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Amy Schumer Keeps Pushing Comedy Boundaries with 'Trainwreck'

Four years ago, the Inside Amy Schumer star was someone Seth McFarlane could semi-convincingly say was unknown. Not any more.

by Jenna Marotta
Jul 17 2015, 3:25pm

All photos and clips courtesy of Universal Pictures

"What can I say about Amy Schumer?" asked Family Guy creator and star Seth MacFarlane when he introduced the then-30-year-old at the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen in September 2011. "I actually mean that sincerely—I've never heard of this woman. So please get ready for the comedy stylings of the fourth runner-up of the fifth season of Last Comic Standing."

From there, Schumer could have easily faded into oblivion: if not a has-been, then a never-was. Instead, less than four years later, she and MacFarlane are now peers, both with their own television shows and top-lining summer blockbusters from Universal. Ted 2 (co-written and directed by MacFarlane) made more than $33 million is opening weekend, and Trainwreck (written by Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow) just might surpass it at the box office. It opens in 3,157 theaters today.

Schumer was nominated yesterday for four Primetime Emmy Awards for her Comedy Central variety half-hour, Inside Amy Schumer, including Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. This spring Inside Amy Schumer, which premiered in 2013, also won a Peabody Award—the highest honor in broadcasting—and she hosted the MTV Movie Awards. She is on the July cover of Glamour magazine and the August cover of GQ (wearing Princess Leia's bikini and sucking on the gold-plated finger of C-3PO, the droid sidekick of the most anticipated film of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

"My whole life, I felt like people wanted the girls to be a little quieter," Schumer recently told The New York Times. Instead, encouraged by her parents, the Upper East Side native who studied theater at Towson University became a stand-up comedian.

"My parents are actually kind of dirtier than I am in nature," she told me at GQ's 2013 Men of the Year Dinner that November at Carbone, a Manhattan Italian restaurant. "I feel like people are always like, 'Are they embarrassed?' But they're so supportive. I'm about to go on tour, and the name of the tour is Inside Amy Schumer's Back Door Tour, and my mom was the biggest fan of that name."

Several Inside Amy Schumer sketches have gone viral during its three seasons, especially ones that reveal something about how women think. For example, "Hello M'Lady" called out always-available, effusively polite nice guys who swoop in when a women's left feeling jilted by machismo. At a November 2014 panel at the Paley Center panel presented in association with the New York Comedy Festival, which I attended for Vulture, moderator Jason Zinoman of the New York Times said, "I've never seen the 'Hello M'lady' guy lampooned and skewered from that perspective... It seems like a subtle thing, but I recognized it immediately. But I haven't seen it on TV before."

In "Compliments"—which Trainwreck co-star Tilda Swinton told me at last year's Gotham Awards is her favorite Inside Amy Schumer sketch—well-meaning women excoriate themselves to avoid ego inflation (I made my own psychiatrist watch it when he said I tend to negate praise). Accomplished panelists belittle each other by relying on an all-too-common verbal tic in "I'm Sorry," while "Last Fuckable Day" (co-starring Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) acknowledges the theoretical finite death of a woman's sex appeal. "Acting Off-Camera" was noteworthy because it was the first time Comedy Central censors allowed the word "pussy" on the air (meanwhile, the word "dick" had been fair game for years). And in "Football Town Nights," she assailed campus rape culture with a head coach who challenged his players to abstain from sexual assault.

Along with earning upgrades from "the new queen of comedy" (Bust, April 2013) to one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" (April 2015) to "the funniest woman in the galaxy" (GQ, August 2015), Schumer was thus declared a "feminist hero" in The New York Times. Between her show and a 2014 speech Gloria Steinem asked her to give at the Ms. Foundation for Women's Gloria Awards and Gala, she has made feminism accessible to young women used to hearing their idols (Madonna, Katy Perry) balk at the term. The sex-positive comedian has also gone far in her quest to encourage women to embrace their body images. While accepting her Trailblazer of the Year trophy from the Glamour UK Women of the Year Awards last month, Schumer said, "I'm probably like 160 pounds right now and I can catch a dick whenever I want."

Though Schumer perfected her onscreen delivery with Inside Amy Schumer and guest-starring roles on 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie, and Girls, Trainwreck is Schumer's first lead role in a film. As in real life, her character in the Apatow universe is named Amy, she has a sister named Kimberly, and their father, Gordon, is stricken with multiple sclerosis. But instead of playing a comedian, Schumer's alter ego is a writer for the fictional men's magazine S'nuff. "Before you judge, you should know I'm doing fine—my friends are awesome, my apartment's sick, and I have a great job." Still, she's the titular trainwreck, a commitment-phobe who smokes, drinks juiceboxes full of wine at the movies, and dumps guys for the wrong reasons (i.e., when his inability to talk dirty overshadows his homosexual proclivity). Then she's dispatched to profile Dr. Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), the least-cool dude in a posse of pro athletes (LeBron James, Amar'e Stoudemire) who seeks a girlfriend.

Trainwreck will likely reaffirm that female-driven comedies like the Apatow-produced Bridesmaids and the Pitch Perfect films can clean up at the box office, boding well for December's Sisters (starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey) and 2016's gender-flipping Ghostbusters reboot with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Sisters scribe Paula Pell, a veteran Saturday Night Live writer, was even a guest at the Tavern on the Green after-party following Tuesday night's screening of Trainwreck co-presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center and Universal.

Right before Schumer received a hug from comedian Chris Rock, who told her he loved Trainwreck, I complimented her for uttering some of cinema's saltiest language—including a novel pronunciation of the word bitch and clever variations on the pejorative dick.

"I'm all about breaking boundaries," Schumer said.

Trainwreck opens in theaters nationwide today.

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