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August, 2013 Issue

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Inside Amy Schumer

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There are certain comics who have gone on to great things that we in the campus market like to consider "our own." Comics that have spent years working and making a name for themselves, and have often been booked by hundreds of colleges long before they gain any sort of national acclaim, and once they do, we all like to say "We had them on campus when..."

Amy Schumer is certainly one of those comics. Making her first national television appearance on the fifth season of "Last Comic Standing," Amy was a face recognizable to devout fans of comedy or that show, but would not be widely recognized until years later.

Now, she's the star of her own Comedy Central series "Inside Amy Schumer," which has been renewed for a second season and has made her a recognizable face everywhere she goes. Amy sits down with Campus Activities Magazine to discuss the show, her growing popularity and the road that lead her here.

Amy says so far the reaction to her Comedy Central series has been great, equating far bigger turn-outs in the clubs. The funny thing is, she hasn't had a chance to see the corelation in the campus market, since the show just premiered April 30, 2013, right around the end of this past school year (that means your campus might be one of the first to book her after she's made it "big"). She is excited about the prosect of seeing increasing crowds at her college shows. "I totally hadn't even thought about that, but it's really exciting. I have been doing colleges for about 7 years, but I would think the interest would be significantly increased now, because the CC show itself plays very well to that demographic."

Going back almost 10 years, we find Amy starting off as a budding comic in New York, when she first hit the stage June 1, 2004. Many people think the national exposure she gained when she placed fourth on the fifth season of "Last Comic Standing" in the summer of 2007 was her first big break, when in fact she had been making a name for herself around Gotham Comedy Club and the New York scene, even having her own half hour "Live at Gotham" episode. She considers this her "big break" but also makes it clear that the mass exposure of being on prime time network TV sure got a lot more people knowing her name.

There weren't a lot of people out there who didn't recognize her yet for good reason; Amy hadn't been around performing long enough for them to, a fact that some of the other comics on that season grumbled about. "It was funny, because when I was on 'Last Comic' I had only been performing for about two years. I hadn't been on the road at all yet and hadn't even done any colleges. To be on prime time in front of 6 million people a week, after being in front of no more than 100 at a time was very intense. I think some of the other comics on that season, who had been on the road and performing for 10 or 20 years were a little taken aback that I was able to land a slot on the show so soon in my career."

Amy says from that point on, performing in the college market made a major difference too. "Colleges have been a big part of what's helped me succeed and move along in stand-up. It's a great place to work on material and just get better. I am really interested in seeing what would work at comedy clubs and in other venues, but especially colleges. It's a great way of measuring how funny a joke is. College students are still young and excited by life, they haven't become jaded yet; I especially love orientation shows."

Amy says besides the crowds being great to work with, there are certain challenges we are all familiar with in the campus market that can teach a comic to be versatile and work nearly anywhere. "Sometimes the setup won't always be ideal. I've been to colleges where there is no microphone, or no stage, or you realize you are performing in a cafeteria while students are trying to eat (laughs). Of course there are lots of schools out there with big beautiful theaters, which I have seen more and more often as my career has advanced, but in some of those other places it's like being in training because there are these factors working against you that you just have to push through. It really does make you a better, stronger performer because you never know what you are going to get. I've shown up and found out I would be performing for 1,000 people in the middle of the summer, or in a gym with no mic, or a lecture hall where the lights barely illuminate the room. It's certainly been an adventure."

The day following our interview, Amy was set to go on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where she will describe the toughest gig she's ever had. "I showed up and was performing at an Iranian hunger strike in front of The White House. You just never know what you are going to do if you wind up a stand-up comedian, and I give the campus market a lot of credit for helping me learn how to deal with those sorts of situations."

Amy is not what you would call a "clean" comic, with her material being well suited for a young adult crowd or Comedy Central, but no so much for the major networks. It begs the question of how she was able to work clean enough for her appearances on "Last Comic Standing." "I can't believe the stuff that they let me say on that show," she says laughing. "I am still really proud of the material that I did on there and they were very cool about it. You know, I don't really curse that much (although now I can, I don't have to be as careful because Comedy Central will just bleep it), but I didn't curse on 'LCS' or have any material that was too sexual at the time. It was kind of strangely TV ready and because with the nature of that competition show all the sets were so short, I was able to have ready made little three minute segments. I think the other more experienced comics who had been performing for like 25 years had a harder time whittling it down to such a short set. My stuff was still kind of edgy, but I think people see the comic and not just the jokes. I think folks saw I was coming from a good place and doing the best I could."

That's one of the major draws for Amy and what makes her so good at what she does. Amy could be extremely funny just doing radio, but when you combine the power of her humor with her sweet, all- American girl disposition, it creates a more profound impact on an audience. It's almost like hearing a nun tell a dirty joke, what makes it so funny and memorable is the fact that you didn't expect to hear it from someone who you might think would never say it. Now Amy is no nun, and her jokes are not all what you would call 'dirty' but the same principle applies.

