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Schumer walks into Hollywood, and leaves armed with material

13 July 2015, 20:36

New York - A recurring feeling has accompanied Amy Schumer's rapid ascent in show business.

"It's always: I walk in a room thinking maybe I belong in here," she says over a plate of meatballs at a Greenwich Village cafe. "And then I get reminded quickly that I don't. But then no one really does. And I'm going to do it again."

It's getting hard to find a room too big or too prestigious for the 34-year-old Schumer. In her rise to becoming one of the pre-eminent stand-ups in the country, Schumer has emerged as one of the sharpest, wittiest commentators on gender in America. Her humor satirical, raunchy, absurdist is built on a fresh and on-point feminism, alert to both the injustices of sexism and the helpless farce of the sexes.

She's turned her Peabody-winning Comedy Central show, "Inside Amy Schumer," into a spinning collider of gender roles, firing out weekly, instantly viral parodies of men and women, in bed and on screens.

In "Trainwreck," a comedy she wrote and stars in due out Friday, Schumer wades into movies for the first time. Her arrival in Hollywood, like many of her punchlines, is well timed. Her voice feels particularly valuable to a movie industry wrestling with gender equality.

It's a conversation Schumer has already joined, most notably in a sketch about the expiration date of sexual attractiveness for women in Hollywood. In it, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette toasted Julia Louis-Dreyfus' final day.

Schumer's introduction to the superficiality of Hollywood, she reckons, has already given her 20 minutes of new material. The jokes have included her expectation a more attractive actress, "a Kate" (like Kate Upton or Kate Middleton), would be cast in her place, and her insistence that her Los Angeles experience has proven she'll never be a movie star.

"Definitely not," she confirmed in a recent interview. "I'm not doing it. I don't like anything that comes along with it. I don't like it so much that I don't know if I would ever do it again. I left the press junket like, 'Stand-up's cool.'"

Yet "Trainwreck," directed by Judd Apatow, has already won glowing reviews for its crude humor and sweet authenticity. It flips the usual conventions of a romantic comedy. Schumer plays a serial dater and the men (Bill Hader, flanked by his protective friend, Lebron James) are the ones yearning for a second date.

It wasn't a conscious inversion, she says, but is simply true to her experience. One of her most famous sketches, a full-episode version of "12 Angry Men" in which jurors weigh whether Schumer is hot enough for TV, also came from a blogger's comments.

"I'm trying to do my part, just so people can feel comfortable in their own skin," she says. "I don't think we should throw out all the hot people. But people are actually OK with looking at people other than models. They actually kind of like it."

That underlying message of self-acceptance has made Schumer a kind of comic everywoman candidly baring her anxieties and embarrassments and triumphs over them for an understanding audience.

"It's you saying, 'Yeah, isn't it ridiculous I had to go through this?' And their laughter is saying, 'Yes, that sounds horrible!'" she says.

Schumer has given moving, personal speeches ("I say if I'm beautiful. I say if I'm strong," at the Gloria Awards) and hysterically unapologetic ones.

"I am really in it to talk to the women in the crowd, if I'm being totally honest," she says. "But what I've found is that the men want to hear it, too. They're interested, and they want to empower the women in their lives. And women are just as much to blame as men for why we're not able to understand each other."

Her talent has lured not just Apatow but Chris Rock (director of her upcoming HBO special) and Madonna, whom Schumer will open for in September. In Manhattan, where the Long Island-native lives, she's now constantly recognized by passionate followers. "It's not like 'You're the funny girl.' It's like, 'I love you,'" she says.

"I'm always impressed with people that find a way to do this work, which is so difficult, and have a blast," says Apatow, who contacted Schumer after hearing her on Howard Stern. "She has a great team supporting her and I think she's found a way to be a great leader at that show."

Jessi Klein, the head writer of "Inside Amy Schumer," describes Schumer as an unusually dedicated comic who will spend a day shooting and then rush to perform a set or two at night. Klein said the writers' room (where Schumer's sister, Kim, also works) is humming with a sense of limitless material rife for parody.

"I don't think a lot of shows have tackled these issues yet in a way that's funny and real," says Stein. "Amy, obviously, is a really distinctive voice, and it feels like we're talking about stuff that people haven't really talked about so far, and that hopefully they will now."

More attention also means more scrutiny. A recent column in the Guardian, citing a sketch from the show's first season, claimed Schumer has a "blind spot around race." Schumer posted online that the sketch had been misinterpreted and that she wouldn't start joking about "safe material" a response she now regrets.

"I talked to Louie (C.K.) and Lena (Dunham) and Chris Rock and they were like, 'Yeah, you can't respond,'" said Schumer. But the resulting headlines crystalized the new challenges coming for Schumer.

"The pressure is that there are more eyes on me," says Schumer, a cousin of New York Senator Chuck Schumer. "It is strange to be treated like a politician all of a sudden."

But as Schumer finds herself increasingly on the inside of Hollywood glitz or partying at the Emmys, she's also recoiling back to New York, back to the stage.

"I'm glad I don't feel comfortable there," she says of award shows. "I don't want to become a part of that."

- AP


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