Every since her hit sketch series Inside Amy Schumer premiered on Comedy Central two years ago, Amy Schumer has quickly ascended to the top of the cultural conversation thanks to boundary-pushing, always-hilarious meditations on modern life. Now the comedian is making her leading lady debut in the feature film Trainwreck (in theaters today), directed by Judd Apatow and featuring a semi-autobiographical script by Schumer herself.
As part of the film's promotional tour, Apatow and Schumer, along with co-stars Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, and Vanessa Bayer embarked on the "Trainwreck Comedy Tour," traveling across the country with the film while also performing stand-up to packed houses. I had the opportunity to talk to this amazing cross-section of modern comedy on their swing through San Francisco, and what follows are edited highlights from several roundtable discussions:
Amy, in terms of going from sketch comedy to writing something that's feature length, what was the transition like for you?
Amy: Well, I had to get Final Draft once I already had a TV show. Writing in general for me, I don't feel like, "Oh, I've been doing sketch writing for so long..." And I don't even think of it as writing sketch, because I've never taken a sketch writing class or anything like that. I think of them as writing little scenes with some sort of stakes in it, and actually playing them like that too. So the movie, to just play one character was kind of just relaxing to perform it. And to write it was a challenge, but the tools that I got from writing the scenes on my show made me feel less overwhelmed by that.
Judd, you godfather a lot of projects that you help produce, but what's the process by which you decide, "This is a project that I want to spend 'x' number of years as a director"?
Judd: I never know. Sometimes I have an idea about something I want to write and sometimes I don't. Yeah, it takes a while to write, and I get just as excited working with people on their ideas. That line is really blurred for me. I just like a great idea and people to collaborate with. So there's nothing important to me about being the writer or the director.
I always look at these projects as building teams and tring to figure out who would work together and what would make this idea work. And so when people have scripts, most of the time I can think of someone who can do it better than me. And I think, "Oh, David Gordon Green, that's a kind of weird, awesome choice for Pineapple Express. He usually doesn't do things like this but he's really funny."
But with this one, we were in such sync, and it just fell like, "Oh, I know we can do this really well." But it's totally random. It's just in any moment what you're getting most excited about."
Colin, in terms of finding this character and making him feel funny but tragic, how did you find that middle ground of making us care about him?
Colin: Well, just I visited her father a few times. Her father is in a wheelchair. He does have MS and he was a wild man back in the day. His name is Gordon too. So I kind of just like, I was trying to think of him when I was doing it. I mean, obviously, it's me but it's a lot of him in there so I was trying to keep to a...I was trying to be an "actor" and just say how I would really say it, but thinking of him. So that was basically it. Being funny, either you're funny or you're not. If I try to be funny, I'm not funny. But I became a comedian because when I try to be serious, people would laugh in your face a lot. So then you become a comedian.
Dave: I'm going to give him props because he's really basing his character off a real thing, like a real person. So I think that's way harder than like what I did. I mean I played like this street person which is non-existent.
Amy, in terms of your basing the script on your own life experiences to an extent, what did you discover about yourself as you were working on this film?
Amy: That I was broken.
Amy: Yeah, I realize that I was not OK while I was writing it and that my sister if I've been really sweet was letting me, when she was pretending like I was OK. And that I had trouble accepting love, like believing that I was someone who is lovable and deserving of love.
Judd: Just that.
Just that little thing.
Dave: The cool thing about Amy is that like she is a real comic but she also can like, I guess you could say if she has to, she can do the serious acting. She can do all these different things so it's such a rarity in comedy, everybody thinks that they can do like a sitcom in movies. But there's few people who could really do it and do it effortlessly and that would be her. And I mean God bless. It's so great to be involved and know something like that.
I think this film really toes that line between comedy and drama really masterfully. And so in terms of your performances, that's what I appreciated. There was a richness to the characters.
Colin: Yeah, it was really...I mean also I think the way Judd shot it, the way shooting on film always kind of just adds some texture to it that was kind of, brought it to like, "Oh, my God. It's like a serious..." something about it was more serious than than a rom-com.
Dave: It really is Amy's movie, and we're here to support her. And to be honest, it's always cool when you get to work with people who you know are funny. And now when you're just at the point where everybody else is going to know they're that good, it's exciting. So I would say that I'm here, I'm stepping up. I'm bottom rockin' it, you know what I'm saying? I'm in. So, whatever we can do for this movie, for Judd and Amy, I'm in.
Colin, I'd like to go back to your SNL days if I may. Your first time when you did Weekend Update and you did your, "Hey, I'm the new bartender," that was aimed at me because I was one of those people, I was like, "How did they get rid of Norm Macdonald?" But that seat is viewed as kind of pinnacle of comedy in some ways. What did you learn from that that you've carried forward?
