Amy Schumer Talks 'Trainwreck,' Her Raunch Factor & What Really Makes People Cringe (INTERVIEW)

Comedian Amy Schumer talks about turning her life into laughs in her box office smash Trainwreck.
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Amy Schumer Photo

Alternately snarky, bereft, brassy, and luminescent, Amy Schumer's performance in the smash hit "Trainwreck," which she also wrote, has made her comedy's next "it" girl. 

If, as the 19th century nursery rhyme makes abundantly clear, most girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, then Amy Schumer might not be like other girls. It’s not that the 34-year old Schumer – the Emmy-nominated bawdy brain trust and filthy fox behind Comedy Central’s smash hit series, Inside Amy Schumer, and writer/star of this summer’s sweet and salty box office triumph, Trainwreck –is made of snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails, like the XY set among us. She just furrows her own flamboyant footpath, a beacon of blueness, a lioness of lewdness, a fulmination of feculence, a kingpin of vulgarity on the cultural landscape, the unwitting, bewitching artiste behind what’s widely referred to as “the most feminist show on TV.” That brand of approbation is usually reserved for highbrow, haut monde hobgoblin, drab drawing room dissertations or phlegmatic comedies of manners, usually set in centuries past, stitched and branded with desires unrequited, overstuffed with British accents, bodices, dickeys, and – quite often – Anthony Hopkins or Colin Firth

In Amy Schumer’s pelvically-inclined, scatology-steeped world, however, the phrase “period drama” does not refer to adaptations of Flaubert or Austen, but something more, uh, somatic. The burgeoning superstar, voted by high school classmates as “Class Clown” and “Teacher’s Worst Nightmare,” says that she may look “so sweet, kind of Amish actually,” but she actually possesses a zany, irrepressible knack for rhapsodizing in blue, riffing mellifluously on fur burgers and purple-headed womb brooms, ranting, blustering, and straggling her way through the modern world as empowered nymph, libidinous lass, and ingenious ingénue. If every generation gets the hero it deserves, then it’s clearly Schumer’s moment to charm and intoxicate an entire epoch of fanboys, townies, and urban betties. In fact, Schumer’s performance in Trainwreck – alternately snarky, bereft, brassy, and luminescent – is already garnering early Oscar buzz. Not bad for a COMEDIAN who prologued her first cable television special, “Mostly Sex Stuff,” with an extensive animated sequence of unicorns CONNECTING in a fashion that would put a blush to the face of Christian Grey and who jokingly (we think!) boasts she possesses the acting chops of Daniel Day-Lewis – or his ability to shake off a long day at the office, anyway. “I leave the set. I put on a top hat. I garden. And that’s me,” she says. “At least that’s what I picture he does.” 

Trainwreck offers up a treasure trove of raunchy and heartfelt delights, but also a couple of surprising, very funny performances from two gentlemen better known as professional athletes. Tell me about transforming Lebron James from one of the great, modern-day athletes into an agile comedic actor – who just happens to be two-feet taller than everyone else. 

We were all very excited and surprised by what he did. He learned all his lines, but then he could just improvise so well – stuff that was as good as the script. He shocked everybody when we were making the movie. I think he’s going to shock the world. He’s an amazing actor, no joke. He was the funniest person on set.

Amy Schumer Lebron James Photo

Amy Schumer and Lebron James in a scene from Trainwreck. "He shocked everybody when we were making the movie," says Schumer of the basketball star. "I think he’s going to shock the world. He’s an amazing actor, no joke."

Lebron James might be the only person in Trainwreck who has “scored” more than Amy Schumer!

He’s not that good, come on! (Laughs) I mean, I feel like a sexual girl, but I would say I have a sex life just as mundane as anybody you know. I don’t think it’s any more adventurous or interesting. I like to talk about it – mostly because I don’t remember anybody talking about it when I was younger. So now I just kind of jump around out there, telling jokes, trying not to get murdered – which is the case for a lot of stand-up comics. 

What’s the funniest Lebron James was during the making of Trainwreck?

Well, I never saw him tell an actual joke, so to speak, but he’s just so funny – kind of effortlessly, naturally funny. He could definitely make a career as an actor if the whole basketball thing gets boring. 

Then there’s pro-wrestling veteran John Cena. I think it’s safe to say that no one but his mother, doctor, and ex-girlfriends have seen him quite like this before. 

