Most actors when they call in sick from promotional duties are usually making an excuse for a hangover. Not Amy Schumer. The stand-up comedian, who is fast becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, has just spent five days hospitalised with a “horrible kidney infection”, under the watchful eyes of the doctors, her sister Kim and chef Chris Fischer, her husband, whom she married in February. “This is sexy as hell,” she noted on Instagram, sharing a less-than-flattering self-portrait from her hospital bed.
It meant she had to cancel her trip to London to promote her latest comedy, I Feel Pretty. So fair play to her for getting on the phone to chat; her voice is a little croaky and she’s in recovery mode, but she clearly hasn’t lost her sense of humour. “I am more important now,” she jokes, when we exchange greetings and I say, ‘And, more importantly, how are you?’ She’s annoyed about missing out on a trip to London, though. “I love it there,” she says. “People go so crazy!”
Such fervour is understandable. Schumer has already starred in four successful seasons of Inside Amy Schumer, the Comedy Central sketch show that received eight Emmy nominations and won a Peabody Award. She also wrote and starred in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, which grossed $140 million worldwide. There have been sell-out tours, a best-selling memoir — The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo — and now a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut performance in the Steve Martin-written Meteor Shower.
Has there been one defining moment she looks back on? “No,” she says. “It’s been pretty gradual. I’ve been doing stand-up for over 15 years.” Then she cites the Charlie Sheen roast that she took on back in 2011, the Comedy Central show where assorted comedians take down the “guest” with vicious barbs. Schumer’s included a nod to Sheen’s classic Vietnam War movie Platoon. “Your marriage to Denise Richards was kinda like her Vietnam,” she quipped, “because she was constantly afraid of being killed by Charlie.”
Schumer thinks back to that event. “That felt like a really big deal at the time and that did lead to other opportunities.” Ironically, in the spirit of the show, Sheen made a joke about enjoying anonymous sex before adding “and there’s no one more anonymous here than Amy Schumer”. Seven years on she’s one of the most famous women in America. On Instagram alone she has 6.8 million followers; it’s where you’ll find her at her most unguarded and open.
An example is Schumer’s hospital picture. She is not afraid to show her real self. You won’t find her airbrushing her photo-shoots or using body doubles. Back in 2016, she famously did a near-naked photo shoot for the Pirelli calendar. Shot by the esteemed Annie Liebowitz, she’s perched on a stool in just her panties and heels, “slumped over, drinking coffee, belly out?” as she put it.
Here’s what I’ve been up to this week. I was hospitalized for 5 days with a horrible kidney infection. I want to give a big thank you to the doctors, the bad ass nurses also my husband who’s name is, i want to say, Chris? and my sisters Kimby and mol who have been by my side the whole time. I wanted to share this with you because this is sexy as hell but mostly because I was meant to go to London for the opening of I Feel Pretty and my doctors have told me that’s a no go. I’m really disappointed selfishly to miss this trip because I love London and Europe in general and all the great people (food) there. But I need to put my health first. I am so grateful for all the support the movie is getting. I hope people check it out in England and everywhere else in the world. It’s sweet and fun and you will walk out feeling better. Which is something I hope to feel soon too.
Schumer may well be single-handedly doing more for positive body image shots that just about anyone else right now. In I Feel Pretty, she plays Renee, an average-looking gal who aspires to work at the reception desk amongst the size zero waifs of an elite cosmetics firm. Lacking the confidence to do so, this changes when she hits her head in a spin-class and wakes up believing she’s the hottest girl on the planet. All of a sudden, much to the aghast of others, she’s flaunting it like she’s Bella Hadid.
It’s a little sweeter than Trainwreck, although there are some lewd moments that will appeal to those raised on Schumer’s outrageous humour. One particularly amusing moment sees her enter a bikini contest and cavort across the stage, “That scene is supposed to be funny and empowering and that’s how it felt to me,” she says. “I created that scene. I was supposed to be standing there posing in a bikini and then I said, ‘I’ll do a whole dance.’ I set myself up for that!”
