At 34, Amy Schumer is still on the starting side of her comedy career – one that can be measured in, well, you pick:
• There’s the theater-to-arena scale-up: Two years ago, Schumer played the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts; on May 7, she’s headlining First Niagara Center.
• There’s her celebrity street cred. Exhibit A: Schumer pals with Jennifer Lawrence. Exhibit B: Judd Apatow directed her hit movie, “Trainwreck,” written by Schumer and starring her too.
• Then there are Schumer’s red-carpet credentials: Her sketch comedy show “Inside Amy Schumer,” is in its fourth season on Comedy Central and has earned Emmys and a Peabody Award.
• She’s on the cover of Vanity Fair this month. She is – for better or naught – the subject of frequent entertainment news headlines. (From Yahoo this week: “Amy Schumer bans fans from taking selfies.”) And Schumer is in the midst of an arena tour that will wrap June 23 when she plays Madison Square Garden in her hometown of New York City.
Here’s an insider guide to understanding Schumer, based on telephone interviews with people who know her well: comic and musician Bridget Everett; stand-up comedian Mark Normand, who is one of Schumer’s openers in Buffalo; noted jazz musician Jason Stein, Schumer’s older brother who, with his trio Locksmith Isidore, will also open here; and Apatow, who shared his thoughts in an email.
Her success seemed almost certain.
Everett, who first performed with Schumer five years ago, and Normand, whom Schumer discovered in a New York club when she was still a rising comic, recall her confident charisma.
Everett: From the very first time I saw her (at a festival in Montreal), I knew that she was going to take off. I just remember how people, from the minute she came on stage, were engaged. I thought she was unique and special and (realized), “Oh, this totally makes sense.”
Normand: She was always driven and ambitious. She was always pushing for something bigger. She never had that moment of, “This gig is huge, I can’t handle it!” She was like, “Let’s do it, and let’s get to the next gig.”
Everett: As things have gone on, she just has a way of connecting to her audience that is special and unique and rare.
Normand: She never had a worry like, “Oh, what if I don’t make it?” … She never had an “I-don’t-know-if-I’m-ready” moment. She was always ready.
Everett: She loves every day like it’s her last, and it’s really infectious.
A roller-coaster childhood in New York fuels her creativity.
Schumer was born into wealth – wealth that didn’t last for her family. There was a financial hit. Divorce. A move from Manhattan to Long Island. Her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. All of it impacted Amy and both her siblings: her older brother, Stein, the jazz musician, and their younger sister, Kim Caramele, now a comedy writer who collaborates with Amy.
Stein: We were relatively wealthy and then pretty poor and we moved a ton. We just had a lot of different experiences that I think we all responded to in a way that sort of somehow spurred our own sense of creativity.
Everett: She wants to take advantage of every day. When you’re with her you can’t help but want to be a part of that. Sometimes I just like to do that on the couch, but she’ll be like, “Come on, let’s go out and hear some music.” She likes to really experience life, and I love that about her.
She’s hungry. She parties. And she’s ultra-focused.
People who know Schumer will tell you she loves to have fun. But to create fun for you – the public – she needs to strike a balance.
Everett: When we’re out on tour, it’s really about finding a great restaurant, having some really good local food, going out and dancing, whatever it is.
Normand: Last night (in Lexington, Ky.) she probably showed up at 7:45. I went on at 8, she did an hour, then we promptly ran into an SUV, went straight to this nice restaurant in an upstairs dining room by ourselves, had some good lobster and oysters, and a steak, a couple glasses of wine, got back in the (vehicle), came back to the hotel.
Everett: Sometimes it’s just back to the hotel room and ordering a bunch of wine and falling asleep on the couch making each other laugh.
Normand: I remember I’d go out drinking, and she’d stay back typing on her laptop. She was writing “Trainwreck.”
She made famous choices before she was famous.
Schumer, who earned a theater degree from Towson University in Maryland, had a lofty focus as a rising comic. Even earlier in her career, when most comics would take any gig that offered pay or exposure, Schumer was choosy. She turned down jobs that she didn’t think would advance her career long-term, and opted for ones that would build her skills and reputation. The result: A level of fame that wows even her brother.
Normand: Even in the beginning, (when) she really had no juice, she was still like, “I won’t do that gig. That’s beneath me. I’m above this.”
Stein: Just this morning – I’m in Amsterdam right now – I had the TV on and a commercial came on for her show. It’s very strange, and I’m not used to it. It’s not the kind of thing where now it’s old news. I’m still like, “Wow, that’s Amy. Everywhere.”
Normand: She was always famous to her. That sounds weird, but in her head, she was the same level she is now; she was just getting there. Her head has always been successful; she just had to get the world up to her, in a way.
Stein: It’s like science fiction. It’s wild, you know? It can feel like the whole world is an amusement park. Walking down the street I’ll see a billboard with her face on it.
Normand: Even in the first year you could have thrown her on a Donald Trump roast and she would have nailed it. She was always there in her head. The world just had to catch up to her.”
She appreciates people.
Stand-up status aside, Schumer’s life isn’t a solo show. By all accounts, she thrives on surrounding herself with a tight-knit group of friends, co-workers and family.
Judd Apatow, speaking about “Inside Amy Schumer”: Amy’s quietly a great mentor. She has hired an amazing crew of writers and directors and has created a really happy set. Sketch shows are so stressful and she has found a way to make it a super positive, fun environment.
Everett: A lot of times when I do the shows with her, it’s a surprise and I come on at the end. She’s so gracious about asking everybody to stick around … She’s so supportive of everybody around her that the audience becomes part of that family.
Stein: It’s like a family circus. My wife and my 2-year-old little girl come for almost all the touring. Sometimes our other sister comes. It’s amazing to travel together. The whole thing feels really special, like it’s our family gig to do this crazy thing together.
Everett: When we go out to a restaurant or something, people are stopping and staring at Amy and trying to take her picture on the sly. She keeps things as normal around her as possible. I’m really protective of her if people are staring at her or something.
Stein: I think at this point especially, there are so many people who want so many things from her, and keeping stuff close like that and being surrounded by family is extra nice because of that.
Everett: She wants to be around people and have a great time, and I think it gets harder for anybody that gets well-known. But she’s not crazy hung up about it. She talks to everybody that comes up to her. She’s really warm and lovely.
She’s what we need.
Judd says so.
Apatow: We need someone like Amy right now. The world needs strong, thoughtful, hilarious voices. Hers is essential.
WHO:Amy Schumer, with Mark Normand and Locksmith Isidore // WHEN: 8 p.m. May 7 // WHERE: First Niagara Center // TICKETS: $39-$99 INFO: (888) 223-6000