(Laughs) John auditioned for that role (as Amy’s muscle-bound, muy macho, sexually confused boyfriend), and he was just so funny. He blew our minds. I think a lot of the people in our movie are going to surprise people at how good they are doing things they’re not really known for doing, but I think John Cena is going to blow everyone’s minds the most. They’ll think I wrote all of his jokes, but I didn’t. John wrote most of his lines. He’d just open his mouth and stuff would start flying out. He saw things in that character that definitely were not on the page. (Pause) Hmm… Maybe we should all start worrying about John Cena? (Laughs) 

If people even recognize her, they’ll probably be surprised about Tilda Swinton glammed-up and oozing this rib-tickling venom. She’s not particularly well known as a comedienne.

I know! This cast is just so crazy. If you just look at the cast list, you’re probably confused as hell about what kind of movie it’s going to be. It’s like, “Oh, Tilda Swinton and Method Man. . .That’s the movie I’ve been waiting for!” We just got the best people. We got all of our first choices. That’s all Judd Apatow. People just really want to work with him. 

What do you learn from working with a veteran, Oscar-winning, notoriously taciturn actor like Tilda Swinton? Are you taking notes every day on set?

That's the craziest casting ever, right? Never did I think that she would be into doing this. So yeah, Tilda Swinton. . .She frightened me, just how quickly I fell in love with her. You can't be in the room with her and not fall in love. It’s, like, 'Wow!’ She's just so powerful and beautiful and strong and just so full. Every moment of her on camera just felt so full to me, and you just feel so carried by her if you're in a scene with her. You can't take your eyes off her. She was just like the loveliest person to be around. 

Then there’s this beautiful, hilarious new kid in the film, Amy Schumer. She’s not bad…

(Laughs) There's a lot of me in every scene. Whether that’s good or bad. I’m really in this movie, and I don’t just mean on camera. There's no scene in this movie that couldn't happen in my real life, though some of it maybe didn’t happen. Yet. It’s definitely exaggerated, but it’s all pretty conceivable I think. 

There are a lot of autobiographical elements to the film, yes? 

Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s not a documentary or anything, but… My character in Trainwreck is named Amy and she's at a little bit of a crossroads. Her behavior, which has always been super fun, and sort of gotten her through her life, is starting to catch up to her and she's realizing that her behavior isn't really so cute anymore. She's faced with real life and the fact that she's really hurting herself and hurting other people around her and she meets someone that changes her course when she didn't think it was going to change ever. I think everyone wants to write a movie, so I’ve spent the last several years thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe one day I’ll do that.’”

Judd Apatow Amy Schumer Photo

Director Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer on the set of Trainwreck. Schumer says of Apatow: "It was his encouragement and his confidence in me that gave me this faith that I could maybe write a movie."

Enter Judd Apatow, who is kind of the Lyne T. Barret of 21st century comedy.

Um. . .Yep! Exactly. . .(Laughs) I wouldn't have written Trainwreck if Judd Apatow hadn't approached me and been like, ‘Hey, maybe we should do something together…’ It was his encouragement and his confidence in me that gave me this faith that I could maybe write a movie. I wrote one and it was about what was going on with me at that time in my life — and then more life happens. It's kind of evolving all the time, and Judd said, ‘Why don't you write about what's going on with you now? Why don't you write a real personal tale?’ So I did. It's really just a lot of stuff I was learning about myself at the time I was writing. A lot of it's very autobiographical, especially the family stuff. Even though I haven't been that promiscuous since I was, like, a sophomore in college, I still can relate to those times and the pain that I was in. 

Some audiences get so hung up on the jokes about teabagging, crabs and, uh, spear fishing for doo-doo sharks that they fail to identify the catharsis of mining the pain and awkwardness that gives birth to a lot of that brand of humor. There can be a lot of release and relief for audiences, too, when they realize they’re not the only ones trying to get a handle on boudoir patois and, um, safe words.

Right. Yeah, for me, I had just been trying to spread myself too thin in my life so that no one person would hurt me. Writing the movie, it wasn’t really that challenging for me, which I know sounds weird, but making it such a personal story and still leaving room for the comedy, it felt kind of natural to me. I’m always finding humor in the most tragic stuff. All the time. Humor just makes it all bearable to me. Even stuff like my real-life father’s illness. Just like my dad in the movie (SNL veteran Colin Quinn), my real dad has multiple sclerosis. 

