Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Q & A -

It’s a rite of pas­sage for any for­eign celebrity re­flect­ing on their time spent in Aus­tralia: the manda­tory gush­ing over how much they en­joyed their visit. But when the celebrity is Amy Schumer – who is due to tour here na­tion­ally with her one-woman show in De­cem­ber – there’s good rea­son to ex­pect she might be a lit­tle more re­strained.

Last year the ac­tor and co­me­dian came to Aus­tralia on a pub­lic­ity blitz for Train­wreck, the largely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal movie that she both wrote and starred in. Her back-to-back sched­ule re­sulted in sev­eral head­line-mak­ing awk­ward ex­changes with the me­dia, in­clud­ing a po­lite but painfully stilted ap­pear­ance on The Weekly With Char­lie Pick­er­ing and a terse en­counter with Kiis FM pre­sen­ter Matt Til­ley, who sug­gested her char­ac­ter in the film was “skanky”.

“I think the me­dia had the idea that she would be funny all the time,” says Caro­line Over­ing­ton, as­so­ciate editor of The Aus­tralian, who in­ter­viewed Schumer prior to the tour and be­lieves many lo­cal jour­nal­ists held un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of what a con­ver­sa­tion with her would en­tail.

“They were try­ing to get her to play one gag af­ter another,” is Over­ing­ton’s the­ory. “The mis­take, I think, was to un­der­es­ti­mate her sub­lime in­tel­li­gence and the se­ri­ous­ness with which she takes her craft, and the many years of hard yards she’s done, and just as­sume she’s go­ing to be the class clown.”

By the time the PR trip wrapped up, Schumer flew out of the coun­try with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing “hard work”. But if she holds a grudge over be­ing mis­un­der­stood, she’s not let­ting on, and is quick to brush off any lin­ger­ing con­cerns when Stel­lar asks about her seem­ingly bumpy time here. “I love Aus­tralia and I love Aus­tralians,” she de­clares en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “You guys are the best at brunch any­where I’ve ever been in my whole life.”

IN THE 12 MONTHS that have passed since then, her pub­lic per­sona largely re­mains in­tact. She’s still a brassy Long Is­land blonde who jokes about her sex life on stage and drinks from a wine­glass the size of a bucket on her sketch show, In­side Amy Schumer, which be­gan in 2013.

Yet her most re­cent project, a book of per­sonal es­says ti­tled The Girl With The Lower Back Tat­too, re­veals a hith­erto hid­den com­plex­ity. Fans have now learnt that Schumer, 35, is ac­tu­ally an in­tro­vert, has sur­vived both rape and an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, is an ac­tive cam­paigner for gun safety and en­joys be­ing a de­voted girl­friend.

Hers is the lat­est in a long line of au­to­bi­ogra­phies by co­me­di­ans and ac­tors – Tina Fey, Mindy Kal­ing, Lena Dun­ham, Chelsea Han­dler. And de­spite Schumer’s stated be­lief her ca­reer hasn’t been ham­pered by be­ing a fe­male in the male-dom­i­nated world of com­edy (“I’ve only heard that from jour­nal­ists. I worry it’s be­ing kept alive by that”), it’s hard not to no­tice they’re all women.

If there’s some­thing in our cul­ture that re­quires soul-bar­ing hon­esty from fa­mous fe­males, Schumer’s happy to oblige. Her book in­cludes sto­ries that cast not only her­self, but also her fam­ily, friends and lovers, in an un­flat­ter­ing light. She de­tails two oc­ca­sions on which her fa­ther loses con­trol of his bow­els when out in pub­lic with her, due to his mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. She also re­veals how her mother, “ma­nip­u­lated me in un­healthy ways”. In per­son, she is blunter: “She brain­washed me. My brother and sis­ter knew it for years.”

Yet even in her sear­ing hon­esty, she’s taken care to burn no bridges. “Any­one who is men­tioned by their real name in the book, it was cleared with them and they read ev­ery word about them,” she tells Stel­lar. “Had ei­ther of them [her par­ents] said, ‘I don’t want that in there,’ I would have un­der­stood. But they know it’s part of what made me who I am, and they were down to share that.” So the book hasn’t caused any fam­ily rifts? “It’s brought us closer.”

