The Divine Miss Schumer

Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow discuss her leap to the Big Screen

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Saturday Night Live alum Vanessa Bayer bounces in and out of meeting rooms, going where she’s needed. Comedian Dave Attell wanders around, distractedly, studying his cellphone, before he’s called upon to participate. Veteran comic Colin Quinn is somewhere on the premises—no one has seen him just yet. And a comedy-channel film crew is also on site, trying to map out its exhausting day of shooting. Yes, the posh hotel on San Francisco’s Nob Hill was veritably abuzz with kinetic activity one recent afternoon, all in the press-day service of one particular person—TV star Amy Schumer, of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer renown, who was now making the jump to the big screen, via Trainwreck, her Judd Apatow-directed debut which she scripted and stars in. Long before she even arrived, it was quite the scene.

And the film is worth the hoopla. Schumer, 34, drolly plays hard-drinking Amy, a reporter for a sleazy tabloid called S’Nuff. At an editorial meeting, when her snarky boss (a gleefully wicked Tilda Swinton) asks how she feels about athletics, she replies, “Sports are stupid, and anyone who likes them is a lesser person.” Naturally, she’s instantly assigned the story on a nice-guy sports doctor, played straight-faced by the usually mischievous SNL actor Bill Hader. They meet cute in his office (when he asks her to name her favorite teams, she ad-libs The Orlando Blooms and a zany list of others), but she can’t seem to make it work, following the love-’em-and-leave-’em pattern of her MS-afflicted father (a nice turn by Quinn). More SNL regulars pop up in crazy cameos, John Cena plays a beefcake ex-boyfriend, and—believe it or not—LeBron James chews up the scenery as a sensitive metrosexual, worried that Amy will crush his physician pal’s trusting heart. Attell is a homeless guy who razzes her every day on the way to the office, and Bayer is a chihuahua-jittery co-worker who grins Cheshire-Cat-broadly when she’s nervous. The movie’s a hoot. But it’s got a lot of heart.

Right on time for her first interview of the day, the ebullient blonde Schumer arrives, walking barefoot, fresh from a photo shoot, her painfully high heels in hand. She has a windbreaker pulled tight around her dress, and Apatow himself at her side, and as they disappear into a conference room and the door slams shut behind them, one previously relaxed bystander sparks to life—Kim Caramele, Schumer’s kid sister, collaborator, and co-founder of their familial production company So Easy (which oversaw Trainwreck for Universal and is currently setting up a series for up-and-comer Rachel Feinstein).

Caramele also acts as road manager, and when hotel food arrives for her sibling, she jumps from her seat to check everything, even the temperature of the soup. When the door finally opens, she waves the waiter away. “I’ll wheel it in—don’t worry about it,” she smiles. The sisters—who live only a few blocks from each other in New York—are so close, they work on everything together, including an upcoming mother-daughter comedy they’re writing for director Paul Feig. (Schumer will also anchor the key role.) For a while, sis is satisfied—everything is proceeding accordingly, despite the hectic schedule. But soon, she’s fielding questions from cameramen—how about if they snap Amy on her cellphone, as she goes through her day, to post a stream of candid pics online? Caramele shakes her head no. It’s a waste of her sister’s time, and totally unnecessary, she decides. And that’s it. End of story.

Finally, Caramele turns to address this reporter. “So. Why do you want to interview my sister?” she inquires. It isn’t a question that’s posed lightly. “Because Amy Schumer is God?” I offer, tentatively. And only half-jokingly—she truly is the funniest comedian on the scene at the moment, bar none. Sis stares wistfully at the ceiling for a minute before replying, “Yes. You’re right—I really think she is.” And you can tell that she definitely believes it. The door magically creaks open again, and the queenly Schumer is ready to receive her audience. As is Apatow. Daintily, she slurps from a bowl of soup that has been pronounced “just right.”

The confidence practically billows from Schumer in radiant rays. The day before, she had just gotten official word that no less than Madonna had selected her to open her three upcoming New York concerts. To celebrate, she Tweeted video footage her mother had found of her trilling an awkward version of “Like a Virgin” as a precocious eight-year-old. It all started two months earlier, she explains. “Chris Rock called me and was like, ‘Madonna wants your phone number.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s already weird to me that you’re on my phone! I still haven’t gotten used to that yet!’ But there is no one I would rather open for, nobody I can think of that would be cooler.” She sighs. “But I haven’t talked to her yet—it’s just been her people to my people.” 2015 will be her year. And she knows it.

Season three of the comic’s Comedy Central series has just finished, and that alone raised her to an exalted, almost Olympic new level of humor. Proclaiming it the Year of the Ass, she used the handful of episodes to: Mock men’s current obsession with women’s buttocks with a faux-hip-hop video, “Milk, Milk, Lemonade,” that points out in disgusting detail exactly where “the fudge is made”; underscore Hollywood’s ageist attitudes, when she stumbles upon actresses Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, having a countryside picnic to celebrate the latter’s Tinseltown-decreed Last Fuckable Day, after which she is no longer relevant; and kept that theme going with a black-and-white, episode-long spoof of “12 Angry Men,” this time with a sequestered all-male jury debating her relative broadcast-ready attractiveness. The verdict they eventually agree on: Yeah, sure, they’d probably all do her. It’s iron-fisted social commentary, cloaked inside a velvet, gut-busting glove, and that’s Schumer’s stock in trade—you laugh until the reality of what you’re chuckling about finally kicks in and gives you the creeps.

