This interview was originally broadcast on June 25, 2013.
One of Amy Schumer's comedy routines begins with the declaration, "I'm a little sluttier than the average bear. I really am."
Degrees of sluttiness may be hard to define, but Schumer does talk frankly about many subjects — including sex — that can be uncomfortable for people, both in her stand-up act and on her Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer, which was recently renewed for a second season.
The show, a mix of stand-up, sketch comedy and interviews, has tackled everything from the oblivious racism of the elderly to the hang-ups women sometimes have about giving and receiving compliments from each other.
And then, yes, there's the sex stuff. (Not for nothing was Schumer's hit 2012 Comedy Central special titled, simply, Mostly Sex Stuff.)
Sex as a subject for Schumer wasn't a conscious decision. She says she was always a sexual girl, but that as she grew older and came into her own, sex was simply the thing she was thinking about and talking about with her girlfriends. She questions how attractive she is and "how slutty" she is — and it's something she goes back and forth on. These thoughts, questions and conversations spilled naturally into her comedy.
"I didn't grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "So I thought, 'OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the women's perspective in a less apologetic, honest way.' "
In joking so boldly about sex, Schumer is something of a risk taker in comedy, where the subject is still considered man territory.
"I'll get offstage, and the club owner will be like, 'That was a lot about sex,' " she says. "And they would never say that to a male comic."
On her mother
"I have a joke where I say, 'Oh, I'm going to bring [my mom] to a soccer game because I want to show her what boundaries look like.' I just grew up in a house where things weren't that taboo to talk about. And my mom, when she was teaching us to say our different body parts, taught me how to say 'vagina' the same that she taught me how to say 'ear.' I think she wanted us to be able to tell her if we were ever molested without being embarrassed — and so there wasn't this sense of shame."
On uncomfortable sexual experiences
"Most women I know that I'm close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn't completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it's not all black and white. There's a gray area of rape, and I call it 'grape.' It's the guy you went home with in college, and you said, 'No,' and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. ...
"There's just so many different things that can happen, so it's not always this, 'Well, you're going to jail and that's it.' There's other stuff where it's like, 'Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to ... press charges or take any action against this person.' But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like 'grape.' "
On the oblivious racism of older relatives
"My great-grandma, who was a bootlegger in old New York, Estelle Schumer, she passed away a couple years ago, but her liquor store is still up on 54th Street. ... She was 94 when she died, or 95, and she would ... just say a word. ... She would call black people 'colored,' and it would just make all the blood rush to my head like, 'No, that's not OK.'
"But then you think, 'Well, she's so old,' and then, you know, I would mention that to my friends and then ... I realized ... most people I know have older relatives that will just say something that's just so unacceptable. And then I just thought, 'Well, what's the age? What's the cutoff?' Because if one of my parents said something inappropriate I would stop them."
On how comedy doesn't work everywhere
"People just think that comedy can work anywhere. A lot of times we'll be asked to do a fundraiser or something like that. Or, 'Oh, will you do stand-up at my friend's birthday?' And it just takes so much for a show to be produced well and for stand-up to be successful, or a roast to be successful, but people just don't realize that. They're just like, 'Oh, tell me a joke.' Whenever someone says, 'Oh, just tell me a joke,' like a cab driver or anybody, you learn the lesson over time to never do it. It never works."
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.
Another 2013 interview we're happy to repeat in this end of year look back is Terry's conversation with comic Amy Schumer. Her Comedy Central series, "Inside Amy Schumer," will return for a second season next year, and she's currently on a U.S. comedy stand-up tour that runs through the spring.
When Terry spoke to Amy Schumer in June, the first season of "Inside Amy Schumer" was just about to conclude. Her TV show is a mix of stand-up, sketch comedy and interviews. But her comedy persona on stage is that of an attractive, middle-class, educated, single woman who's a little slutty.
As her executive producer Dan Powell put it, she can say the most filthy, obscene things in the sweetest manner. She won't be sweetly obscene in this comedy with Terry, but it is an adult conversation about her comedy and there may be some punch lines that you won't want to explain to young children.
Here's an example of Schumer's stand-up comedy from the first season of "Inside Amy Schumer."
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")
AMY SCHUMER: I'm a little sluttier than the average bear. I really am, a little sluttier. I can be honest about that. Like I'm no stranger to Plan B, I'll say that. I'm not like what is that, like I know what that is. It's the morning-after pill. You can take it the night before if you're feeling amped, you know, just like walk by a mirror, catch a glimpse of yourself in a new tube top, like whoa, pop, you can do that.
