Ten minutes had passed since comic Amy Schumer had left the stage at the Varsity Theater and she still wasn’t done putting men in their place. During the first set, Schumer destroyed two hecklers, suggesting to one that he yell in his head, just like he does at work, and comparing another to a warlock who owns a bookstore.
Then it was my turn.
“I think you shake hands too hard,” she said in the Varsity’s basement dressing room on a Saturday night in March. When informed that no one had ever said that before, she didn’t blink.
“I think people just aren’t telling you,” she said. “They’re just being nice.”
“Nice” isn’t a part of the thirtysomething comedian’s act, one that has led to her own prime-time sketch series. “Inside Amy Schumer,” which debuts Tuesday on Comedy Central, showcases Schumer’s anything-goes routine, which might trigger heart attacks among viewers who think Dane Cook is edgy.
Early episodes feature a porn parody, a woman who backs out of a gang bang at the last minute and a female-friendly version of Hooters. At one point she describes her mother’s 70-year-old boyfriend as “Schindler’s List-y.”
Schumer is part of a new wave of taboo breakers catching the eye of Comedy Central, which has also launched provocative series from Jeff Ross and Anthony Jeselnik.
It’s no coincidence that all three comics got their big break on the Comedy Central roasts, which are among the network’s most popular specials.
In 2011, with just two weeks’ notice, Schumer was invited to skewer Charlie Sheen.
“When I brought her up to Charlie, he was reluctant because he didn’t know who she was,” said Kent Alterman, the network’s president of content development and original programming. “I kept promising him that she would score big. Everyone agreed that she hit it out of the ballpark.”
Perhaps not everyone. Schumer’s act is best remembered for a joke directed at “Jackass” star Steve-O, who had lost his friend Ryan Dunn in a car wreck just three months earlier.
“Seriously, Steve. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend,” she said from the dais. “I know you were thinking, ‘It could have been me,’ and we were all thinking, ‘Why wasn’t it?’ ”
Steve-O would later call her a “no-name slut” for whom he had zero respect.
“I did not think that joke was going to be a big deal,” she said. “I feel no hesitation about those jokes at all.”
Schumer credits her confidence to her parents, who raised her on Long Island.
“They made me feel like I was special and I believed them,” said Schumer, dressed in a simple black dress, her hair in a ponytail. “Have you seen that little girl on ‘Ellen’ [Sophia Grace] who is really good at singing Nicki Minaj songs? She’s so cute with her little pot belly, and you can tell no one has shaken her confidence yet. Life happens and then people tell you you’re ugly or you’re weird and then you’re like, ‘Omigod, I am?’ ”
Schumer’s unfailing belief in herself — as well as her largely unprintable material — is the main reason Comedy Central is betting big in investing in her act, which is heavy on sexual relationships.
“Lots of comics talk about the same topics, but her approach comes from a place of honesty,” Alterman said. “She’s very relatable.”
Schumer said she’s uncertain about her future. She’s working on a movie script with Judd Apatow and hopes to have a book of personal essays out next year. Beyond that, she insists she doesn’t have specific goals.
“Right now, I’m pretty tired,” she said. “I like the idea of just being able to write and not be where I’m being mandated by anybody. Right now it feels a little like my life is out of control.”
Pity the fool who tries to put the reins on Schumer — especially if they have an overly firm handshake.