The 30-year old New York native first began making a name for herself in 2007 with her appearance on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” but her national breakout performance came during last year’s “Roast of Charlie Sheen” on Comedy Central – where she landed ferocious blows to Mike Tyson with jokes about his face tattoo and to Steve-O with cringe-worthy cracks about the death of his “Jackass” friend and co-star Ryan Dunn. The numerous death threats Schumer received in the aftermath of the joke caused her to briefly wonder if she should quit comedy, but instead she said she’s determined to “bring it harder.”
The result has been plenty of work in stand-up and in film. This year, Schumer has filmed the feature “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, and “Price Check,” an independent movie opposite Parker Posey that premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Before traveling to San Francisco to film a one-hour stand-up special for Comedy Central called “Mostly Sex Stuff,” Schumer stops through Chicago for the Just for Laughs Festival for her first big headlining gig in the city (June 13, Park West). She spoke to RedEye about her crazy year, why she loves the HBO show “Girls” and, of course, sex.
It seems like most people know you because of the Charlie Sheen roast and some of the controversy with you and Steve-O. Is that something that bothers you?
No, it doesn’t. It’s like…what people think about you is so out of your control. I just want people to know my standup.
Did you really get death threats from the joke about Ryan Dunn and Steve-O?
Yeah I got some stuff on Twitter and Facebook that was like “I hope you die,” but my management got at least 18 legit angry emails where they mentioned wanting to kill me and a couple where they were detailed saying “I’m going to kill her at this specific show,” so my management wanted me to cancel some shows. When someone actually says they have plans to kill you and mention a specific club, it was really upsetting. Comedy Central’s editor chose to cut to Steve-O looking very upset about the joke so all these young Jackass fans went after me. It sucked, it was scary.
Was there any impulse to tone down your act?
No. I thought to myself, Am I supposed to quit comedy? Then I was like “fuck no” and wanted to come even harder after that. The fact of the matter is, I’m not going to be everyone’s thing and I don’t want to be. If anyone was going be offended by that joke, I don’t want them to be in the audience in the first place. I’ve actually said no to some TV shows that would have given me more exposure because I don’t want the people that like that show to be in my crowd. It’s not just about numbers for me. I want smart people to enjoy what I’m talking about. If they don’t like it, that’s fine, too.
Who would you ideally roast? Does it get any better than Charlie Sheen?
I think whoever is in the hot seat at the moment. I guess like John Travolta right now with that stuff with him jerking off with the massage therapists.
If you did a roast in Chicago could you roast Rahm Emanuel?
Who is that? Umm, I guess my roast would begin and end with “I have no idea who you are.”
How well do you know Chicago?
Well, my brother is a jazz musician, and he’s lived there for seven years now. He lives in Ukrainian Village and I stay with him sometimes, and my sister and her husband got a house in Tinley Park. I try to find every excuse I can to come. It’s such a great comedy town. I’ve gone Chicago to do shows for six or seven years, but I’ve been trying to headline a big show in the city for years. So when I got this offer I was like, “Fuck yeah.” I’m totally excited. I hope people come.
You live in New York. Do you have any clever observations as far as New York compared to Chicago?
In terms of industry type shit, the way that L.A. people look at New York is how people in New York look at Chicago. “Oh, that’s so cute, you guys have comedy there.” It’s kind of arrogant. But the truth is that Chicago is probably the only other city I could find myself living in other than New York, and the good comedy scene is part of that. But in the city where my sister lives? That shit is like “The Midwest.” Cornfields and pep rallies and shit.
Speaking of New York, you recently posted on Twitter “Fuck girls is good, fuck.” I’m assuming you were talking about the HBO show.
Yeah, I was talking about the show. I’m really digging that shit.
Can you relate to it at all?
I mean, I’m older. I’m old, but yeah. There’s a lot. The jokes are really funny, the show has made me laugh.
It makes sex seem so terrible.
Yeah, but that’s a weird age for sex. In college, you’re just drunk and fucking and you don’t know what your body is like and you’re just hoping you’re not grotesque and someone is going to want to have sex with you twice. And then when you’re 23, you know some shit and you’re talking about it, but you still don’t really know anything but that’s the age where you’re exploring and figuring it out. It’s pretty awkward, kind of more awkward than virginity. That guy that [Hannah] has sex with, I’ve had sex with a guy like that at that age…the dirtiest, weirdest shit and I was like, well, I guess that’s what guys are like. And it’s like, no, it’s not. It’s just this fucking weirdo. I do relate to it. It’s very New York-centric.
Is your own material similar at all?
Again, I’m older. The show kind of highlights the pain and insecurity of that age. My material is very much where I am now as a 30-year-old woman who has seen a lot of shit and done a lot of fucking. It’s me coming out of my 20s, with all the experience I’ve gained. I’m very unapologetic about it. I like sex. So my perspective, I’m talking about me now.
So you could be an older role model for Hannah?
I guess, but I’m not sure my life would be the pot at the end of the rainbow. You kind have to live your own shit and make mistakes, I think. I talk very openly and frankly about things that have happened to me, with the thought that someone will be like, wow, that happened to me, too, or when it does happen that they don’t feel as bad about it. I also just think it’s good for girls and guys to hear a chick up there talk about sex unapologetically.
I was watching some of your clips on YouTube and was reading some of the comments and people were making comments on your appearance as much as your material. One said: “Love her delivery and her figure!” Or: “The babyface contradicts her sick humor so beautifully...” Does that annoy you?
No matter what, you get commented on your physical appearance if you’re a chick. Right out of the gate. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I expect it. I’m not going to be for everyone. I get “that girl, I don’t like her” but someone else will say “She’s the funniest woman I’ve ever seen” or someone is like “She’s fat or ugly” or “She’s the greatest woman ever.” It’s like, they’re both right. I just don’t give a shit anymore.
Did that take a while to get used to? Did you have to grow a thicker skin?
Yeah, totally. I was shocked at first and it took me a while to get used to. I made a video early on in my career that got like 100,000 views, and people would say things like, “She’s adorable’ or “I hope she dies.” And the physical stuff, it’s not easy to hear. But everything else that has happened, after getting death threats and the roast...now I feel like the Iron Lady. On stage now I feel so strong and hecklers don’t bother me because I’m not worried about anything they can say. If they say “You’re fat.” Well, I’m not fat. I know exactly who I am. I’m not the smartest, funniest, best-looking chick ever but I’m OK. I’m above average, and that’s good enough for me.
Tell me about some of these movies you’re in.
I audition for a lot of stuff. I go out to L.A. as frequently as possible. The people that represent me run around and get me stuff. Some of them are ridiculous. One was a Hispanic stripper. Seriously. So when you get something big, everybody calls you. So everyone called and told me I got this part. I was like, was it Shoshanna or whatever the name of the stripper was? No, they said it was for the Steve Carell movie and I was like “Ah!”
When we were filming that movie, it was really awesome, but it was a lot of waiting around, like you hear. The kind of waiting around in a small, small trailer…I know, poor me. Once we started filming, it was a dream come fucking true. But it’s weird, because you’re like, I want this, it’s my dream, but then once you get it, you’re like…I better get another dream. So I’m trying lots of different things right now.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
Just for Laughs Festival – Amy Schumer
Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave.
When: June 13, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25, justforlaughschicago.com