You feel like such a dirty whore buying Plan B. It is so embarrassing because it's over-the-counter, but you have to ask your pharmacist. And they know what you want, but they make you ask. They're looking at me; I'm like you see where my eyeliner is. Just give it to me.
SCHUMER: The staring contest. What, do you think I'm here because it's allergy season, really?
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
That's Amy Schumer from her show "Inside Amy Schumer." Amy Schumer, welcome to FRESH AIR.
SCHUMER: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: My sense of responsibility as a journalist requires me to say you really can't take Plan B the night before, so...
SCHUMER: Oh yes, uh...
GROSS: I just want to make sure everybody knows that that's a joke and that they don't try that, so...
SCHUMER: It didn't even occur to me that someone would take that as actual advice. Wow, I should really have more ownership over that. But I like that that was one of the cleaner clips that you found to play.
GROSS: Yes, exactly, exactly. So I just have to ask you: Do you really think of yourself as a slut?
SCHUMER: I often wonder how attractive I am and how slutty I am. That's something I'm back and forth on. But I think I have been promiscuous, and I think a lot of women have. So I like to talk about it as a way to maybe make those other women feel less alone and less strange and dirty about their own actions.
GROSS: Tell us more how that became your comic persona.
SCHUMER: That wasn't on purpose. I started out very much set-up, punch line. And I think, you know, I started when I was 22 or 23 years old. So I've always been sexual. I've always been a sexual girl, but it just, it was coming out more and more in my stand-up. So it wasn't a conscious decision, but then I was getting ready to film my hour special for Comedy Central, and they said, you know, it's a lot of stuff about sex. Can you maybe mix it up more, maybe some racism or something else?
SCHUMER: And I said, well, I said why don't we just call it "Mostly Sex Stuff." And so it was kind of like a lazy decision, and that was really when I realized wow, this is, it is a lot of stuff about sex. But I didn't grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves, and so I thought OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the woman's perspective in a, you know, a like less apologetic, honest way.
And I don't know if I'm going to veer away from that or what, but I've been trying to keep it pretty natural, just stuff I'm interested in talking about.
GROSS: So a lot of male comics talk about sex a lot onstage.
GROSS: More than your average female comic does. What did you take from that male approach to sex comedy, and what did you reject from it?
SCHUMER: Oh, I don't know that I could really generalize the male approach to comedy and sex, but I do know that I'll get offstage, and the club owner will be like that was a lot about sex. And they would never say that to a male comic, Dave Attell or Jim Norton would never get offstage and have a promoter of a theater or a club go over, like, you like to talk about sex.
You know, so it's just this - that was made such a - that there's such a stigma with being a woman who talks about sex, and there's just sort of no repercussions, I think, if you're a male comic that talks about sex. They wouldn't label you that way, I don't think.
GROSS: So you do talk a lot about sex onstage, and you do use the word vagina a lot onstage. Were you always comfortable talking about sex in front of a microphone and using that word? Because I think a lot of girls grow up feeling, like, so uncomfortable using any word that describes the sexual parts of their body.
SCHUMER: I'm glad you asked that. Yeah, I - well, one thing is my mom, other than - I have a joke where I say she - oh, I'm going to bring her to a soccer game because I want to show her what boundaries look like. I just grew up in a house where things weren't that taboo to talk about. And my mom when she was teaching us how to say our different body parts taught me how to say vagina the same that she taught me how to say ear.
I think she wanted us to be able to tell her if we were ever molested without being embarrassed. And so there wasn't this sense of shame, and I was running around naked to an age that probably wasn't appropriate and just never was made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of my body or think anything was wrong with me.
You know, and to a - probably to a fault because now if I do a photo shoot, and - I'm a comedian, but if any woman shows up to a photo shoot for a magazine, it's usually, you know, they sexualize it. And so they'll be like well, what about with your shirt off. And I'm like sure just because I don't think of that as a big deal. But as I'm getting older, I'm learning to put more value and value my privacy more of my body and some of my personal information.
I definitely am an over-sharer, and I'm trying to get better with that. As I'm becoming more well-known, I - it's more important for me to keep some of my information private.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is comic and actress Amy Schumer, and her show on Comedy Central is called "Inside Amy Schumer."
So you do some interviews in your shows, and in one set of interviews you're interviewing people on the street about whether they sext or not and whether they like being sexted. And I - do you ever do that?
SCHUMER: Do I sext? Oh, you mean have I ever sent like a sexual message to somebody over text?
GROSS: Yes, or a picture of yourself?
SCHUMER: Oh yeah, definitely. I - you know, now that I'm more well-known, I can't put my head in them.
