For Amy Schumer, ‘overnight’ suc­cess

Like ev­ery overnight suc­cess, it took years and in­cre­men­tal steps for Schumer to break all the way

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY EMILY YAHR emily.yahr@wash­post.com

Amy Schumer is ev­ery­where. She’s on Com­edy Cen­tral, star­ring in her hit sketch show, “In­side Amy Schumer.” She ap­pears on “The Bach­e­lorette” to mock

the con­tes­tants. She’s on the cover of mag­a­zines. She’s all over your Twit­ter and Face­book feeds when her com­edy skits go vi­ral. And this month she makes her fea­ture film de­but in the Judd Apa­tow di­rected “Train­wreck,” which she also wrote.

Even for Hol­ly­wood, where stars can in­stantly ma­te­ri­al­ize, this is an aw­fully quick rise for Schumer, the raunchy34 year old co­me­dian largely un­known out­side of in the know com­edy cir­cles just a few years ago.

How did it hap­pen? We chart the Amy Schumer path, which took her from an un­known standup comic to movie star in just 10 steps

1. Chan­nel child­hood trauma into com­edy.

Schumer, who grew up in Man­hat­tan and Long Is­land with an older brother and younger sis­ter, of­ten talks about her trou­bled early years, es­pe­cially af­ter her par­ents di­vorced when she was around 12. “The per­fect age to leave some dam­age,” she called it on the “WTF With Marc Maron” pod­cast. She elab­o­rated: Her fa­ther was di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and his fur­ni­ture com­pany went bank­rupt. Her mother dated mul­ti­ple other men. Schumer went through a se­rial shoplift­ing phase.

“I’m the mid­dle child, so I kept try­ing to keep ev­ery­one in a good place. Like, let’s laugh about this,” Schumer told GQ. “Let’s laugh about how sad it is that the bank is tak­ing dad’s car away.”

2. Get on­stage.

Schumer ma­jored in theater at Tow­son Univer­sity near Bal­ti­more; she told the Bal­ti­more Sun that she chose the school be­cause of a cam­pus visit that in­cluded a beer pong tour­na­ment and a hook-up. “If youmake out with a boy and you win at beer pong, I’m like, ‘I’m go­ing to school here. I be­long here,’ ” she said.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2003, she moved back to New York City, where she con­tin­ued to study act­ing and waited ta­bles to pay the bills. About a year later, she got up the nerve to test her comedic skills. On her 23rd birth­day, she made her stand-up de­but at the Gotham Com­edy Club in front of a crowd that in­cluded friends and her mom.

3. Hone your act.

Schumer watched the tape of that first per­for­mance and was mor­ti­fied. “It was kind of like there was nowhere to go but up,” she later said. She told Maron she would get a tape of her per­for­mances, head to Best Buy and watch her­self on the dis­play TV in the store, sit­ting on the floor and tak­ing notes. She con­stantly did gigs at New York clubs, start­ing with “bringers” (where you have to bring au­di­ence mem­bers for a chance to go on stage) but worked her way to big­ger venues and made enough money to de­vote her­self to com­edy full time.

4. Choose a mem­o­rable per­sona.

As NPR’s “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross once said, Schumer’s stand-up per­sona is “an at­trac­tive, mid­dle-class, ed­u­cated sin­gle woman who’s a lit­tle slutty.” A ma­jor theme in Schumer’s act is sex — talk­ing about sex, an­a­lyz­ing sex, the weird­ness of sex. Much of it is vul­gar. (Sam­ple joke: “I fi­nally just slept withmy high school crush! But I swear, now he like, ex­pects me to go to his grad­u­a­tion. Like I know where I’m go­ing to be in three years ... kids, right?!”)

Schumer agreed with Gross’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. “I think I have been pro­mis­cu­ous, and I think a lot of women have,” she told the host, adding that no one would blink if a man did the same rou­tine. “And I like to talk about it as a way to make those women feel less alone and less strange and dirty about their own ac­tions.”

Frankly, Schumer said, her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, whole­some ap­pear­ance has un­wit­tingly be­come a part of her act, given that it throws off fans — at least on their first ex­po­sure. “They would see a pic­ture of me and be like, ‘Aw, she looks sweet, she kind of looks Amish. . . . We should bring the fam­ily. I bet she talks about shop­ping!”

5. Get on na­tional TV.

When asked about Schumer, co­me­dian Bill Bel­lamy echoes this sen­ti­ment. “Her sense of hu­mor is so knock-you-off-your feet, be­cause you don’t ex­pect her to say the stuff that she says,” he ex­plained. “Be­cause she doesn’t look like she’s go­ing to say it.”

In 2007, Bel­lamy was the host when Schumer ap­peared on Sea­son 5 of the NBC re­al­ity show “Last Comic Stand­ing,” where a group of co­me­di­ans com­peted for $250,000 and a TV spe­cial. Schumer landed in fourth place, but the na­tional ex­po­sure helped. Af­ter the show, which was filmed in Los An­ge­les, Schumer took her act on the road but still got on stage as much as pos­si­ble in New York City, even­tu­ally mov­ing up from opener to head­liner.

