Amy Schumer is the Ryan Seacrest of young female comedians. She is a stand up comedian, the host of a music show of FuseTV, a writer, an actress. She’s had her own Comedy Central Presents, has opened for some of the biggest names in stand up, will be seen in the upcoming seasons of Delocated and Curb Your Enthusiasm and is co-starring in Price Check opposite Parker Posey. She is a very busy lady.
I talked with Amy about her start in stand up, body image, bloggers, hecklers, college tours and her new comedy album, Cutting, which comes out this week.
So you live in New York, and that’s where you got your start in stand-up. I feel like New York is a daunting place to start.
Daunting like how? What sort of reputation does it have? I got my start there, so I don’t really know any different, but I’ve heard that before.
Well, like LA for example. We only have a few well known clubs, but it seems like New York is so inundated with stand up, so many people who move there just for it. And you’ve only been working for six and a half years, it seems like New York would be a lot more intense as a place to start
Yeah, it’ll be seven years on June 1st, so I feel like this is about the time I’m supposed to start shaving off years so it seems like I’m doing better than I am. (laughs)
But it seems like most of the stand ups I know have been doing it for 20, 25 years, so you’re certainly doing okay.
Oh yeah, I’m definitely not complaining. I guess I still feel kinda like the rookie. New York — I’m so glad I started there. I don’t know if I’ve said this, but I equate it to surfing. It’s like if you learn how to surf on a long board, then you know how to surf on a long board. But I learned on a 5’10 precision, a really short board. Then you can surf on anything. So New York, the level is so high of comics, the competition is so great, it’s a really competitive vibe there as far as stand up goes.
Some friends out [in Los Angeles] say, “it’s just too competitive. It’s cut throat out there.” But I don’t know any different, and I kind of like that. It’s really motivated me and kept me working my ass off. Kept me on the road. Just really putting all the energy I can into getting better. So I think New York keeps you on your toes. I think you’ve got to be really strong to move to New York and flourish there as a comic. It’s a tough scene there.
Yeah, I think it must be. Kind of baptism by fire. But if you start there, and maybe don’t know any better but can do okay, you’re golden.
Exactly, yes, I feel like I was raised by the wolves. The wolves that work in New York. You know, on any given night, I’m doing a show with Attell or Jim Norton or Colin Quinn or Nick DiPaolo. Just my favorite comedians. So if they’re going to walk through the club during my set, I want to be doing something worthwhile, and really not wasting anybody’s time.
Now I know you’ve opened for some big names like Attell. How different is that? Do you find you have to change your set when you’re opening for certain comedians?
Well, yeah. I think if you’re a featured act, or the host, you’re there to service the headliner. So you want to be working on your act, but you want to be respectful of whatever it is that they’re doing. Attell or Norton, if we have anything sort of similar, or even like the same word, make any sort of similar references, I’ll definitely pay attention to that and not do it. And I really try not to do too much crowd work. There’s nothing more annoying than a feature comic who’s pretending like they’re the headliner. I know I’ve experienced that and it’s bad. I have such respect for comedians and the guys who have been doing this three times as long as me, and the last thing I would want to do is feel like I’m disrespecting them and not servicing what they’re going to do. Especially if it’s their name on the marquee.
I know you were acting before starting to do stand up.
Yeah, acting is still a really big thing for me. I just got a couple episodes on that show Delocated on Adult Swim.
And I know you’re in the new season of Curb.
Yes! So excited. And I’m out [in Los Angeles] a lot auditioning. I just really like doing both. I’m liking hosting. In some of the more inspirational interviews I’ve read or seen, like with Conan or Oprah or Ellen or whoever, it seems like they didn’t know what they were working towards, they were kind of just following the river and figuring it out. I feel like that’s what I’m doing now. I don’t know what I’ll wind up doing, but I’m trying.
Now hosting is something that you’re doing right now.
Yeah, I’ve got that weekly show on Fuse [Hoppus on Music] and that’s really cool. I don’t think I’ll end up being a music talk show host, but I think it’s preparing me for whatever comes next.
I’m 28, and you’re 29. I don’t know how important Mark Hoppus and Blink 182 was in your life, but they were very important in mine for a while.
Totally. I love Blink 182, I still do. I’ll listen to them on purpose on my iPod. And I was a fan of Mark before the show. There’s something about him, you can tell he’s a really great dude and he does not disappoint at all. The more I get to know him, the more I like him. We get along better and being a host on that show, I’m used to stand up crowds. This is a little more like theater, you don’t know when you’re gonna get a laugh and we have a very small studio audience and sometime they’ll be really great, and know we’re gonna be making jokes and they’ll be very attentive. But sometimes, like the last episode we filmed, we just bombed. Like no one laughed, ever, but it was really fun. It’s weird, but it was fun, and it really bonds us together, cause we were bombing together. Usually, if I bomb onstage, it’s just me, but we get to look at each other and just say we are blowing it today, so it’s kind of nice. I think if you can laugh at yourself, and know that there’s gonna be another episode, then you’re okay. It’s really made me a better stand up too.