GROSS: But now, I've definitely over the years, yeah, I've been in long-distance relationships, and it's definitely happened. Yeah, I have definitely engaged in sext messaging and received and sent dirty photos. What about you?
SCHUMER: Sorry, I just, I couldn't help myself.
GROSS: So one of your sketches ends up with - I forget whether you're sexting or what, but it ends with you turning on the end of like an old black-and-white like 1930s or 1940s movie where like the romantic finale is the kiss.
GROSS: And it's so chaste and romantic compared to all the sexting and everything. And do you think that that's the kind of split that you sometimes have in your own life of, like, doing all this, like, explicit stuff but loving, like, the romantic fantasies of, say, old 1940s movies?
SCHUMER: Yeah, I think so, and the scene where I'm sexting, I'm sitting there, and a guy doesn't know where he's catching you. He's like what are you wearing. And I'm sitting there, and I'm wearing a T-shirt with a cat on it, wearing a bonnet that says Downton Catty. And I'm eating pasta with my hands. And so I wrote that scene, and I thought what if I wrote back what I was actually thinking, which is, you know, he's like what do you want me to do to you, and I'm like tell me I'm safe in my apartment.
SCHUMER: Tell me what all the remotes do. And then also trying to navigate what does this guy want me to say. You know, like just I don't know. But yeah, like just, that girls - I still do want that romance and to be adored by someone, but then there's also this high demand to be super sexual, and that's being asked I think of a lot of women more and more now. I'm assuming with the younger generation, the sort of sexual demands are so much higher now.
And so I just - I think that scene is just showing a real girl just trying to navigate this new territory.
GROSS: I worry about those sexual expectations.
GROSS: You know, I think for some young women, the attitude is, well, now that we've all been through feminism, now it's safe to be sexual objects again and to learn how to strip for our boyfriends and become pole dancers.
GROSS: I mean, do you find that disturbing at all?
SCHUMER: Yeah, I think it's totally disturbing. I feel very lucky that I grew up before Facebook and before Internet porn. I - it's such tough territory to navigate now. And I'm just dealing with guys that came up on the end of it, where they just were exposed to it. You know, they're in their 30s, and some of them have a lot of trouble with it. And there's new addictions because of it and these new expectations on these girls.
Like I didn't feel any pressure when I was younger to be overly sexual because there wasn't that much exposure to it.
BIANCULLI: Amy Schumer, speaking to Terry Gross in June. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross back with more of Terry's June 2013 interview with comic Amy Schumer. We're replaying it as one of our favorite interviews of the year.
GROSS: So there's another sketch I want to play, and this is - this is a real girl thing. It's a sketch about how girls handle compliments from other girls. And this sketch starts with two girlfriends running into each other on the street, and Amy Schumer enters the scene a little bit later.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Oh my God, Bree(ph), you died your hair. It looks amazing.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as Bree) Oh no, you're just being nice.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) No seriously, it looks great.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as Bree) No, I tried to look like Kate Hudson but ended up looking like a golden retriever's dingleberry. But you, look at your cute little dress.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Little? I'm like a Size 100 now. Anyway, I paid like $2 for it. It's probably made out of old Burger King crowns. I look like a whore locked out of her apartment.
SCHUMER: (as herself) Hi.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Amy, hi. Hey. I love your hat.
SCHUMER: (as herself) Are you drunk? I look like an Armenian man. People are trying to buy carpets from me.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Excuse me, when did you start working for NASA? You're weightless.
SCHUMER: (as herself) (Bleep) you. I'm a (bleep) cow. Indian people are trying to worship me. I sleep standing up in a field.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Fancy meeting you girls here.
SCHUMER: Of course I see everyone when I look like Susan Boyle's toothbrush.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as Jessica) You look so pretty.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Ms. Jessica(ph), congrats on your big promotion beeatch.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as Jessica) I'm going to get fired in like two seconds.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character)No.
SCHUMER: (as herself) I'm legally retarded. On my SATs I just drew a picture of a house on the first page and ate the rest.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as Jessica) Lindsey(ph)...
GROSS: That's a sketch from "Inside Amy Schumer," and Amy Schumer is my guest. I recognize that, I really do.
SCHUMER: Well, good.
GROSS: That sense of, like, if somebody says something nice to you that you have to somehow answer it with a self-insult, with something like really self-derogatory.
SCHUMER: SCHUMER: Yeah, I think a lot of it...
GROSS: Why is that? What is that about?
SCHUMER: I don't - I have some ideas. I think it might be because we're afraid of jealousy from other women, or it might be from actual self-hatred, but I know that every girl I know does that. And - but I think that scene, it kind of - it went viral, you know, whatever that means. A lot of people watched it and responded to it. And especially women, of course, and they - everybody just recognized that behavior in themself.