Colin: Well, because of the Norm thing, I never felt comfortable there. And it was kind of like a weird time for me. The highlight was that first goddamn speech, and then after that it was just like, it was just a weird vibe. And I'm not a one-liner guy. It's like it's not a rhythm for me. So I learned that like...I mean when Dennis Miller first did it, he did it in his style. Whatever you do is I learned you've got to bring your own style to it, and I should have brought whatever my style was. But I got off on a weird foot with that. So for me it was, it's definitely a format that's not for me. I like to keep talking, as you're going find unless I stop talking right now.
Vanessa, what did you find creatively different for you on this from SNL?
Vanessa: At SNL you sort of get to improvise when you're writing sketches and stuff. You're like throwing out ideas and stuff. But once things are written, we sometimes change. Things obviously change a lot from rehearsal to air depending on if you cut for time or whatever.
But once you have a sketch on SNL and you're doing it for air, if you improvised, it would throw off the entire - all the cameramen, all the people in the control booth, everyone's going off the same cue cards and words. So if you decided you just wanted to throw something out there, everyone would be like, "You're fired."
Like it would screw up the whole thing whereas with Trainwreck, we were able to like, we would do the script kind of as it is, and we would get to kind of improvise off of it. And so it's a different thing. There's something really cool and exciting about SNL being live and having just a few days to write and rehearse it, but then there's also something that's so great about a movie like this, where you actually get to like kind of take your time and really craft a scene but I feel kind of gross saying craft.
Judd: I just think actors do well when they know have time. So if you say to somebody, "We're really rushed! You've got one take!" I think that's when people get stiff and nervous, especially within comedy because you're trying to say to them, "I need three funny lines in the scene. So like don't be afraid to give me 40 and we'll pick the right one. We'll take care of you and make sure you look great." But a lot of it is if people feel like they have opportunities to experiment and try things, we're not gonna rush them off the stage, they usually do better work.
And when we can prep them, if you talk about the scene before you get there, if you rehearse it or even if you're just on the phone, "Hey, here's what's happening tomorrow. I'm going to kind of ask to do this," people relax. I think it's when you just throw things at them last minute that people get nervous.
Amy, I'd love to get the behind-the-scenes story on how you arrived at the 12 Angry Men sketch.
Amy: I'd been talking to two male comics that I'm friends with, and they were deliberating whether or not they thought Michelle Williams was hot. And they were both very disgusting, like, "No, I don't think she's hot. Like I wouldn't even f*** her." And I'm looking at them like, "You would die just to get her a drink. If she walked in here right now, you would fall at her feet."
So, but they were really deliberating, and that word was in my mind, so I was just, "What's the ultimate deliberation?" is that movie, just a jury. And I love that movie. And I had the idea to do it, and I was so excited once I had that idea. And then one of the producers on the show, Kevin Kane, was like, "What if you made it the whole episode?" cause I wanted it to be half an episode. And I was like, "Yes" and so I got permission. I lied and said that I would be in it more knowing I wouldn't.
And I wrote it. I wrote it. I sat there and I watched and I wrote all the shots I wanted and everything. And it was really hard and it got painful for a minute. And then it was really liberating. But the writers would have happily helped me but I really don't want to hear their opinion of things I should be insecure about. And then, yeah, I wanted it to be total re-creation.
They tried to be like, "We'll shoot at this courthouse." I was like, "No, we have to build, the set has to be the same," and I picked the shots we wanted to recreate. And I became somewhat of an aficionado of that movie.
And just the cast that you got to be in it...
Amy: That was so crazy that everybody said yes. That was really exciting.
Judd, I really like, This is 40. I'm a big fan. I relate to a lot of the struggles there. So my question is will we get to revisit those characters again? Will that become a trilogy?
Judd: You know I have a good idea for another one. And I'm not sure. I have to see what my 12-year-old thinks. She's ultimately in charge of whether or not anything happens. Maybe one day. I mean I like revisiting characters. That's why it's fun to do TV, But it is fun to visit the same people six or seven years like...
You can do This is 50, This is 60...
Judd: Exactly, yeah. I always liked spinoffs, like when everyone spins off a character like Better Call Saul. We did it with Get Him to the Greek after Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I love that. I feel like the whole Marvel universe is based on Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
And Paul Rudd is Ant-Man now.
Judd: That's right. That's how that happens.
Many thanks to the hilarious participants of the Trainwreck tour for their time. The movie is now playing, and to hear the hilarious audio from this interview, be sure to check out the latest MovieFilm Podcast at the link or via the embed below: