One of Amy Schumer's comedy routines begins with the declaration, "I'm a little sluttier than the average bear. I really am."
Degrees of sluttiness may be hard to define, but Schumer does talk frankly about many subjects — including sex — that can be uncomfortable for people, both in her stand-up act and on her Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer, which was recently renewed for a second season.
The show, a mix of stand-up, sketch comedy and interviews, has tackled everything from the oblivious racism of the elderly to the hang-ups women sometimes have about giving and receiving compliments from each other.
And then, yes, there's the sex stuff. (Not for nothing was Schumer's hit 2012 Comedy Central special titled, simply, Mostly Sex Stuff.)
Sex as a subject for Schumer wasn't a conscious decision. She says she was always a sexual girl, but that as she grew older and came into her own, sex was simply the thing she was thinking about and talking about with her girlfriends. She questions how attractive she is and "how slutty" she is — and it's something she goes back and forth on. These thoughts, questions and conversations spilled naturally into her comedy.
"I didn't grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "So I thought, 'OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the women's perspective in a less apologetic, honest way.' "
In joking so boldly about sex, Schumer is something of a risk taker in comedy, where the subject is still considered man territory.
"I'll get offstage, and the club owner will be like, 'That was a lot about sex,' " she says. "And they would never say that to a male comic."
On her mother
"I have a joke where I say, 'Oh, I'm going to bring [my mom] to a soccer game because I want to show her what boundaries look like.' I just grew up in a house where things weren't that taboo to talk about. And my mom, when she was teaching us to say our different body parts, taught me how to say 'vagina' the same that she taught me how to say 'ear.' I think she wanted us to be able to tell her if we were ever molested without being embarrassed — and so there wasn't this sense of shame."
On uncomfortable sexual experiences
"Most women I know that I'm close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn't completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it's not all black and white. There's a gray area of rape, and I call it 'grape.' It's the guy you went home with in college, and you said, 'No,' and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. ...
"There's just so many different things that can happen, so it's not always this, 'Well, you're going to jail and that's it.' There's other stuff where it's like, 'Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to ... press charges or take any action against this person.' But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like 'grape.' "
On the oblivious racism of older relatives
"My great-grandma, who was a bootlegger in old New York, Estelle Schumer, she passed away a couple years ago, but her liquor store is still up on 54th Street. ... She was 94 when she died, or 95, and she would ... just say a word. ... She would call black people 'colored,' and it would just make all the blood rush to my head like, 'No, that's not OK.'
"But then you think, 'Well, she's so old,' and then, you know, I would mention that to my friends and then ... I realized ... most people I know have older relatives that will just say something that's just so unacceptable. And then I just thought, 'Well, what's the age? What's the cutoff?' Because if one of my parents said something inappropriate I would stop them."
On how comedy doesn't work everywhere
"People just think that comedy can work anywhere. A lot of times we'll be asked to do a fundraiser or something like that. Or, 'Oh, will you do stand-up at my friend's birthday?' And it just takes so much for a show to be produced well and for stand-up to be successful, or a roast to be successful, but people just don't realize that. They're just like, 'Oh, tell me a joke.' Whenever someone says, 'Oh, just tell me a joke,' like a cab driver or anybody, you learn the lesson over time to never do it. It never works."
Watch A Skit From 'Inside Amy Schumer':
- Comedian Gets Her Own TV Show: 'Inside Amy Schumer'
- Watch 'Compliments', A Skit From 'Inside Amy Schumer'
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Tonight, Comedy Central shows the next-to-the-last episode in the first season of the series "Inside Amy Schumer." It's already been renewed for a second season. Amy Schumer is my guest. Her show is a mix of stand-up, short sketches and interviews. She plays a lot of different characters in the sketches, but her persona in stand-up comedy is an attractive, middle-class, educated, single woman who's a little slutty.
As her executive producer Dan Powell put it, she can say the most filthy, obscene things in the sweetest manner. Last year she had a special on Comedy Central called "Mostly Sex Stuff," which was the second-highest rated special on the network in five years. You may have seen her roasting celebrities like Roseanne Barr and Charlie Sheen. Mel Brooks recently described her on our show as a new comic he thinks is wonderful.
Amy Schumer will not sweetly be saying obscene on our show, but we are going to have an adult conversation about her comedy, and there may be some punch lines you won't want to explain to young children. Here's an excerpt of Schumer's stand-up comedy from the first edition of "Inside Amy Schumer."
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")
AMY SCHUMER: I'm a little sluttier than the average bear. I really am, a little sluttier. I can be honest about that. Like I'm no stranger to Plan B, I'll say that. I'm not like what is that, like I know what that is. It's the morning-after pill. You can take it the night before if you're feeling amped, you know, just like walk by a mirror, catch a glimpse of yourself in a new tube top, like whoa, pop, you can do that.
You feel like such a dirty whore buying Plan B. It is so embarrassing because it's over-the-counter, but you have to ask your pharmacist. And they know what you want, but they make you ask. They're looking at me, I'm like you see where my eyeliner is. Just give it to me.
SCHUMER: The staring contest. What, do you think I'm here because it's allergy season, really?
GROSS: That's Amy Schumer from her show "Inside Amy Schumer." Amy Schumer, welcome to FRESH AIR.
SCHUMER: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: My sense of responsibility as a journalist requires me to say you really can't take Plan B the night before, so...
SCHUMER: Oh yes, uh...
GROSS: I just want to make sure everybody knows that that's a joke and that they don't try that, so...
SCHUMER: It didn't even occur to me that someone would take that as actual advice. Wow, I should really have more ownership over that. But I like that that was one of the cleaner clips that you found to play.
GROSS: Yes, exactly, exactly. So I just have to ask you: Do you really think of yourself as a slut?
SCHUMER: I often wonder how attractive I am and how slutty I am. That's something I'm back and forth on. But I think I have been promiscuous, and I think a lot of women have. So I like to talk about it as a way to maybe make those other women feel less alone and less strange and dirty about their own actions.
GROSS: Tell us more how that became your comic persona.
SCHUMER: That wasn't on purpose. I started out very much set-up, punch line. And I think, you know, I started when I was 22 or 23 years old. So I've always been sexual. I've always been a sexual girl, but it just, it was coming out more and more in my stand-up. So it wasn't a conscious decision, but then I was getting ready to film my hour special for Comedy Central, and they said, you know, it's a lot of stuff about sex. Can you maybe mix it up more, maybe some racism or something else?
SCHUMER: And I said, well, I said why don't we just call it "Mostly Sex Stuff." And so it was kind of like a lazy decision, and that was really when I realized wow, this is, it is a lot of stuff about sex. But I didn't grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves, and so I thought OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the woman's perspective in a, you know, a like less apologetic, honest way.
And I don't know if I'm going to veer away from that or what, but I've been trying to keep it pretty natural, just stuff I'm interested in talking about.
GROSS: So a lot of male comics talk about sex a lot onstage, more than your average female comic does. What did you take from that male approach to sex comedy, and what did you reject from it?
SCHUMER: Oh, I don't know that I could really generalize the male approach to comedy and sex, but I do know that I'll get offstage, and the club owner will be like that was a lot about sex. And they would never say that to a male comic, Dave Attell or Jim Norton would never get offstage and have a promoter of a theater or a club go over, like, you like to talk about sex.
You know, so it's just this - that was made such a - that there's such a stigma with being a woman who talks about sex, and there's just sort of no repercussions, I think, if you're a male comic that talks about sex. They wouldn't label you that way, I don't think.
GROSS: So you do talk a lot about sex onstage, and you do use the word vagina a lot onstage. Were you always comfortable talking about sex in front of a microphone and using that word? Because I think a lot of girls grow up feeling, like, so uncomfortable using any word that describes the sexual parts of their body.
SCHUMER: I'm glad you asked that. Yeah, I - well, one thing is my mom, other than - I have a joke where I say she - oh, I'm going to bring her to a soccer game because I want to show her what boundaries look like. I just grew up in a house where things weren't that taboo to talk about. And my mom when she was teaching us how to say our different body parts taught me how to say vagina the same that she taught me how to say ear.
I think she wanted us to be able to tell her if we were ever molested without being embarrassed. And so there wasn't this sense of shame, and I was running around naked to an age that probably wasn't appropriate and just never was made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of my body or think anything was wrong with me.
You know, and to a - probably to a fault because now if I do a photo shoot, and - I'm a comedian, but if any woman shows up to a photo shoot for a magazine, it's usually, you know, they sexualize it. And so they'll be like well, what about with your shirt off. And I'm like sure just because I don't think of that as a big deal. But as I'm getting older, I'm learning to put more value and value my privacy more of my body and some of my personal information.
I definitely am an over-sharer, and I'm trying to get better with that. As I'm becoming more well-known, I - it's more important for me to keep some of my information private.
GROSS: So you do some interviews in your shows, and in one set of interviews you're interviewing people on the street about whether they sext or not and whether they like being sexted. And I - do you ever do that?
SCHUMER: Do I sext? Oh, you mean have I ever sent like a sexual message to somebody over text?
GROSS: Yes, or a picture of yourself?
SCHUMER: Oh yeah, definitely. I - you know, now that I'm more well-known, I can't put my head in them.
SCHUMER: But now, I've definitely over the years, yeah, I've been in long-distance relationships, and it's definitely happened. Yeah, I have definitely engaged in sext messaging and received and sent dirty photos. What about you?
GROSS: Who, me?
SCHUMER: Sorry, I just, I couldn't help myself.
GROSS: So one of your sketches ends up with - I forget whether you're sexting or what, but it ends with you turning on the end of like an old black-and-white like 1930s or 1940s movie where like the romantic finale is the kiss.
GROSS: And it's so chaste and romantic compared to all the sexting and everything. And do you think that that's the kind of split that you sometimes have in your own life of, like, doing all this, like, explicit stuff but loving, like, the romantic fantasies of, say, old 1940s movies?
SCHUMER: Yeah, I think so, and the scene where I'm sexting, I'm sitting there, and a guy doesn't know where he's catching you. He's like what are you wearing. And I'm sitting there, and I'm wearing a T-shirt with a cat on it, wearing a bonnet that says Downton Catty. And I'm eating pasta with my hands. And so I wrote that scene, and I thought what if I wrote back what I was actually thinking, which is, you know, he's like what do you want me to do to you, and I'm like tell me I'm safe in my apartment.
SCHUMER: Tell me what all the remotes do. And then also trying to navigate what does this guy want me to say. You know, like just I don't know. But yeah, like just, that girls - I still do want that romance and to be adored by someone, but then there's also this high demand to be super sexual, and that's being asked I think of a lot of women more and more now. I'm assuming with the younger generation, the sort of sexual demands are so much higher now.
And so I just - I think that scene is just showing a real girl just trying to navigate this new territory.
GROSS: I worry about those sexual expectations.
GROSS: You know, I think for some young women, the attitude is, well, now that we've all been through feminism, now it's safe to be sexual objects again and to learn how to strip for our boyfriends and become pole dancers.
GROSS: I mean, do you find that disturbing at all?
SCHUMER: Yeah, it's totally disturbing. I feel very lucky that I grew up before Facebook and before Internet porn. I - it's such tough territory to navigate now. And I'm just dealing with guys that came up on the end of it, where they just were exposed to it. You know, they're in their 30s, and some of them have a lot of trouble with it. And there's new addictions because of it and these new expectations on these girls.
Like I didn't feel any pressure when I was younger to be overly sexual because there wasn't that much exposure to it.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actress Amy Schumer, and her show on Comedy Central is called "Inside Amy Schumer." So there's another sketch I want to play, and this is - this is a real girl thing. It's a sketch about how girls handle compliments from other girls.
And this sketch starts with two girlfriends running into each other on the street, and Amy Schumer enters the scene a little bit later.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Oh my God, Bree(ph), you died your hair. It looks amazing.
(as Bree) Oh no, you're just being nice.
(as character) No seriously, it looks great.
(as Bree) No, I tried to look like Kate Hudson but ended up looking like a golden retriever's dingleberry. But you, look at your cute little dress.
(as character) Little? I'm like a Size 100 now. Anyway, I paid like $2 for it. It's probably made out of old Burger King crowns. I look like a whore locked out of her apartment.
SCHUMER: (as herself) Hi.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Amy, hi.
(as character) Hey. I love your hat.
SCHUMER: (as herself) Are you drunk? I look like an Armenian man. People are trying to buy carpets from me.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Excuse me, when did you start working for NASA? You're weightless.
SCHUMER: (as herself) (Bleep) you. I'm a (bleep) cow. Indian people are trying to worship me. I sleep standing up in a field.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Fancy meeting you girls here.
(as character) Of course I see everyone when I look like Susan Boyle's toothbrush.
(as character) You look so pretty.
(as character) Ms. Jessica(ph), congrats on your big promotion beeatch.
(as character) I'm going to get fired in like two seconds.
(as character) No.
(as character) I'm legally retarded. On my SATs I just drew a picture of a house on the first page and ate the rest.
(as character) Lindsey(ph)...
GROSS: That's a sketch from "Inside Amy Schumer," and Amy Schumer is my guest. I recognize that, I really do.
SCHUMER: Well, good.
GROSS: That sense of, like, if somebody says something nice to you that you have to somehow answer it with a self-insult, with something like really self-derogatory.
SCHUMER: Yeah, I think a lot of it...
GROSS: Why is that? What is that about?
SCHUMER: I have some ideas. I think it might be because we're afraid of jealousy from other women, or it might be from actual self-hatred, but I know that every girl I know does that. And - but I think that scene, it kind of - it went viral, you know, whatever that means. A lot of people watched it and responded to it. And especially women, of course, and they - everybody just recognized that behavior in themself.
And I think it has affected the women that have seen it. It's affected me because you catch yourself doing that. We just noticed we were doing it around the writers' office and to a ridiculous degree. We just thought let's shine a light on this, and we do that as much as possible on the show, but I'm glad that that one resonated with people.
GROSS: So this was women in the writers' office doing that?
SCHUMER: This - well, I mean, we all - every scene wound up being a big collaboration, but yeah, it was the women in the office doing it. The men, I've never noticed men doing that. I'll be like that's a great shirt, and then the guy will just wear that shirt all week.
GROSS: My guest is comic Amy Schumer. Her series "Inside Amy Schumer" is on Comedy Central. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Amy Schumer, and her new comedy show on Comedy Central is called "Inside Amy Schumer." Another sketch I want to play from your show, and this is about the difficulty of dealing with older members of your family who blurt out racist things and don't even get why it's racist, why it's like so wrong to say that.
And in this scene, like you and your boyfriend, who's Latino, are at dinner with your family, including your grandmother, and here's the scene, and this is from "Inside Amy Schumer."
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")
SCHUMER: (as herself) All of our friends had left us, and we were both stuck there. I mean Napa Valley of all places, but that's basically how Carlos(ph) and I met.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) I am very happy to meet you. Also, I'm finished.
SCHUMER: (as herself) Oh my God, grandma, no, Carlos is not a busboy. He's my boyfriend. I'm so sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Carlos) Amy, it's OK. She grew up during a different time.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Tell him to start mowing the lawn by the pool so it'll be quiet for my nap.
SCHUMER: Look familiar? Are you tired of your elderly relatives thinking their blatant racism is OK?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) I don't know how to help my (bleep) grandma.
SCHUMER: There is an answer: Generations, a revolutionary new facility where we give your elderly loved ones the politically correct social skills to get along in the modern world.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) This person is what?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Drug mule.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) A gardener?
(as character) No, Latino.
GROSS: That's really funny.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
GROSS: So have you experienced this with relatives or friends?
SCHUMER: Yes, I wrote the scene, and I've definitely experienced that with relatives. My great-grandma, who was a bootlegger in old New York, she - Estelle(ph) Schumer, she passed away a couple years ago, but her liquor store is still up on 54th Street. But she - you know, New York, she was 90, I think, 4 when she died or 95. And she would just sort of - she would just say a word.
She would say - she would call black people colored. And it would just make all the blood rush to my head, like no, that's not OK. But then you think, well, she's so old. And then, you know, I would mention that to my friends, and then it just - I realized everybody has - you know, most people I know have older relatives that will just say something that's so unacceptable.
And then I just thought, well, what's the age? What's the cutoff? Because if one of my parents said something inappropriate, I would stop them. So - and it seems like a lot of people have had this experience. And so I had the idea to film this scene.
GROSS: Did you say anything to her ever?
SCHUMER: No, no, I was scared of her. She was terrifying.
SCHUMER: I mean she - she was like so tiny by the end of her life, she - you know, she was just sort of like slowly going into downward dog. But I was just so afraid of her. No, I never said anything to her.
GROSS: One of the things you say in one of your stand-up routines is that every woman has probably been a little bit raped. What do you mean by that?
SCHUMER: Let's get into it, Terry.
GROSS: What do you mean by that?
SCHUMER: I - most women I know, that I'm close to, have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable with and that if it wasn't completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it's not all black and white. There's a gray area of rape, and I call it grape. And it's the guy you went home with in college, and you said no, and then he still did it. Or maybe you woke up, and it was somebody you were dating, and they were - you know, there's just so many different things that can happen.
And so it's not always this, well, you're going to jail, you know, and that's it. There's other stuff where it's like wow, it would be so - it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to - for me to press charges or take any action against this person. But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like grape.
GROSS: Do you get a big response when you say that?
SCHUMER: Yeah, the women all laugh. And then the men look to see if they're allowed to laugh, and then they laugh. But I - and I wondered when I first started that, and then when everything happened in Steubenville, I wondered oh, should I stop saying that. But it just really still struck a chord in people, and it was a powerful response of just yeah that's true. It was just another yeah, this is something that happens.
GROSS: So are you at all concerned that making jokes about being, you know, quote, slightly raped will, like, diminish the importance of talking about rape and of taking it seriously?
SCHUMER: No, not the way I'm saying it. If anything, I hope it will raise more awareness and make people feel more comfortable having a conversation about it. If you listen to the whole - that whole joke, I say someone sleeping, that's a no. Because I say that at a certain age, men take a woman sleeping as a suggested no. And I say that's a no. And I say there's this other area, and I say everyone has been a little raped.
I'm - I think I'm bringing the conversation to the table so that people will feel more comfortable to talk about it. I'm in no way - my intention is not to minimize how serious rape is, and I don't think I'm doing that, and that's not the response that I've gotten to that joke. But I - and I do take more responsibility now over my material and the reaction to it, and I'm - I was especially careful with that, with that subject.
GROSS: Amy Schumer will be back in the second half of the show. A new episode of her series "Inside Amy Schumer" will be shown on Comedy Central tonight. You'll find a link to her sketch about the difficulty women have accepting compliments on our website, freshair.npr.org. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with comic Amy Schumer. Her series, "Inside Amy Schumer," is on Comedy Central. A new episode will be shown this evening. She also did a special for that network called "Mostly Sex Stuff." She was featured in an episode of "Girls," and you may have had seen her on "Comedy Central, Celebrity Roasts."
You've done some very high-profile roasts, like Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr - who she really complimented you at the end of that roast.
SCHUMER: I know. I started crying.
GROSS: Oh, seriously?
SCHUMER: It was so nice. Yeah. I was so moved by that.
GROSS: I think that was a first time I ever heard your name, in fact.
SCHUMER: You don't think...
GROSS: You know, I turned onto the end of the roast and Roseanne Barr is saying: And that Amy Schumer, she was so funny. And I thought oh, Amy Schumer? Who is - I don't know who that is. Who is that?
SCHUMER: Oh, that's awesome. Roseanne plugged me and made you discover me. Yeah. That was such a special moment. And, yeah, I was really not expecting that. It's a roast, it's such, you know, everyone's claws are out, and then to get a compliment like that from someone I just grew up loving and thinking was so hilarious was...
GROSS: And from somebody who just had every insult in the books thrown at them in a comedic fashion.
SCHUMER: Yeah. I think the comedians really, that's such a place for comedians to shine. We just know that it's, there's no venom and it's just we just appreciate each other constructing jokes. And I did my best to be careful. I'm more careful with women at those roasts, just I think just not to - I wouldn't want to say anything that would actually offend.
GROSS: Why are you more careful with women?
SCHUMER: There's just more territory that I feel like it's you can't say certain things to women. I think attacking a woman's appearance is - I just know how wounding that is and I don't think...
GROSS: Too much like daily life itself.
SCHUMER: Yeah. Yeah. Right. Exactly. Just too many people just every day will say something, just a backhanded compliment, or just a flat-out insulting maybe they don't even realize that they think it's something that you've accepted or just, you know, and they'll just hand you a new insecurity, and I would not want to be someone to do that. So I definitely, you know, said hard jokes but I wouldn't say anything about a woman's appearance that I thought might hurt her feelings.
GROSS: How did you get on the roast circuit, so to speak?
SCHUMER: I just had a relationship with Comedy Central. And they know me. They know that I've sort of been trained since birth, I think, to do a roast. I like writing setup punch lines and I can be harsh and they know that about me. But I submitted to write for the Charlie Sheen roast. I just sent in a packet and then they, you make it on to the next round and then they have you write, they make up a fictitious roast. You know, OK, we are roasting Kanye West and Jennifer Aniston, for example. And then you write jokes as though you're roasting them and you submit them.
So I made it through a couple of rounds and then I didn't get it. They were like, you didn't get it. And I was, you know, I was disappointed, and I didn't know that I was in contention to be on the Charlie Sheen roast. And then I found out a couple weeks before that they were thinking about maybe putting me on the dais. And then I found out two weeks before that I was going to be on the dais and roasting Charlie Sheen. And so I had those two weeks to get myself ready for that.
GROSS: Have you said anything at a roast that you've regretted?
SCHUMER: No. I have not said anything a roast that I've regretted. Yeah. No.
GROSS: You did say one thing about Ryan Dunn from "Jackass" after he died...
SCHUMER: I guess you regret me saying it.
GROSS: No. I have no position.
GROSS: I didn't even - I didn't hear the roast, I just, you know, read about it but...
GROSS: A lot of people were very offended by what you said. And you've said that you even got death threats afterwards. And...
GROSS: And that's kind of scary to think about - that you're at a roast where it's like your job to say really insulting things, but then people could get so angry that they threaten you.
SCHUMER: Yeah. That was really surreal. It was I, that joke I, it was, the joke was I said: Steve-O, one of the "Jackass" guys, his friend - one of the other "Jackass" guys had just died in a drunk driving accident. And so I said: Steve-O, I'm sorry for the loss of your friend Ryan Dunn. I'm sure you must be thinking it could've been me. And I know we were all thinking, why wasn't it? So the joke was sort of the I felt like the formula of any roast joke it's takes something that you're not supposed talk about and then twist that into an insult. And I thought it was very typical and didn't see anything that was too much about that. I'm also used to playing with comics and just we go after each other so horribly.
One of my friends at the Comedy Cellar, we, you know, they post the lineup of what comedians are performing, and one of them works under an alias because too many fans show up. And the alias he chose was the name of one of our other friends who work there stepfather who used to beat him up - who used to beat him so, you know, just to mess with him. So we all just go after each other's jugular all the time, and I just didn't think that that joke was a big deal. I didn't think it was a joke about making fun of somebody who died. I thought it was a joke making fun of Steve-O.
And, yeah, and then people's reaction to it, I was really surprised because that joke wasn't a big deal in the room. At the actual roast, there wasn't a huge reaction to it. But the way it was edited, they cut to Steve-O and he looked so sad and I'm sure if I saw that I would've thought, oh, gosh, that was too much or something. But the way it happened in his reaction and, you know, I've spoken to him since. He's a friend. I knew what my intentions were saying that joke and I just, I never felt like I'd made a mistake. And I'm not, I've made several mistakes in my life and I don't think I'm above it, but I don't think that was one of them. I stand by, I stand by that joke.
GROSS: There's a sketch on one of the additions of "Inside Amy Schumer" that relates to roasts. And I want to play a clip from that. And this is a scene where there's a dying child - a child dying of cancer in a hospital. In his last request - his Make a Wish request - is for you to visit him. So you comply and you show up in the hospital. He's in bed with, you know, oxygen tubes in his nose and looking very deathly and pale. And his very worried parents are standing by the bedside. You walk in and stand next to him by the bed. And midway through this scene, the boy's doctor walks in and the boy's doctor starts making jokes. You'll hear that.
(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SHOW, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) Hey, Jason. I'm Amy. I brought this for you.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING MONITOR)
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) Oh, your head shot. OK.
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) I just want you to know that you're - you're really special and everything is going to be fine. Well, I'm realizing that I bit off a little bit more than I can chew. It was an honor meeting you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Father) Whoa. Whoa. Where do you think you're going?
GROSS: (as Amy Schumer) Oh, I was going to go get my car.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Mother) Do you know why you're here?
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) I thought I was just, and meet, meet Jason. But I do something wrong?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) Roast me.
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) Roast you?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Mother) It was our son's last wish to be roasted by a professional comedian.
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) OK. Yeah. I don't - I don't feel comfortable making fun of your son.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Mother) You think I give a (bleep) what you're comfortable with?
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) OK. OK. OK. OK. Nice - why don't you get more tubes in your nose, weirdo?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Father) Is that even a joke?
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) OK. Where is the rest of your hair? Is it the hair parade where there's no hair?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Father) Enough with the softballs, please.
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) OK. This is really hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Doctor) Hey, hey. Hey, little man.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) Oh, hi.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Doctor) How you feeling?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) Terrible.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Doctor) Well, at least you feel the way you look.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Doctor) Am I right? Am I right? Nah, I'm just joking. I'm just joking. You dark and handsome. If it's dark, you're handsome.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Doctor) OK. I've got to go. I've got to go.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) LOL.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2, ACTOR: (as Doctor) Oh, gosh, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) Amy, take notes.
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) Those - those were hacked one-liners from the Internet.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (as Cancer Patient) What?
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) The Internet, you know, the thing you won't be on in three weeks?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Father) Hey. Amy.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Mother) Wow.
SCHUMER: (as Amy Schumer) That's not the direction we're going in?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Father) No.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Mother) Listen, he's ready for a laugh, but, you know, could you please make sure it's funny?
GROSS: So that's a sketch from "Inside Amy Schumer" on Comedy Central. Amy Schumer is my guest. Amy, so we've established you've done roasts. How did you come up with the idea for that really weird take...
GROSS: ...on a roast?
SCHUMER: Oh. That wasn't my idea - that scene. That was one of the writers, Kyle Dunnigan. We were kind of talking about roasts and who you wouldn't want to roast and he came in with that idea and it really made us laugh. It's sort of like a little bit "Inside Baseball" with there's a lot of jokes for comedians in that scene. Or even just that I would bring my headshot. But why would this kid want my headshot? And I wrote have a great summer on it. Just such a dumb, like just dumb little jokes throughout the scene. But people just think that comedy can work anywhere. A lot of times we'll be asked to do a fundraiser or, you know, something like that or, oh, will you do stand-up at my friend's birthday? And it's just, it takes so much for a show to be produced well and for stand-up to be successful or a roast to be successful. But people just don't realize that. They're just like oh, tell me a joke.
Whenever someone says oh, just tell me a joke, like a cab driver or anybody, you learn a lesson over time to never do it. It never works. And this is like a scenario - the family, or people are, like, oh, do your bit, roast our son, and they just think it's going to be hilarious and then but it's really kind of hard and too awkward. But then, but the doctor walks in and is just doing jokes from basically a joke book and they're killing. That's like a little, it's a little "Inside Baseball" comedy because, you know, you'll be working on the road and the comedian will go up and just be doing the oldest jokes ever told and just the crowd will be dying laughing. And you're thinking, I cannot believe these people are laughing at this. These are the oldest jokes. He's stealing all these. And then you'll go up and do some stuff that you think is really original and funny and they just stare at you.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actress Amy Schumer. She has a show on Comedy Central called "Inside Amy Schumer." We're going to take a short break and then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actress Amy Schumer. She has a show on Comedy Central now, which is called "Inside Amy Schumer."
So let's talk about your formative years. You grew up on Long Island. And I don't know much about your family, but I do know, I did read that I guess when you were young your father went bankrupt? So I don't know what happened, but they did change your lives a lot? Did you lose whatever money you had as a family?
SCHUMER: Yeah. I grew up, we were rich when I was younger. My dad opened a baby furniture company called Lewis of London and they would import baby furniture from Italy. And no one was doing that yet so all of the, you know, I was born on the Upper East Side and so all the Upper East Side rich people were like, well, I need a crib from Milan, so we were really wealthy. And then my dad was diagnosed with MS - multiple sclerosis - and at the same time, other people started also importing furniture from Italy and the business went under. And so we had to really downsize, you know, moving from a huge place to a pretty small house. And I really never felt the effects of having less money. I think my parents were probably of whatever came in the aftermath of going bankrupt, my parents felt it and I'm sure so as an extension, I felt it. But I was I think 12 or 13 and just, you know, boy crazy and worried about what I was going to wear, you know, just a shallow teenager.
So I wasn't, I really don't remember feeling the effects of it that much. I had a joke about it that I would feel it - that I felt it in the quality of my birthday parties.
GROSS: So your father got MS the year that he went bankrupt when you were 12 or 13?
GROSS: How soon did the MS really affect him?