And I think it has affected the women that have seen it. It's affected me because you catch yourself doing that. We just noticed we were doing it around the writers' office and to a ridiculous degree. We just thought let's shine a light on this, and we do that as much as possible on the show, but I'm glad that that one resonated with people.
GROSS: So this was women in the writers' office doing that?
SCHUMER: This - well, I mean, we all - every scene wound up being a big collaboration, but yeah, it was the women in the office doing it. The men, I've never noticed men doing that. I'll be like that's a great shirt, and then the guy will just wear that shirt all week.
GROSS: So if somebody compliments you now, instead of like putting yourself down - now that you're aware of this syndrome, do you just say thank you, how nice.
SCHUMER: I really tried but I still struggle with that. I still will catch myself. I do it. Yeah. But I think I probably do it half as much now that I - but there's a lot of my standup that I will say and then recognize that behavior in myself that I still do it. I think a lot of comedians do.
GROSS: One of the things you say in one of your stand-up routines is that every woman has probably been a little bit raped. What do you mean?
SCHUMER: Let's get into it, Terry.
GROSS: Yeah. Well, what do you mean by that?
SCHUMER: Most women I know, that I'm close to, have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable with and that if it wasn't completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it's not all black and white. There's a gray area of rape, and I call it grape.
And it's the guy you went home with in college, and you said no, and then he still did it. Or maybe you woke up, and it was somebody you were dating, and they were - you know, there's just so many different things that can happen. And so it's not always this, well, you're going to jail, you know, and that's it.
There's other stuff where it's like wow, it would be so - it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to - for me to press charges or take any action against this person. But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like grape.
GROSS: Do you get a big response when you say that?
SCHUMER: Yeah, the women all laugh. And then the men look to see if they're allowed to laugh, and then they laugh. And I wondered when I first started that, and then when everything happened in Steubenville, I wondered oh, should I stop saying that. But it just really still struck a chord in people, and it was a powerful response of just yeah, that's true. It was just another yeah, this is something that happens.
GROSS: So are you at all concerned that making jokes about being, you know, quote, slightly raped will, like, diminish the importance of talking about rape and of taking it seriously?
SCHUMER: No, not the way I'm saying it. If anything, I hope it will raise more awareness and make people feel more comfortable having a conversation about it. If you listen to the whole - that whole joke, I say someone sleeping, that's a no. Because I say that at a certain age, men take a woman sleeping as a suggested no. And I say that's a no. And I say there's this other area, and I say everyone has been a little raped.
I think I'm bringing the conversation to the table so that people will feel more comfortable to talk about it. I'm in no way - my intention is not to minimize how serious rape is, and I don't think I'm doing that, and that's not the response that I've gotten to that joke. But I - and I do take more responsibility now over my material and the reaction to it, and I was especially careful with that, with that subject.
BIANCULLI: Amy Schumer speaking to Terry Gross in June. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianaculli in for Terry Gross back with more of Terry's June 2013 interview with comic Amy Schumer. We're replaying it as one of our favorite interviews of the year.
GROSS: You've done some very high-profile roasts, like Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr - who she really complimented you at the end of that roast.
SCHUMER: I know. I started crying.
GROSS: Oh, seriously?
SCHUMER: It was so nice. Yeah. I was so moved by that.
GROSS: I think that was a first time I ever heard your name, in fact.
BIANCULLI: You don't think...
GROSS: You know, I turned onto the end of the roast and Roseanne Barr is saying: And that Amy Schumer, she was so funny. And I thought oh, Amy Schumer? Who is - I don't know who that is. Who is that?
SCHUMER: Oh, that's awesome. Roseanne plugged me and made you discover me. Yeah. That was such a special moment. And, yeah, I was really not expecting that. It's a roast, it's such, you know, everyone's claws are out, and then to get a compliment like that from someone I just grew up loving and thinking was so hilarious was...
GROSS: And from somebody who just had every insult in the books thrown at them in a comedic fashion.
SCHUMER: Yeah. I think the comedians really - that's such a place for comedians to shine. We just know that there's no venom and it's just we just appreciate each other constructing jokes. And I did my best to be careful. I'm more careful with women at those roasts, just I think just not to - I wouldn't want to say anything that would actually offend.
GROSS: Why are you more careful with women?
SCHUMER: There's just more territory that I feel like it's you can't say certain things to women. I think attacking a woman's appearance is - I just know how wounding that is and I don't think...
GROSS: Too much like daily life itself.
