sex and no one has ever come on my face. That’s just two things I talk about because I’m always debating, “How slutty am I?” So I’m like, I’ve taken Plan B a couple of times but, also, these two things. So people don’t remember that I said I’d never had anal and no one has ever come on my face, but just remember that I brought up those two subjects. And they’re like, “You’re so dirty,” but if people are listening, it’s like I’m just posing these questions. I’m not trying to sell myself as this edgy and “I’ll just fuck anybody” chick.

AVC: It’s not necessarily like comedy audiences will always pick up on nuance, though. 

AS: Yeah, and I’m guilty of that, too. I’m not like, “Oh you lazy people.” I zone out, too. 

AVC: You auditioned for Zosia Mamet’s role on Girls and had a cameo this season. The sexting scene from your show had a similar sensibility, particularly the shot of you shoving pasta in your face while watching TV. 

AS: [Laughs.] Yeah, totally. I think the funniest stuff is the most human habits, the nuances and moments. Like I heard yesterday somebody at the edit say, “In a vacuum, yes.” They used that phrase “in a vacuum,” and I had no idea what that meant and any sort of industry jargon really annoys me. I like how in movies, they’d have the main character repeat that phrase just a couple of scenes later just to show what a flake they are. Does that make sense?

So there’s one scene on my show—and I’m a New Yorker so this is something that happened—where I’m with a co-worker and we’re buying sandwiches and we’re waiting for them, and he’s like, “Wow, the Freedom Tower is really coming in,” and he’s looking out the window.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s crazy. So do they take a long time here?” [Laughs.] And that happened with Jessi and Kyle Dunnigan, two of the writers, and I. We were standing outside of Grey Dog in front of the towers, and everyone just started telling their 9/11 stories about where they were. I couldn’t have felt closer to what happened that day, but I’m standing there with two people who are good friends of mine, and I’m like, “I feel like we should stand inside because I feel like we’re not going to hear them when they call our names.” So moments like that where you’re just like, “Oh my God, you’re such a monster!” 

I feel like on Girls, [Lena Dunham’s] just cool showing those little nuances, and I don’t think she invented that, but I guess it’s flattering to hear that, but there’s a lot of that on the show. Like, I’ve been drunk and just come home and wound up eating salad with my hands. [Laughs.] Even the face you’re making when you watch TV, you’re not aware of anyone looking at you, it’s just that kind of zoned out. So I wanted a lot of that, and I think there’s a bravery to that, and it makes me laugh and feel a lot better. So I wanted that kind of honesty. I wanted that kind of honesty on the show. At least at the right times, anyway.