Photo by Peter Yang
If you like your comedy edgy, smart and served by a bawdy blond, Amy Schumer is your comedy dream girl. She hits Chicago, Friday to perform at the Auditorium Theatre, but first she spoke with Our Town about Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, developing her comedic voice and why Chicago is the perfect comedy town. (Apologies to Schaumburg.)
Our Town How has your comedic voice evolved over the course of your career?
Amy Schumer There’s less of a difference between who I am off and onstage now. There’s still an element of me saying the exact opposite of how I feel, but I’m more myself onstage. I do more storytelling and fewer short jokes.
OT That’s interesting. Often performers talk about developing a persona over time. Why do you think for you the distance between your off and onstage selves has narrowed?
AS I’ve never made a calculated decision to develop a persona. It happened naturally. I’m playing this character, this deranged, Stepford Wife-looking character that would say irreverent, awful things. As I’ve gotten older, I feel more of a responsibility to actually say something. I think all comedians try to communicate their truth. There’s also me just wanting to make people laugh but often there’s an injustice I notice and I want to call attention to it. I want to give the crowd a more authentic experience of me. The audience can sense if you’re being real.
OT Do people ever assume from the irreverent things you say on stage that they can say anything to you on the street?
AS Honestly, people are pretty cool with me. They can tell I’m in on the joke. No one thinks my persona is me. No one ever says anything really racist or lewd. I mean, I would think they would, but I can’t think of any experiences where people ignored my boundaries.
OT That restores my faith in humanity.
AS Don’t get me wrong, once in a while there’ll be someone I wish was a little more intelligent. I was just in a Starbucks and a guy came up to me and was like “I thought you’d be taller.” Interactions where it’s just a dead end and you don’t know what to say. They look at you like, “You’re a comedian! Go! Do something!” I’m not a windup doll.
OT Can you talk a little about how you develop a bit?
AS I can give an example of something I’m working on right now. I think a mistake was made because I got invited to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. I felt out of place there. I half thought I’d get there and they’d hand me a tray. I tried to get dolled up and feel pretty and right away I was met with all the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. And that makes me think about the bigger picture--I think all girls think, maybe I’m gorgeous and I just haven’t stumbled on the right look. Like, if I just tweak my haircut a little--I just haven’t stumbled on the thing that’s gonna make me a model yet. So afterwards, I’m just talking off the top of my head to my friends. And I’m saying that looking at the models, I realized, I’m not a real woman, I’m just harvesting organs in case one of them ever needs a liver or something. Then I talk about it onstage and there are sections where I get no laughs, and then I whittle it down till it’s all punchlines. That might wind up being one sentence or a six minute story. It depends on feedback from the audience. So that’s how a story unfolds. Then the other day I was thinking, I can’t imagine being pregnant cause I can’t imagine not drinking for nine months and then I thought of just a one-liner, “well, my mom said she drank through all four pregnancies but I only have one sister.” So that kind of short joke that’s not based in truth.
OT In comedy, are any topics off limits?
AS I’m not someone who’s interested in going there when no one else wants to. I have an interest in talking about things that I think aren’t fair and some of that may make people uncomfortable. That doesn’t keep me from talking about it, but I would never broach a subject because I think it’s untouchable and I want to prove something. But I do think there’s some kind of humor in everything.
OT Any advice for aspiring comics?
AS First, I really want to tell them to not do it. It’s such an isolating, tough existence, I would say if there’s anything else they want to do, do that. But if they can’t sleep at night thinking about this one joke, I would say there’s nothing more important than stage time. Get onstage as much as possible and listen to the crowd.
OT What are you looking forward to about performing in Chicago?
AS Chicago is the ideal comedy town. It’s the midwest but it’s not cornfields. Chicagoans are used to seeing great comedy but they don’t feel entitled to it. They’re smart but they appreciate silliness. I’ve only had a great time performing in Chicago. Anywhere from the Hideout to a bigger theater. But I’m talking about Chicago proper. I wouldn’t say I’ve had the greatest experiences in Schaumburg.
OT I’m not sure anyone has great experiences in Schaumburg.
AS No, if you do well there, you’re doing something wrong.
Amy Schumer plays The Auditorium Theater March 28th. Buy tickets here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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