Really? How so?
Because I’ve gotten even more used to not always getting a laugh where I thought it would be. And just my level of comfort has grown. With stand up, I feel like you’re always being surprised that there’s another level of comfort you can get to onstage, and confidence. And hosting has definitely lent itself to that. So I feel more confident all the time.
You wrote a piece in Cosmo which is all about confidence.
Yeah, I read that the other day, actually. I was having a bad day and I swear, it was so lame, but I thought, “Ugh, it’s tough out here, the girls are so beautiful.” I talk about it all the time. Girls — we, everyone gives a shit about how attractive we are. It’s an issue that we can either act like doesn’t exist or acknowledge it and sort of do your best to rise above it. So I sort of play on that, and the Cosmo article was about how my level of attractiveness doesn’t at all define who I am. I mean, I’m not gonna like stop shaving my armpits or anything, and thinking fuck it — Burger King everyday but knowing that it doesn’t define me. Knowing that there’s always going to be someone out there prettier, thinner, whatever. So it’s kind of like, just give up. Be funny and try to like yourself.
But also I mean, I like feeling like a sexy chick, I don’t want to ignore that or anything.
Yeah, but I think we all do.
Yeah, I mean, we all want to feel like a beautiful woman. Yeah. But it’s just about trying to find the balance and not focusing on it. You can’t change it. Well, I guess you can change a lot of shit. I can’t. I can’t afford it. (laughs)
Well, we’re in LA. I think we’re the only ones who haven’t changed how they look.
Oh god, seriously. This place. Its like every girl who walks by is just a day-ruiner. (laughs)
But now acting is different than stand up in that regard. I feel like in stand up attractiveness isn’t something that you need to be good. But in acting, the emphasis seems to be more on looks than some people would like.
Yeah. I mean, with acting, just like everything else, you notice. I’m in these waiting rooms, I went in to play a stripper the other day. And I don’t look like those girls and if I ate right, like all the time, like perfectly, and had zero carbs and didn’t drink, I guess I could be another 10, 15 pounds lighter. But then I wouldn’t have as much fun.
I’ve been getting work looking normal, having a normal body. I feel like I’m shaped like a woman. I’m not heavy, but I’ve got something to hold on to for sure. And the work I’ve gotten has been after an audition where I’ve though, oh shit, I went out drinking last night. My face is all bloated and it looks like I’m a fetus. But I go in and I do something interesting hopefully.
A casting director once said to me you should either gain 10 pounds or lose 10 pounds. Either be the wacky, chunky friend who lives next door or the girlfriend. But I think there are some actresses who will like drop a ton of weight, and you’re like — we didn’t need that from you. You know? I mean, I don’t begrudge anyone getting healthier. I know when Jonah Hill lost all that weight, people said, “Oh no, he’s selling out.” No, he’s trying to live longer. I mean, I eat really healthy, I work out, I get all yoga-fied. But I’m not gonna starve myself. I want to live my life. And that may sound like a cop out. I feel like I weighed maybe 10 pounds less when I did Last Comic and I was really conscious about it. But now I’m like meh — I’ll eat pasta if I want it. I think if I got all obsessed with that, it wouldn’t help me. It wouldn’t help my stand up.
I think stand ups now, if you look at most of them, not like crazy Wanda Sykes level, not that successful, but like people around my level, people that Comedy Central uses and who get development deals, you do have to be a little bit better looking than you used to have to be. Which is unfortunate, but you can either be pissed and give energy to how the times haven’t changed enough OR you can just focus on your work.
You mentioned Last Comic Standing, I know you were on Season Five. How did you get involved in that? What made you think about auditioning?
Well, I didn’t think I had a shot in hell of getting on. Honestly, I thought I bet the show will be around for a while. I’d been doing stand up for two and a half years. I’ll audition. And maybe four seasons from now, they can cut to these clips of me, like this is my whatever time still auditioning. It wasn’t at all like reality shows are the way to go, or anything like that, or for exposure. I believe that stand up is something you really have to work for and get better at, and it’s not about exposure. I think some people will maybe sort of rise before they’re ready, or before they’re that funny, but that’s definitely fleeting. Stand up you can’t fake for very long.
So Last Comic, I auditioned, I kept making it further, I was really surprised. I just did the best I could do and I was really unapologetic about it. I was like “I’m not supposed to do well, I haven’t done it for very long.” But I was scared, you know? I think of someone like Sarah [Silverman] getting on Saturday Night Live when she was 19, and only being on it for a year. And it’s like maybe had they given her a couple years, maybe she could have developed more. But I thought she was hilarious on that show. I remember every sketch she was in. But, you know, like getting discovered or seen before you’re ready can be harmful for sure, but it was a door that appeared before me that I felt I should definitely go through.