6. Catch the eye of Com­edy Cen­tral.

Work­ing the New York com­edy scene paid off: Right be­fore she left for “Last Comic Stand­ing,” Schumer was asked to be on an episode of Com­edy Cen­tral’s “Live at Gotham” se­ries, which fea­tured var­i­ous co­me­di­ans at the venue. It kick-started a re­la­tion­ship with Com­edy Cen­tral that would prove very lu­cra­tive down the line.

It was a good fit: “[Amy’s com­edy] was a lit­tle edgy for broad­cast TV, but it’s per­fect for Com­edy Cen­tral,” Bel­lamy re­mem­bers. “She was kind of edgy on NBC: At NBC, you’re ba­si­cally at your mom’s house at Thanks­giv­ing . . . like, watch your mouth!”

7. Be a roaster.

Schumer ap­plied to be a writer for the Char­lie Sheen roast spe­cial in 2011. She didn’t get the gig, but she landed some­thing bet­ter: a spot on the dais as a roaster.

Schumer cer­tainly re­ceived at­ten­tion af­ter the broad­cast, par­tic­u­larly for her dig at Mike Tyson (“You have a slutty lower-back tat­too on your face.”) and draw­ing con­tro­versy for her vi­cious barb aimed at “Jack­ass” star Steve-O: “I truly am sorry, no joke, for the loss of your friend Ryan Dunn,” she said of his co-star re­cently killed in a car ac­ci­dent. “I know you must have been think­ing, ‘It could have been me’ and I know we were all think­ing, ‘Why wasn’t it?’”

How­ever, it was host Seth MacFar­lane’s line as he in­tro­duced Schumer that, years later, is un­in­ten­tion­ally hi­lar­i­ous in its fore­shad­ow­ing. “What can I say about Amy Schumer? I ac­tu­ally mean that sin­cerely,” MacFar­lane said. “I’ve never heard of this woman.”

8. Land a com­edy pi­lot.

Those who didn’t know Schumer were about to get ac­quainted: Fol­low­ing Sheen’s roast, Com­edy Cen­tral was so thrilled with her per­for­mance they of­fered her a pi­lot deal. In be­tween work on her show, Schumer filmed another spe­cial for the net­work in 2012 (“Mostly Sex Stuff,” which NPR re­ported was the sec­ond-high­est-rated Com­edy Cen­tral spe­cial in five years) and roasted Roseanne Barr.

“In­side Amy Schumer” de­buted in April 2013 and crit­ics were im­pressed. The pre­miere fea­tured a line from Schumer’s stand-up: “I’m a lit­tle slut­tier than the av­er­age bear,” she said, segue­ing into a bit about how awk­ward it is to ask for the morn­ing-af­ter pill.

“Schumer’s sharp­ness comes through best in such mo­ments,” wrote Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever. “When she’s in stand-up mode and tak­ing sig­nif­i­cant risks be­yond the genre’s still-cus­tom­ary-bound­ary lines of gen­der, with such Sarah Silverman-es­que ob­ser­va­tions as ‘We’ve all­beena lit­tle bit raped. Just a scoch?’ ”

9. Go vi­ral.

The show did well for Com­edy Cen­tral, draw­ing around a mil­lion peo­ple an episode. But more im­por­tantly, in the third sea­son this spring, “In­side Amy Schumer” blew up on the In­ter­net. Ev­ery week, the Web would be abuzz with Schumer’s latest sketch.

Her most pop­u­lar sketches all had a fem­i­nist an­gle: A “Fri­day Night Lights” take-off where a new coach moves to town and tells his football play­ers there will be, much to their dis­may, “no rap­ing”; a boy-band par­ody song called “Girl, You Don’t Need Make-Up” where the guys are hor­ri­fied to dis­cover what a woman looks like with­out foun­da­tion; a “12 An­gry Men” par­ody where a jury de­bates whether Schumer is hot enough to be on tele­vi­sion. The sketches were scathing enough to draw raves from her fans and crit­i­cism from de­trac­tors. But ev­ery­one was talk­ing about her.

10. Get in Judd Apa­tow’s clique.

A few years ago, the “Brides­maids” and “Knocked Up” di­rec­tor heard an in­ter­view Schumer did on Howard Stern’s ra­dio show. Ac­cord­ing to En­ter­tain­ment Weekly, he found her so funny that he im­me­di­ately asked to meet her. Af­ter their meet­ing, Apa­tow en­cour­aged her to write a script.

That even­tu­ally be­came the highly an­tic­i­pated, Apa­tow-di­rected “Train­wreck,” star­ring Schumer as a 30-some­thing com­mit­ment-pho­bic jour­nal­ist who pan­ics when she falls for a sports doc­tor (Bill Hader) she’s pro­fil­ing for an ar­ti­cle.

As “Train­wreck” ap­proaches, Schumer is ev­ery­where: She hosted the MTV Movie Awards. She made a guest-ap­pear­ance on ABC’s “The Bach­e­lorette” and skew­ered the lamest con­tes­tant: “J.J. is a sweet­heart. He’s just miss­ing charisma, hu­mil­ity and a sense of hu­mor.”

Bel­lamy sums up what has made Schumer so ap­peal­ing: “We need women in com­edy with a strong point of view,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of women that are hav­ing Amy Schumer mo­ments.”

JAMIE MCCARTHY/GETTY IM­AGES FOR GQ (TOP LEFT) AND COM­EDY CEN­TRAL

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