“The 12 Angry Men thing was my first idea for this season, where I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—cool!’” Schumer recalls. “And I thought, ‘Well, I can. But will Comedy Central trust me? Will the other executive producers of the show trust me?’ And they did. But I wrote that by myself, because I’ve learned over the last three years on my show that it’s not fun to have your writers write insults about you. And you don’t want a new insecurity. So I was like, ‘Uhh, let me write this one, guys.’ Otherwise, I would have been, like, ‘Oh, he thinks this?!’”

Schumer’s self-belief is hard won. As a kid, she, her sister and brother, Jason Stein—the latter now a musician in Chicago—were raised wealthy, until, when she was only nine, her father had a reversal of fortune that bankrupted his furniture business. Then, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (Quinn actually met with him several times to flesh out the semi-autobiographical part), and divorced her mother three years later. Raised by her mother, Schumer went on to land a theater degree from Towson University in Baltimore before landing roles on and off Broadway. Soon, she was competing in NBC’s Last Comic Standing, where she placed fourth on its fifth season. She began appearing in TV series like Girls, 30 Rock, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and in the feature films Price Check, Sleepwalk With Me, and the dark Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The HBO connection continues to pay dividends: she just wrapped her first standup special for the network, directed by—who else?—her chum, Chris Rock.

But it was Apatow who finally prodded Schumer into making the jump to cinema. He’s always been a comedy geek, he explains, seeking out new humorists wherever he could find them. “And I just heard her on The Howard Stern Show, and I didn’t know her standup that well,” he says. “But she was telling stories about her dad and her relationships, and I just had a weird feeling that these were movies. So I always come from a perspective of ‘What do I wish existed? And who do I want to watch?’ Like the way people follow baseball players, I would track comedians’ careers, thinking, ‘I wish they had a movie.’ Or a TV show.” Now, he adds, when he has those thoughts, he makes the ideas actually happen. He looked her up.

“So I totally wrote Trainwreck with Judd’s encouragement, and I’d never written a movie before,” Schumer says. “So we just had kind of a general meeting, and at the end he said, ‘If you ever have an idea…’ And I said, ‘Well, I do have an idea.’ It was more high-concept, but he said, ‘Okay—write it.’ And that was really encouraging, like, ‘Oh, I can write a script! I can physically do it!’ And then we kind of started over—he said, ‘Why don’t you write something really personal? Like, what do people want to see in a movie from you? So let’s talk about what’s really going on with you.’”

So Schumer arrived at Amy, somewhat estranged from her father, bickering with her married sister, and so desensitized to commitment that she sabotages every good romance that comes her way. It builds to a blow-out argument between Schumer and Hader that’s all too real, almost painful to watch. “And I always side with Bill in that scene,” she says. “And also, people fight differently, down to their defense mechanisms and the way they protect themselves. It’s all about self-preservation for my character, and just being so ready to be hurt that you want to get it over with, like, ‘Just do it already! Just hurt me, because I’m sitting here waiting for it!’” About recognizing her own self-destructive streak, she adds, “That was very much something I was discovering, while I was writing the movie.”

The actress—currently single—swears that she was never as sexually promiscuous as the hard-partying Trainwreck protagonist. “Unfortunately!” she guffaws. “But I have, at times, been spreading myself a little too thin, where maybe I’d be trying to date two guys at once, so that I wouldn’t get hurt by either of them. But that stuff never works.” Discussing feminism, and how it’s been 24 long years since Susan Faludi’s then-groundbreaking treatise Backlash, along with Naomi Wolff’s The Beauty Myth, she tries to pinpoint what’s going on with women in general these days. She won’t trash the Kardashians—she wishes them well. But she does believe that it’s all dollar-driven, that all you need to do is sleep with a famous sports figure to nab your own reality series now. And said programs want to amass viewers to earn money, so nothing but the most beautiful specimens are featured. “They’re not showing any real human women,” she growls. “So that messes up what you think your goals are supposed to be, as a young girl. That’s why after a show like Girls came out, I was like, ‘Thank you!’ We want to see people who don’t look flawless every second. People who are fucking up their lives like the rest of us!”

When Bayer’s character—after being offered a promotion once promised to Schumer—offers an earnest, “I can turn down the position if you want,” Amy calls her on it, telling her to nix the deal. And Bayer gasps, horrified, not realizing she’s kidding. “And does it happen that women hold each other back like that in the workplace?” Schumer asks, rhetorically. “I don’t know—I’ve never had a job, really. I waited tables, and then I was a comedian, and all my best friends are female comics. And we just lift each other up and support each other, and that’s the truth. And sometimes, we’ll be like, ‘Okay who’s going to be The Girl this year? The New Queen?’”

“Like we can only have one person with ovaries making us laugh at once. We all think that’s just hilarious….”

The door opens; the chat is over. Caramele—who is busy nixing another stupid idea with a firm “No, no, no—she’ll never go for that”—wanders over to see how it went. “Well?” she asks, smiling. “How did you like my sister?” No complaints. Schumer is gallows-humored, quick-witted, politically aware, and ultimately fairly humble about this whole tornado of activity—and praise—swirling up around her. Each Inside episode ends with a photo of the two sisters, sitting side by side, and Schumer’s voiceover echoing the company moniker: “It’s sooo easy!” But is it, really? I ask sis. Easy to ride herd on such a skyrocketing career?

Caramale pauses, considers it for a second. “You know, you might not believe this,” she says, catching her breath. “But it actually is! It’s not that difficult at all!”