Amy may not have won "LCS" but placing fourth in the competition certainly moved her career up a few notches. There is a certain curse that hangs around reality show winners (name someone from "AGT," "American Idol," "The Voice," or "LCS" who has won the competition and gone on to any further success and I'll name you ten who you never heard from again), so Amy thinks perhaps that things did work out for the best.

The next step in her climb was her work on the Friar's Club Roasts, which she came out shining in. Again, you don't expect this sweet looking blondie to get up there and slam a celebrity, but Amy did, often outdoing some of her far more famous fellow roasters (and even giving the fabled Lisa Lampanelli a run for her money). "I think the Roasts were a huge game changer. After 'Last Comic' I just put my head back down and focused on getting more experience and getting stronger as a comic. I went on the road and headlined for a year and then went back to opening for Dave Attell and Jim Norton. By the time the Roasts came up I was ready and I think in any business, opportunity plus preparation equals success, and I was ready for this opportunity. The Roasts were huge for me." Amy gave quite memorable performances at both the Roasts of Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr if readers want to check them out.

Jumping back into the present, Amy tells us more about "Inside Amy Schumer," how it was created and her reaction upon finding out the project was in the pipeline. "Comedy Central has been very lovely to me throughout my career. Before 'LCS' I was given a short special on CC. They put me on TV for the very first time and I credit that appearance with opening the door for me to be on 'Last Comic.' They have always just emitted a very warm feeling towards me and let me know the door was always open, to TV show ideas or other projects with them. So, before I even did the Roasts I was taking meetings with them, trying to come up with an idea and develop it into something that could work for the network. In between the Sheen and Roseanne Roasts, we knew we were going to make a pilot. They are very conscious of the performer and great about being supportive in making the show you want to make, not offering a contract and then finding yourself in a show completely different than what you thought it would be."

They told Amy to make whatever she wanted and shoot the pilot. "We were about to shoot the pilot and I was thinking we would do it in a talk show format, because I knew they were looking for a certain time slot and I said to myself 'Let's just give them what they want,' even though it wasn't really what I felt like I wanted to make. Then Jessi Klein, who is one of the executive producers of my show (who also worked as a writer on 'Saturday Night Live') and I went out for drinks and she told me 'I think you could be squandering this opportunity and you should really focus on making the show you WANT to film. I walked home and thought about it and realized she was right and called the other executive producer, Dan Powell and told him we were changing everything. We had to meet tomorrow and tell the network. We ended up filming the pilot and I felt really good about it and thought if they never make the show, I would be forever proud of the pilot."

Some time went by and Amy filmed her CC hour long special "Mostly Sex Stuff" in San Francisco and was still in town the day after in the gym with her sister. "I answered a call on the elliptical and it was all of my agents and management team on the phone. I gave my sister one of the earbuds to my phone and we found out together that the show had been picked up. We both sat there and cried in the gym."

Thanks to the incredible reaction from the public, the show is now in production for it's second season and features some extremely talented writers and actors on board. "The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive and sweet, I feel from people their love for the show and it is just so cool. I decided I was just going to make the best show that I could make, that I love and hope it resonated with others. I hoped people would like it but I wasn't sure, but people have just been so kind and enthusiastic about it. My life has changed so much."

It's easy to tell how hesitant she is about bragging, but she can't tiptoe around the truth. "I would say...I guess I have to use these words: I'm a little bit famous. And uh...yeah. I would never say I'm 'famous' or really famous or 'kinda a big deal' or whatever, but I am not completely unknown now. Right now I'm in an airport off in a little private waiting area, because if I were just out waiting at the gate people would be coming up to me and asking for pictures or taking pictures without me knowing. That's not really fun. The loss of anonymity has been a little bit hard to deal with believe it or not. I never set out to become famous, I just want to do what I love and make people laugh. I live in New York and I'm not a big enough deal to be a big attraction, I like to walk around in the day and just be unnoticed, but that's not how it is anymore, especially in places where people aren't really used to seeing people from TV."

Amy clarifies that she is not complaining. "It has been totally worth it, TOTALLY. And you know, at a lot of college shows I am so excited to meet everyone. During my normal life or working at clubs I don't really like to stick around and do pictures (mainly because you never know what kind of creepers will wander up), but at colleges it's a different atmosphere. I feel much more comfortable around them and will usually stick around after the show to meet the activities boards and take pictures with the students. That is kind of a nice break for me to do, to get to really soak up the good vibes and get to talk to normal people without feeling uncomfortable. I really enjoy it, I will stay and take a picture with everyone who wants one, unless there is some pressing reason I have to go."

The second season of "Inside Amy Schumer" will premiere in 2014, but until then, bring the star to your campus and get a taste of her comedy for your students in person.

Contact Heidi Feigin at United Talent Agency at 310-246-6009 or feiginh@ unitedtalent.com for more info.