And it ended up working out. You made it to the top four.
Oh yeah, it was great. And you know, stand up is something you can really have a lot of principals about and we’re all on a little bit of a high horse about it, but at a certain point, you have to say okay the goal is for as many people to see my comedy as they can. So let me do whatever it takes, you know?
I feel like Last Comic is so interesting as far as a competition shows, because they have people that I felt were already pretty established on that show.
I know, right? Absolutely. I mean people realize, you know, it’s prime time, it’s NBC, and I’ll never do a set on television again where that many people will see me. I mean, 8 million people watched that show the season I was on. Now if I do a late night set, maybe I’ll get a thousand followers on twitter or something. But after Last Comic, it was like when MySpace was still kind of new, and Facebook, and it was just this crazy influx, like every night, a ton of messages. And it was weird, you know? It was a weird time to come up in stand up with how much access people have to you.
Yeah. I’m trying to think of a not lame way to phrase this but I can’t. Coming up in stand up today, how important is social media? Are you under more pressure to be constantly funny, like with Twitter?
I totally don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if me trying to write a joke or trying to promote my TV show on there is sort of useless in the grand scheme of things or important. I have no idea. It does feel like I need to be doing that. It feels like a good idea, especially with working on the road. You want to tell people you’re gonna be in town, that you’re working a local comedy club cause how much you draw on the road kind of directly effects everything else. But I like the idea of getting to a point where I won’t have to do any of that, you know? That’s really appealing to me.
It’ll take some of the pressure off.
Yeah. But I don’t really feel pressure to always be funny, cause I’m not always funny. I make bad jokes. I try to just be myself and, you know, not a douchebag.
(Laughs) Well, I think that’s an impressive feat. So many people on those things do come across as douchebags.
Yeah, I mean, the problem too is you have so much access to someone nowadays. You really do see if someone’s a loser. And also it sort of gives you some control over who your fans are. Someone who’s following me can maybe write something mean. And I can be like “Oh good! Well, we realized early on that it didn’t work out between us, so you know, you don’t have to keep following my career. We’ll just go our separate ways. Good luck finding someone better.” You can block someone.
Do you find that you get a lot of negative comments online?
I’ve gotten my fair share of negative comments, but not a lot. I’ve actually been kinda lucky with that. And the people who have been the most hateful, who have written the most spiteful messages, I will, you know, look at their deal and maybe they’ll have an account only to insult people they’ve seen on television. But I don’t believe on any level that I’ve really hurt someone’s feelings or made someone upset. The jokes are all, you know, jokes. A lot of them are really personal to me, and they’re jokes about things I feel I can speak to. And it’s like I’m making light of things or kind of commenting on the worst things possible.
But I’ve never felt it was vicious coming from you.
Yeah, no. I mean, I can be a cunt, like everyone else, but I don’t use the stage as a platform to hurt anyone or to make anyone feel stupid. I try to be the butt of the joke. If I say something racist, or slutty, it’s about me being stupid. It’s not about anyone else. And I do a lot of crowd work on stage, and it’s never about humiliating someone. Hopefully it always comes back to the fact that I’m the joke.
Have you had to deal with many hecklers on the road?
Not really. There’s this one video of me with this lady who was pretty drunk, who was yelling at all the comedians, and then started with me. But I’m not like “Shut Up,” you know, I did what I like to do, which is make a reference to a movie. But I’ve had people yell things out at me. Once, at Bonnaroo, some guy yelled at me. I have this joke where I say “I’m like a six. But a seven with all the padding.” And this guy yells out “You’re a 4” and so I said “Get up” and he stood up and I just trashed him. I mean, given the opportunity, if you mess with me, you’re not gonna get a slap on the wrist. Like I will really go after you.
But it’s not too bad with hecklers though. The clubs I like to work at, that I go back to, are the ones that don’t allow that and that will talk to the people if they’re a problem. Cause it does ruin the show for everybody.
And I know you’ve done a lot of college tours, how are the audiences of those? I feel like I’ve lost all my youth perspective.
So have I. A lot of times I look out at them and think “Are we connecting?” But I like talking to kids that age. It’s an interesting time to catch people. I barely remember what I was like in college. I think I was still like a shell of a person, figuring out who you are and what you do. So you know, I do my set, but I also take it as an opportunity to say to both the guys and the girls that this is not going to be your whole life. In college, you think it’s your whole world. And there are always more female students than male students, at every college I’ve been to. So all these guys get laid that shouldn’t, and I’m like it’s not going to always be like this. Enjoy this, cause one day you’re gonna have to work for it. One day this girl sitting next to you, your girlfriend, wouldn’t even look at you. You are here because there are slim pickins.