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Schumer mined the ups and downs of her own life for the comedy in Trainwreck, including her real-life father’s illness. "I’m always finding humor in the most tragic stuff. All the time," she explains. "Humor just makes it all bearable to me." (Photo: Justin Stephens)

The scenes with Colin Quinn and you and your sister (played by Brie Larson) are really lovely – funny in a jagged way, but also quite poignant. 

Just the things that have happened over the years with my dad having that disease, it's been truly horrible. But there are moments where you just have to laugh. You have to, right? Judd and I both feel the same way about comedy – you use it to work out the tragedy. To me, the funniest thing in the world is people trying really hard and just failing miserably – and then getting back up and trying again. So there’s a lot of that in Trainwreck. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me…

I don’t think so. Was it uncomfortable at any point – in the writing, shooting, or even now that the film’s in theaters – revealing some of the softer, more vulnerable parts of yourself, the father-daughter relationship? 

Maybe. I mean, “Amy” in the film, she’s very close with her father. They’re kind of buddies, that blurred lines thing that happens sometimes with parents and their kids when the kids are treated a little bit too much like friends or they have to parent their parents a little too much. That’s definitely a theme in my family with both my mom and my dad. Colin Quinn did such a great job playing my dad. They actually hung out together before we shot the movie. So now I’ve pretty much got two dads. Was I uncomfortable? I’m not embarrassed, but it does make me feel vulnerable. All the sex stuff? That doesn’t really make me squirm or go “eww.” But the family stuff? Those are my insecurities and fears and all that stuff. It’s all pretty real. I guess writing it was kind of difficult, but also liberating. It was like therapy, a good way to figure out what was going on with me at the time. 

Amy Schumer Photo

Schumer's hit TV show Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central delivers a dose of zany raunch that the comedian says is just part of who she is: "It's so funny because I truly don't think of myself as being a “blue” comedian. If someone talks about “raunchy” or “offensive,” I don’t even associate that with my brand of humor. I know that’s crazy, but it’s true." (Photo: Comedy Central)

Are you concerned that playing so many different, often confounding versions of “Amy” in films and on television might eventually come crashing down on you? Like, maybe your future partner is out there, tunes in to your Comedy Central series, takes a good long drink of “Fudge Machine Madness” or “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” and discreetly walk away into the arms of Jennifer Garner or Emma Watson?

Well, the stuff that slips out of my mouth is either totally infantile or just some deep seeded Muppets reference or some kind of a “New York fancy pants” thing. Those are all parts of me. There is a part of me that is kind of sorority girl-ish, drunk, promiscuous, but there is also part of me that loves just having some chamomile tea and reading a long, boring book. It's all in there. I can’t help it. I don’t even really think about it. It's so funny because I truly don't think of myself as being a “blue” comedian. If someone talks about “raunchy” or “offensive,” I don’t even associate that with my brand of humor. I know that’s crazy, but it’s true. I think I had a moment of self-discovery last year. It was, like, “Oh, David Letterman needs a clip of my show for when I go on his show? Cool. Um, what clip can we use?” 

You may as well have gone hunting for Atlantis or The Spear of Destiny.

Yes! (Laughs) We honestly could not find 40-seconds of Inside Amy Schumer for David Letterman. I think my show is only truthful and honest, but apparently it’s also kind of filthy. 

You must get some of that feedback when you go out in public, right? It can’t be a total surprise to you that the mossbacks of our great nation would be aggrieved by, say, your Clown Panties sketch or the Inside Amy Schumer episode in which Amy tries to convince God (played by Oscar-nominated Paul Giamatti) to heal her herpes. 

Well, people have different triggers. I don’t know what people are going to be shocked or offended by. Of course, as a professional, I know that sex and dismemberment and other “shocking” things provoke a certain kind of reaction from people. But that’s kind of why you talk about them, isn’t it? Comedians have done that for time immemorial. Jesters did that. They’d talk about uncomfortable things. I’m just a really bad judge of who’s in a room, I guess, or what people will be shocked by. I was hiking recently, and this Hasidic guy around my age came up to me and was, like, "I think your show is really funny — but how could you do that?" I had no idea what he was talking about, so I said, "What?" This wide array of things were going through my mind. What was it that pissed this guy off? Then he finally said, “I loved the whole episode, but I just thought it was so mean that you had that guy’s arms get eaten off by the owls. Don’t you feel bad about that?” It was then that I really realized: owls. Owls are the thing that really make people cringe.