It seems like there’s always an edgy “it” girl in the world of comedy. A short list from the recent past: Kathy Griffin, Lisa Lampanelli, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham.
Right now, that girl (woman, really) would be Amy Schumer, who plays two shows at the Wilbur Theatre Tuesday May 28. She began riding the wave in 2007, placing high on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” She made people’s jaws drop at the Charlie Sheen roast in 2011. Schumer to Sheen: “You’re just like Bruce Willis — you were big in the ’80s, and now your old slot is being filled by Ashton Kutcher.”
Schumer’s 2012 hour-long standup show, “Mostly Sex Stuff,” was Comedy Central’s second-highest rated special. Then came “Inside Amy Schumer.” Explosion! Her bawdy, Emmy-nominated TV show is in its third season and one of her sketches this year – with Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and Patricia Arquette – was just killer. It was a round-table talk in the woods where Schumer stumbles upon a farewell party for Louis-Dreyfuss. It’s all about when a female actor gets to the past-her-prime: That is, Hollywood deems her no longer “fuckable.”
July will see the release of “Trainwreck,” a comedic movie she wrote and stars in, directed by Judd Apatow.
Schumer is certainly sanguine about it all, but she’s also level-headed. “There’s no part of me that goes ‘Now, I’m here and I do theaters forever,’” says Schumer, 33, on the phone. “This year, I’m enjoying this moment, but I felt there was a bunch of exposure with “Last Comic Standing” and I was like – ‘This is it!’ Nope. There’s no ‘This is it!’ I don’t feel like I’ve arrived; I feel like I just have to keep pushing.”
JSInk: So for those who haven’t seen you in concert: Are you particularly more dirty than what we’ve seen, say, on television?
I think the standup act is just as it’s always been – there are moments that could be perceived as dirty. Literally, it’s just telling the truth and examining. It’s story-telling and jokes and true and also not true.cq I think it’s a show you definitely leave the kids at home for, but you can quote half of it to the kids the next day. I never am trying to be dirty. I just think that sex is one of the funniest things to mine from and I think it’s strange more people don’t.
On your TV show, you play different characters named Amy and in your standup act I think many people are not sure about where the blurred line is between real you and the exaggerated-for-effect you. You’re insecure, you’re highly sexual. You have weight issues. You can be pretty disingenuous.
I would say that I am a human being and I don’t think that anyone is just one thing. I am a homebody, I am an introvert. I’m also an extrovert and I’m sexual. And I’m also a bookworm. I’m also an athlete and also, at times, an over-eater. I think everything I listed is like everyone. No one is without flaw or regret or joy and I just like to talk about all that stuff. I just think I’m a full person. I’m not trying to blur lines; I’m just talking about stuff I think is interesting. And so, while something might seem to risqué to you, the people I’m closest to, it wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. I’m proud of what I do and the direction I’m going in. And people are laughing.
One thing I like: Obviously, I’m a guy but when you do standup I get the sense you’re addressing me like I’m part of your group of girlfriends.
(Laughs) That’s really funny! I like it to be conversational and have an intimate feel. A lot of times I’m talking on stage and I’m kind of working it out, looking at the audience for feedback.
Of course, much of what you do is prepared, but there are those moments of spontaneity and improvisation on stage?
Yeah, totally. Especially now that I need to be producing so much material because of the TV show, I don’t have the luxury of going on the road and honing it, and knowing where all my tags are, having all the rhythms down. I really need to keep it pretty open ended
I was reading an interview with you and you were talking rock ‘n’ roll and comedy. You were saying that people want to hear musicians play their hits in concert, but when you see a comedian, you want them to have come up with new material. Somehow, hearing a “classic” joke isn’t the same as hearing a “classic” song.
Well, the way I always have been is this: if I bring my friends to see a comedian they’ve never seen before I’m always like, “I hope he does that bit, or she does that bit.” Some people feel that way too and will come up [to me] and say that after the show. Or they’ll yell out requests for jokes. But I think there’s that misconception that every time we’re talking on stage it’s the first time that we’ve said that joke, which is very untrue.
It’s the illusion we like to keep in our heads. And your job is to sell that freshness, as if the thought really did just occur to you.
Right, yeah. It’s like seeing Steven Wright and you want to think he’s thinking and sharing something for the first time but [you know he’s not]. I understand that. It seems a lot easier for those musicians, but at the same time those guys don’t want to sing old songs, they want to do their new stuff. You can’t win.
Their reality is playing old hits, your reality is creating new bits.
With Robin Williams’ suicide there’s a lot of talk, of course, about most comics coming from a dark place and rising out of that, temporarily at least, via comedy. Is there truth in that?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t know any comedian who’s not severely damaged. I knew Robin and he was a total sweetheart, but you could feel some darkness and sadness. I don’t know anyone, – anyone who I’m a fan of anyway – that is an exception to that.
Gallagher might not come from a dark place.
No, Gallagher is all puppies and ice cream cones.
People talk about your meteoric rise over the past three years, but there was a lot of work before that. Acting classes, endless standup gigs. How many years before the breakthrough?
I’ve been doing it ten years now. I don’t’ really know, though because you’re breaking through with each person when they see you. Some people would say the Charlie Sheen roast or my TV special. There’s ebb and flow and such a roller coaster. The comedians I’m close to have all had a moment when they’re selling out small arenas and then other times they’re having trouble drawing at clubs.
What can you tell me about “Trainwreck”?
It’s about a girl like me navigating my early 30s. The behavior that’s been acceptable and so fun for so long isn’t really cute anymore and is starting to catch up to me. It’s funny, a hard “R.” But it’s a real story and I would say it’s like having the voice of this girl, me, speaking for girls like me.cq It’s so easy to label someone, but let’s take a look at why she’s like this and what happened. She’s trying her best and hopefully making some headway.
Kind of like Marlo Thomas’ “That Girl” way back when, but sassed up for the 21st century. Is your character like some of the characters we’ve met on “Inside Amy Schumer”? Is it an outgrowth of the TV show or does it have a separate identity?
I see it as very separate from that. It felt different. But there’s some of me in all the characters I play on the show, in all the scenes and there’s definitely a lot of me in here [in the movie]. No one would say “The transformation is unbelievable!” I am still a white girl who’s a little bit entitled, but has a good heart.
On “Inside,” I like how you are so often willing to be the butt of the joke. You tell some lie and you know the setup is going to come back and bite you. It’s excruciatingly and painfully funny.
And while it’s cable TV, I’m still sometimes surprised at what you get away with. There’s that “Look what just came out of that girl’s mouth!” And at the same time, it’s decades after Richard Pryor and George Carlin and Joan Rivers broke taboos.
I know, I know (laughs). It’s strange that there still are taboos. Especially for me, because my best friends are comedians and none of us say things that shock each other so when people react that way it’s shocking to me.
As a comic you get the license to say out loud what others think.
Hopefully, yeah. Or things they didn’t know they thought.
You’re a feminist, I know, and baffled anyone would think otherwise.
It’s strange to me that anyone would admittedly be not a feminist. That is so weird. I think people don’t know what feminism is or what it means. It’s only about equality.
Do you like it when people analyze your comedy?
I don’t mind it at all. I mind it when they ask me to do it. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable then when they ask me to describe comedy. But if I feel like they’re getting it right and I’m getting heard, [that’s good] because to be so vulnerable, to be sharing so much of yourself and having some of the content be sexual, to have that be misunderstood, that can be kind of painful. Some people just take the subject matter and don’t listen to the words.
Shows at 7 and 9:45. Tickets: $59.
246 Tremont St., Boston, 617-248-9700 www.thewilbur.com/comedy