Close your eyes. Now, visualise Amy Schumer as a curly-haired kid wearing a Cats jumper. You’re smiling, right? Even as a child she was bringing the funny.
Everything in life is about context. Saying ‘pussy’ at a cafe while talking to your friend? Not a big deal. Saying ‘pussy’ on an American cable network? You’re fired, go get your things. But thanks to American comedian Amy Schumer, as of 2014, actors on the Comedy Central channel can now shout pussy from the rooftops, if they’re harnessed in properly. Schumer and the writing team on Inside Amy Schumer – a weekly mix of stand-up, sketches, and interviews, that’s been renewed for a fourth season – struggled against censors to be able to say the word ‘pussy’ on air. ‘Dick’ could be said, but ‘pussy’ had to be bleeped over. Frustrated by the inconsistency, Schumer’s executive producer Daniel Powell wrote a letter to the network calling it out for the gender inequality of its standards. Prudes and squares everywhere lost that day.
Whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera, Schumer is the queen of gender politics, sparking discussions on deep and sensitive human truths with the joyous nature of a kid tossing a bunger while crouched behind a wheelie bin. Most of her standup revolves around being candid in the face of taboos – abortion, one-night stands, rape culture, the expectation of women to be tame. “It’s an opportunity,” says Schumer, of her position as a feminist commentator. “I have good intentions and things that I think are important to say so I only see it as an opportunity. People are safe in my hands.”
Schumer has been called ‘sneakily feminist’ for her ability to write and produce sketches that get men to think about gender politics – Inside Amy Schumer’s audience is 50-50 male to female, a rare statistic for a show with a woman at the helm and a nearly all-female writing staff. But she’s not merely disguising feminism so men can consume it, like pressing a de-worming pill into a piece of chicken for your dog. It’s much more. Schumer is calling out people on both sides of the line, and it goes beyond gender politics – it’s class, race, religion, stereotyping, double standards. She would call out a cappuccino for not having enough froth. Schumer is the referee and the game is human interaction, and as long as there are fouls there will be Amy Schumer.
Our conversation with the 35-year-old comedian is dotted with her signature elongated ‘thank youuu’, something she says on stage close to every time the audience laughs. So, a lot. From the audience it looks like a nervous habit, but hearing her say it in casual conversation, it becomes clear that Schumer is being genuine up there. She is honestly appreciative of every laugh and every compliment. “I do remember when it was explained to me that people laughing was good,” she says. “I was in a play, The Sound of Music, I was playing Gretl, I was five years old and the audience would laugh whenever I said anything, and I got really upset and the director was like, ‘Why are you getting upset?’ and I was like, ‘They’re laughing at me!’ and she was like, ‘They’re laughing because they love you and they think you’re funny, and they enjoy you, that’s good.’ And I was like, ‘Ohh’, so it was explained to me at age five.”
Schumer grew up on the Upper East Side to a mum who had no boundaries and a dad who she describes as “such a wise ass, he is just so sarcastic and I’m so glad that I inherited that from him.” Her parents supported her love of theatre from an early age and were the wind in her sails, perhaps to a fault, as she tells The New York Times: “They convinced me I was God’s gift to the world. I would come to school with curly bangs and a Cats [the musical] sweater, and people were confused by my confidence.” She remained self-assured, even when things weren’t always great. Schumer has a stand-up joke where she talks about moving to a new town, where anti-Semitism was rife. “I didn’t care for it,” she tells radio host Howard Stern. “Kids are mean, they didn’t like Jewish people in that town.” In her stand-up show she phrases it like this: “The kids didn’t call me Amy Schumer, they called me Amy Jewmer. One summer, I’ll never forget this, all the kids took turns throwing handfuls of pennies at me. I know, I was like, ‘Excuse me – this is awesome!’” In her discussion with Stern, she says she’s experienced lots of pain in the past, and like most comedians, humour became a way to diffuse bad encounters. “I took a long look in the mirror, frowning at myself and my ruffled socks and frizzy hair. I stood there until something caught my eye. It was my eye. I looked at my little blue eyes reddened from crying and thought, ‘No, they are wrong. I like my frizzy hair. I like how this fanny pack makes Mr. Mistoffelees look. I am... gonna be just fine.’ I marched into school the next day with twice as much confidence,” Schumer wrote in a Cosmopolitan article about her school experience in 2011.
By her last year of high school, Schumer was voted Class Clown and Teacher’s Worst Nightmare. After graduation, she studied theatre in Baltimore before returning to New York, where she has been doing stand up for the last 11 years, bartending and taking on odd jobs to pay the bills. “My last job was sorting mail. I worked in an office building and I would get two bags of mail and I would put them in the right mailboxes for people in the office. I’m an introvert, believe it or not, so I liked this just because I didn’t have