“I don’t like the observational stuff,” Amy Schumer said in an interview with the St Louis Post back in 2012. “I like tackling the stuff nobody else talks about, like the darkest, most serious thing about yourself. I talk about life and sex and personal stories and stuff everybody can relate to, and some can’t.”
7 years later and at the peak of a multi award winning career that spans TV, film and stage, Schumer is still bringing us laughs and provocation in her live stand up special, Amy Schumer Growing.
Now married to chef Chris Fischer, and pregnant, Schumer brings it all to the stage. The vagina jokes and period jokes are there, along with a set about baby bumps, especially in contrast to stick thin Megan Markle, and her experience of extreme pregnancy sickness.
“You bitches all lie about it,” she says, pointing an accusing finger to the audience. “No one tells you. I throw up an Exorcist amount every day.”
This is surely part of what drives her taboo-breaking, in-your-face humour. No one tells you, but Schumer does. Like how her husband’s Asperger’s manifests, or a set beginning with ‘we all know someone married to a gay guy,’ or how girls are made to feel disgusted with themselves for body changes at puberty. “Like we choose getting periods,” she mocks. “Gee, I wish I could kick this bleeding habit.”
Sharply satiric, deeply feminist, Schumer’s voice in comedy started early. On an episode of Finding your Roots, she describes how she was “always a storyteller, even as a little kid.” Her family were affluent New Yorkers until her father went bankrupt and developed MS when Amy was 9. “I was the middle child trying to be strong, I got through by making jokes, if the family were laughing, we were alright. It was 24-hour comedy boot camp in our house. The insults – Bam! Pow! It’s like this superpower that I developed over time, but for really sad reasons.”
According to their screen co-credits, several interviews, and their often hilarious Instagram posts, her sister Kim Caramele, a comedy writer and producer, is still a foil and partner in the joke business.
After graduating theatre school in 2002, Schumer began stand up – irreverence and provocation being her comfort zone from the start.
“I didn’t really remember seeing that many women talk about sex in stand up. Joan Rivers was doing it before anyone else on television. But I was like, I’ll be that.”
And she has been doing ‘that’ very successfully ever since. Her break came with the NBC reality television talent show Last Comic Standing followed by spots on Comedy Central and her own comedy sketch series Inside Amy Schumer that won both Emmy and Peabody awards.
Since then she has hosted the MTV Awards, opened for Madonna and been voted among the world’s Top 100 influential people by Time magazine. Her film debut Trainwreck (2015), which she wrote and starred in, was nominated for a Writers’ Guild Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. The following year she published her memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, which made number one on The New York Times Best Seller list. There were more films, including Snatched (2017) with Goldie Hawn plus, impressively, a Tony award in the same year for her Broadway stage performance in Steve Martin’s comedy sketch/ play Meteor Shower.
Hawn, one of Schumer’s role models for producing her own material, notably for the funny and feminist Private Benjamin (1980) said during press for Snatched, “I did have ideas and social commentary that I thought were important to put forth, in a way that people could laugh at, but also think about. I think that’s sort of the nature of Amy. She’s got a lot to say. Through her comedy she talks very deeply about society, about relationships; she really looks at the absurdity of it all and the obstacles that we face.”
After spending a couple of days with Schumer, Vogue writer Jonathan van Meter described her as possessing a ‘superhuman work ethic.’ Unlike her promiscuous, wine-swilling Trainwreck character, she has extraordinary discipline as well as focused creative drive. Van Meter reports she practices daily Transcendental Meditation, has weekly acupuncture sessions, doesn’t touch caffeine, juices every morning, and enforces a prayer circle with her family and crew before each show.
“I am very into making up my own rules,” Schumer says. “Like, I don’t want to play the game and succeed at it. I want to redefine it.”
With her Manhattan city girl themes of sex and dating, Schumer follows in the footsteps of Sex in the City while going a great deal further in outspokenness about negativity surrounding female bodies, misogyny and rape culture. While lesbian comic Hannah Gadsby revolted against demeaning herself for the sake of having a voice in her groundbreaking special Nanette, Schumer is instinctively #MeToo for taking a very irreverent, taboo-breaking stance against being shamed even as a ‘normal’ heterosexual woman.
I Feel Pretty is a deliberate challenge about self-perception, where Schumer’s character Renee receives a blow to the head that changes her view of herself from plain to gorgeous and awesome. Acting accordingly, she succeeds. It’s all about self-perception and self-confidence and while a less developed work than Trainwreck, the film is a thought-provoking satire on beauty culture.
Schumer herself is a model for accepting who you are, hiding nothing and living your best life. In a review for I Feel Pretty, Variety reported that when Schumer was starting out as a stand up comic, agents and bookers dismissed her as a foulmouthed blond bombshell, claiming that her following had more to do with her looks than her talent. As an older actress she copped the opposite criticism of not being thin and beautiful enough.
Amy Schumer has managed to turn all the criticism on its head. On or off stage she walks the talk about human rights, campaigning against gun laws and, last October, being arrested at the US capitol while protesting the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. “Spoiler alert, it didn’t go our way,” she says in Amy Schumer Growing, while cradling her baby bump, “I wanted to be able to tell this kid, I did everything I could.”
Amy Schumer Growing is available on Netflix from March 19, 2019