Her par­ents, Sandy, a teacher for the deaf, and Gor­don, a former fur­ni­ture shop owner, gave Schumer, by her ac­count, a rocky child­hood. Com­fort­able cir­cum­stances in her early youth were fol­lowed by bank­ruptcy, her dad’s MS di­ag­no­sis and her mother’s af­fair with a fam­ily friend. Her mum’s at­tempts to re­as­sure Schumer, her brother Ja­son and sis­ter Kim, that none of this had neg­a­tive ef­fects on the fam­ily led to Schumer’s be­lief she was “brain­washed”. “I wish she could have just been hon­est with us. And with her­self,” she writes.

Schumer’s own ca­reer has been based on rad­i­cal hon­esty. She oc­cu­pies a unique place in pop cul­ture, thanks to her on­stage and TV sketches tak­ing aim at ev­ery­thing from yeast in­fec­tions to

sex­ism. (Her “Last F*ck­able Day” sketch, in which Ju­lia Louis-drey­fus, Tina Fey, and Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette cel­e­brate the last day an age­ing Louis-drey­fus can be con­sid­ered at­trac­tive in Hol­ly­wood, has racked up 5.5 mil­lion views on Youtube.) Yet the rev­e­la­tions in her book, much of which were drawn from her teenage diaries, are more per­sonal – and painful – than any­thing she’s shared be­fore.

Two chap­ters she found par­tic­u­larly har­row­ing to write were the ones re­count­ing an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship from her early 20s, which led to her boyfriend chas­ing her with a knife, and the loss of her vir­gin­ity by rape. Shock­ingly, she says she had al­most for­got­ten about the sec­ond event. “That was one of the things in my journal that I re­ally hadn’t thought about in a long time. I re­vis­ited it think­ing, ‘Wow, I had that so buried.’ There’s no way it didn’t have an ef­fect on me.” Her abu­sive re­la­tion­ship was just as scar­ring: “That was so much pain and dam­age I didn’t re­alise was still a part of my ner­vous sys­tem. Re­vis­it­ing that was re­ally hard – and it isn’t over for me. I still think I have stuff to deal with from hav­ing been in that re­la­tion­ship,” she says.

So why dredge it all up? Why not write the light, bright, funny book her fans, not to men­tion her pub­lish­ers, doubt­less an­tic­i­pated? “That’s a di­rec­tion I’ve been pushed be­fore when I’ve been think­ing of writ­ing a book,” she ad­mits. “But it ac­tu­ally would have been harder for me to write a shiny pack­age of a book: that’s not in me. Some of it was painful, but I don’t shy away from that.”

In fact, the pain was partly the point: “It was to­tally ther­a­peu­tic and cathar­tic. It was a labour of love, and a lot of work. I came out of it feel­ing changed and bet­ter – about my re­la­tion­ships and my­self and what my con­tri­bu­tion is to peo­ple. I’m so glad I did it.”

Her con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety is some­thing Schumer has been mulling over of late. De­spite a mock-stern warn­ing that her book con­tains “NO SELF-HELP INFO OR AD­VICE”, she’s mind­ful of the im­pact her words can have. Af­ter de­scrib­ing her rape, she writes, “I’m open­ing up about my ‘first time’ be­cause I don’t want it to hap­pen to your daugh­ter or sis­ter or friend some day. I want to use my voice to tell peo­ple to make sure they have con­sent be­fore they have sex with some­one.”

And that’s not the only mes­sage she’s keen to get out. In July 2015, a gun­man shot dead two women at a Train­wreck screen­ing in the US. He had doc­u­mented men­tal-health prob­lems and a his­tory of vi­o­lence, yet still legally bought a gun. Pro­foundly shocked, Schumer be­gan cam­paign­ing with her sec­ond cousin once re­moved, Se­na­tor Chuck Schumer, for im­proved gun-safety laws. Her book ends with sta­tis­tics about gun crime.

It’s all a long way from talk­ing about her sex life on­stage. “I’m learn­ing more and more the in­flu­ence I have,” says Schumer of be­com­ing a pub­lic fig­ure. “I think of how I’ve been in­flu­enced by peo­ple in the me­dia, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m one of those peo­ple now.” Does the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a role model un­nerve her? “I think peo­ple are in re­ally good hands with me, be­cause my in­ten­tions are good and hope­fully ego­less. I just like for peo­ple to feel bet­ter – I know that I felt so much bet­ter and sup­ported when other women have shared their strug­gles.”

When Schumer her­self shares, the world lis­tens. De­spite the per­cep­tion her promotion of Train­wreck here lived up to its name, thou­sands of fans lined up out­side cin­e­mas for the chance to see the comic in the flesh. “At the time Amy had a small Aus­tralian fan base for her TV

FUNNY LADY Amy Schumer on­stage in New York; (below) with boyfriend Ben Hanisch.

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