SCHUMER: It was pretty, it kind of hit him like a ton of bricks and it was bad and he was - couldn't feel his legs and he was in the hospital and then it went into remission and he was kind of cool for years. But it would show up sometimes. It's like this quiet disease where you don't, you don't really understand it. Because he would be fine but then all of a sudden he would be moving really slowly and he would be in a lot of pain, but could still do the day-to-day stuff. And so I really didn't understand it very much. And then it hit him where he's been in a wheelchair now for the past I would say, seven years and it's bad. My dad now lives in a hospital. He needs 24-hour care and a doctor on call because it's gotten to that point. But in between being diagnosed and now, it's been 20, it's been over 20 years, so...
GROSS: How did that change your life, having a father who had a degenerative chronic illness?
SCHUMER: I think it has - the way I know that I'm different than some other people are - if seeing something that you love and that was so young and alive and effervescent - like, he was just such a New York guy and playing tennis and always in the ocean. And then to see them - to see their descent, to watch his body sort of decompose, it's pretty - it really darkens you and it really lets you know that you have no control over life.
And I - and so also my relationships. When I'm dating someone I think would I want to push their wheelchair? Would this guy push my wheelchair? My mind goes there if I've been dating somebody for a year or two, and I don't think that happens to people unless they've taken care of a sick relative.
GROSS: You said that you were in your early teens when this happened. And probably very interested in your friends and boyfriends and stuff. Did you push your father's wheelchair when he needed it? Or were you, like, so absorbed in your own, you know, in the transitions in your own life?
SCHUMER: He wasn't in a wheelchair until the past...
GROSS: Right. True. Right.
SCHUMER: Yeah. He wasn't in a - he wasn't wheelchair bound. He still had some money and he had - he remarried after my mom and he has always had people taking care of him, where I didn't need to be that person. But he remarried and was living in New Orleans with a woman who was my - my parents both remarried a couple times so, you know, I've had step parents and sort of step siblings come and go.
So this last step-mom, she knew him from the '70s and it was like, oh, good. I'm so glad this woman showed up and she loves my dad because it would've been my turn and, yeah, had he not remarried I would absolutely right now be - my dad's chair would be in the hallway here. But, I mean, god. I'm sure I would've taken care of my parents back then if they needed me to. I hope.
GROSS: When you were in high school you were voted Class Clown and Teacher's Worst Nightmare. I think this was in 1999. What were your reasons for being voted Teacher's Worst Nightmare?
SCHUMER: That was an award that I won. And half my teachers, like my English teacher and my history teacher were shocked. Because if it was a class I was really interested in I would just listen and be attentive and was a good member of the class. But if it was a class that I struggled or I felt wasn't, you know, like business law, I remember, those are the classes I would kind of act up in.
And I've always just - I would say the funniest thing I could think of. I still am the same way with - like the other day I was on an Amtrak train and the train broke down and so the conductor came back and he was talking to our car and he said, you know, the train was not working and we're going to switch trains. And people are saying, well, do you know what time - people were asking questions.
And I just raised my hand. I'm like who do you think is going to win "The Voice"? Just, you know, I just started asking the most unrelated, worthless questions.
SCHUMER: And it's the same stuff I was doing in high school. So it was just me making dumb jokes.
GROSS: So when you did this on the Amtrak that was recent?
SCHUMER: Yeah. That was probably a month ago.
GROSS: Weren't you a little concerned that somebody would go that's Amy Schumer and then tweet about it? And...
SCHUMER: I'm still...
SCHUMER: I'm still not at all - I guess I'm in denial about that still. Like, I - people will call my name now and it scares - it just scares the life out of - I just (gasps). I gasp every time. I am not used to that at all. And, no, so that didn't occur to me. And, yeah, that is true. I think that will hinder my being an idiot in public. I really do. And that is something I will really miss. You know, should this path continue. You know, there's always a chance that I will slip back into obscurity.
GROSS: Amy Schumer, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
GROSS: Amy Schumer's series "Inside Amy Schumer" is on Comedy Central. A new episode will be shown this evening. The first season concludes next week. You'll find a link to one of her sketches on our website freshair.npr.or. Coming up, Sofia Coppola's new movie "The Bling Ring" gets our critic-at-large John Powers reflecting on teen obsession with celebrity and the stuff celebrities wear and own. This is FRESH AIR.
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