Written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (who co-scripted 2016’s How To Be Single), it’s effectively a contemporary spin on Tom Hanks’ 1988 classic Big, in which a little boy wishes he were a grown-up before it magically happens. Gradually, her I Feel Pretty character is revealed to be a good person, not because of the fact she suddenly believes she’s a hottie. “I think it’s about reminding people that it’s about who you are, not what you look like,” says Schumer.
Has she struggled with such issues over her 36 years? “I’ve had major ups and downs with my self-esteem,” she admits. “I think like everybody, who is not a complete psychopath! You get bullied as a kid. And then getting older and being in this business, and now I feel like I’ve come out the other side feeling pretty consistently good about myself and being proud of the way I’m living. I’m in a good place with it now.”
The bullying was not specifically to do with her looks. Born in New York, she began life in the Upper East Side in Manhattan with her parents Sandra and Gordon, who ran a baby furniture company. Her father was born to a Jewish family from the Ukraine while her mother, who is from a Protestant background, converted to Judaism before her marriage.
Later, after her parents divorced, Schumer moved to Long Island — “the Irish Catholic mecca” as she calls it — with her mother.
Kids would regularly call her “Amy Jewmer” — unpleasant antisemitic experiences that made it into her comedy. “Judaism, for me, is just another area where I didn’t feel accepted or like I belonged,” she once said. “I really did: even with the parents of my friends, there was a ton of antisemitism going on, openly and in front of me.” When she finally left home for college — Towson University, in Baltimore, where she studied theatre — it was the first time she felt that she wasn’t apologising for being Jewish. “There’s definitely some residual shame that I grew up with because of it.”
Schumer recently went on the US show Finding Your Roots to look into her own heritage. “It was very fun to find my roots,” she says. At the time, it was an emotional experience, learning about her Jewish ancestors who emigrated from Eastern Europe to America in 1912. She even saw a picture of her great-great-grandfather’s grave; he died a year after coming to America and is buried in the Hebrew Cemetery in Staten Island. “I think this will change me,” she noted at the time.
So what about now? Does she connect with Jewish humour? “I connect with both Jewish and British humour,” she replies. “I really love old Neil Simon plays. But I enjoy a lot of British comedies.” It’s almost hard to imagine Schumer liking something gentle like Simon’s The Odd Couple. This after all is the woman who said in her memoir that, whilst having sex with a well-endowed lover, “I lay back and tried to think of a more relaxing environment, like Guantanamo Bay or the shoe display at the Holocaust museum.”
Already, she’s been ticking off some serious heavyweight comedy boxes. She voiced the character of Mr Burns’ mother in The Simpsons, surely the barometer to measure anybody’s level of fame. Then she got to work with Goldie Hawn in last year’s film comedy Snatched. Now she’s working with Steve Martin on Meteor Shower. Was he a hero? “Oh hell yeah! Probably the biggest,” she says. “Getting to work with him and be friends with him is the coolest thing ever. He is a long-time hero of mine.”
Already Schumer is looking to diversify her Hollywood portfolio. Last year she shot Thank You For Your Service, a military-themed movie that stars Miles Teller as an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD. Playing the grieving widow of Teller’s platoon buddie who is killed in action, Schumer’s role is small but potent. “You gotta keep moving and evolving,” she says. “Seriously.” Like the proverbial shark, I say, and she croaks another laugh.
Whether it’s taking on dramatic roles, showing off her body warts-and-all in films and magazines, or just dominating the stand-up stage, Schumer simply oozes assurance. It’s an almost Zen-like state that anybody who trades in humour needs to reach.
“Part of what makes you good is that you stop caring really about the audience’s reaction so much,” she says, about her comedy. “If you know it’s funny and the crowd feels your confidence, you’re guiding them through the experience.”
She’s less keen to talk about her new husband — who happens to be the brother of her assistant. She’s largely kept their relationship — and whirlwind marriage — on the quiet, although when they stepped out at Ellen DeGeneres’ 60th birthday party, heads turned. I’m warned I have one last question, so I try and ask about Fischer. Given his culinary expertise, does he cook a lot for you? “Yeah,” she says. Silence. What’s his best dish? “That’s two questions,” she says, before giggling. Fair enough.
I Feel Pretty opens in cinemas this weekend