SCHUMER: Yeah. Yeah. Right. Exactly. Just too many people just every day will say something, just a backhanded compliment, or just a flat-out insult. And maybe they don't even realize that - they think it's something that you've accepted or, you know, and they'll just hand you a new insecurity, and I would not want to be someone to do that.
So I definitely, you know, said hard jokes but I wouldn't say anything about a woman's appearance that I thought might hurt her feelings.
GROSS: Have you said anything at a roast that you've regretted?
SCHUMER: No. I have not said anything a roast that I regretted. Yeah. No.
GROSS: You did say one thing about Ryan Dunn from "Jackass" after he died...
SCHUMER: I guess you regret me saying it.
GROSS: No. I have no position.
GROSS: I didn't even - I didn't hear the roast, I just, you know, read about it but...
GROSS: A lot of people were very offended by what you said. And you've said that you even got death threats afterwards.
GROSS: And that's kind of scary to think about - that you're at a roast where it's like your job to say really insulting things, but then people could get so angry that they threaten you.
SCHUMER: Yeah. That was really surreal. It was - the joke was I said: Steve-O, one of the "Jackass" guys, his friend - one of the other "Jackass" guys had just died in a drunk driving accident. And so I said: Steve-O, I'm sorry for the loss of your friend Ryan Dunn. I'm sure you must be thinking it could've been me. And I know we were all thinking, why wasn't it?
So the joke was sort of, I felt like, the formula of any roast joke. It takes something that you're not supposed talk about and then twists that into an insult. And I thought it was very typical and didn't see anything that was too much about that. I'm also used to playing with comics and just we go after each other so horribly.
One of my friends at the Comedy Cellar, you know, they post the lineup of what comedians are performing, and one of them works under an alias because too many fans show up. And the alias he chose was the name of one of our other friends who works there, his stepfather who used to beat him up.
Who used to beat him so, you know, just to mess with him. So we all just go after each other's jugular all the time, and I just didn't think that that joke was a big deal. I didn't think it was a joke about making fun of somebody who died. I thought it was a joke making fun of Steve-O. And, yeah, and then people's reaction to it, I was really surprised because that joke wasn't a big deal in the room.
At the actual roast, there wasn't a huge reaction to it. But the way it was edited, they cut to Steve-O and he looked so sad and I'm sure if I saw that I would've thought, oh, gosh, that was too much or something. But the way it happened in his reaction and, you know, I've spoken to him since. He's a friend.
I knew what my intentions were saying that joke and I just - I never felt like I'd made a mistake. And I'm not - I've made several mistakes in my life and I don't think I'm above it, but I don't think that was one of them. I stand by - I stand by that joke.
GROSS: When you were in high school you were voted Class Clown and Teacher's Worst Nightmare. I think this was in 1999. What were your reasons for being voted Teacher's Worst Nightmare?
SCHUMER: That was an award that I won. And half my teachers, like my English teacher and my history teacher were shocked. Because if it was a class I was really interested in I would just listen and be attentive and was a good member of the class. But if it was a class that I struggled or I felt wasn't, you know, like business law, I remember, those are the classes I would kind of act up in.
And I've always just - I would say the funniest thing I could think of. I still am the same way with - like the other day I was on an Amtrak train and the train broke down and so the conductor came back and he was talking to our car and he said, you know, the train was not working and we're going to switch trains. And people are saying, well, do you know what time - people were asking questions.
And I just raised my hand. I'm like who do you think is going to win "The Voice"? Just, you know, I just started asking the most unrelated, worthless questions.
SCHUMER: And it's the same stuff I was doing in high school. So it was just me making dumb jokes.
GROSS: So when you did this on the Amtrak that was recent?
SCHUMER: Yeah. That was probably a month ago.
GROSS: Weren't you a little concerned that somebody would go that's Amy Schumer and then tweet about it? And...
SCHUMER: I'm still...
SCHUMER: I'm still not at all - I guess I'm in denial about that still. Like, I - people will call my name now and it scares - it just scares the life out of - I just (gasps). I gasp every time. I am not used to that at all. And, no, so that didn't occur to me.
And, yeah, that is true. I think that will hinder my being an idiot in public. I really do. And that is something I will really miss, you know, should this path continue. You know, there's always a chance that I will slip back into obscurity.
GROSS: Amy Schumer, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.
SCHUMER: Thank you.
BIANCULLI: Amy Schumer speaking to Terry Gross in June 2013. One of our favorite interviews of the year. Season two of "Inside Amy Schumer" begins next year on Comedy Central and in the meantime, Amy Schumer is spending the spring on a nationwide comedy stand-up tour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.