I wonder what it would have been like to see comedy in college. I think really it was only during college that darker things were funny to me. I’ve always had a dark sense of humor, but I was like really not into joking about race at all. I might have been offended by my own act at the right age. But you know, kids are figuring it out. It’s a weird age. But you go in with confidence, you do your thing. You tell them the experience that they’re gonna have. And you sort of don’t leave a lot of room for them to make a decision. But I like it.
And then you have a comedy album out now. It’s your first one.
Yeah. I’m really excited. I just feel like I worked my ass off. I got the offer to do an album for Comedy Central over a year before I did it cause I really wanted to be at the top of my game. I wanted to have my set where I wanted it to. I wanted to have enough stuff that’s never been on television. Just enough stuff to be proud of it. And it makes me a little emotional. No joke. Cause no one gives a shit about comedy albums anymore except comedians. I mean, there are people who buy them, and listen to them. But it’s not what it used to be. People used to have parties and listen to Redd Foxx records and that was the party. It’s certainly not like that anymore, but it was more of a personal goal.
I really wanted to do it in Denver, at Denver Comedy Works. And I did six shows, recorded all six, I’d been working, been on the road a lot. I’d been dealing with a lot of local radio shows, dealing with the local MC who calls me sweetie. And just going through what I feel like is a lot of sacrifice. For anybody. And I got off stage after the last show and I hugged my sister and just cried, cause I was so proud of what I’d done. And I didn’t cut [the album] but I went through everything and put together the minutes, and orchestrated the artwork with a photographer I love, Natalie Brasington, and named the tracks. It was just such a labor of love. Something that I feel like I worked my ass off for, and I want people to hear it. I don’t know even how making money off albums works.
Hah, I don’t know if it does anymore.
I don’t think so. It’s so funny. If anything, I lost money making it, but I don’t even care. I’m really proud of how it came out. And I think anyone who has any preconceived notions about me, not that people are sitting at home thinking about me, but I think this album shows the type of comedian I’ve become and the direction I’m going in. Plus, I think it’s fucking funny. I really think you’ll laugh.
Also, albums feel like such a tangible thing.
Yes! Yes. It was very tangible, very real. And if it’s only to me and my family, you know, to just walk off stage, and think all the weekends… people who start out in comedy think I just want to make money on the road, and that’s what you want. And then you get there and you think, ugh, this is a bag of dicks. This sucks. But to have that goal of the album and get to reach it and celebrate it — it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. And it was fun recording it.
I feel like what I like most about your stand up, because you’re so conversational, you can always tell when you’re having a good time.
Thank you. Yeah, that’s true. You can tell when I’ve having a good time. But you can also tell when I’m not really having fun. I think, after this point, after this much time, I’ve been doing it for 7 years and I can get away on a little bit of auto-pilot, which I’m not proud of and I try to stay away from. But I try to get to the point where I’m always there, I’m always in my body, enjoying it, remembering why I wrote the jokes, being open seeing where the joke is going, and having fun. Having fun with the audience
So what makes a show fun? As an audience member, what can I do to make the show good?
Listening and being open. That’s it. I swear. Listening and being open, it’s not a tall order. I don’t even care if you want to check a text message every once in a while as long as you’re present. I think if you’re listening, you’ll laugh. My stand up is something you have to listen to. If you tune out for a minute, you can catch back on. But you gotta pay attention — it’s not all facial expressions and my voice getting louder. There are jokes that have been crafted. Hopefully, I feel like I’m becoming more and more of the total package of a performer, you know? It’s more engaging I hope.
Like I have a lot of fun talking to the audience. But if someone’s resistant, it’s just like in life. Maybe you’re talking to someone in the grocery store and maybe they’re having a bad day and they don’t feel like interacting with you. So that sucks. And it’s the same onstage. If I’m talking to someone and I feel like they’re filled with fear and can’t enjoy it, I try to build trust while I’m onstage. I won’t make you the asshole, just trust me that it’s all in good fun. And if people are comfortable in their own skin, I feel like they can just listen and know that it’s all in good fun and we can all have a good time together. You know, it’s like any set, any party, one person’s energy can fuck it up. And sometimes it does. And it really depends on the club. I really like the Hollywood Improv. I have fun there.
I was looking at the huge list of all the things you’re doing right now, the show on Fuse, your album, tours, movies…
Yeah, it’s good right now. There are times when there’s not much going on. But right now, I got some stuff. And acting has become so very important to me. I need both for sure. I’d go crazy without stand up. But this movie I just did [Price Check], there was just a screening of it. That was the most satisfying thing I’ve done so far. My role was awesome and to get to have an experience even close to that again… I can’t wait.
You can download Amy’s new comedy album Cutting on ITunes and preview it here.