Amy Schumer can tell a story. Knowing how to craft a short narrative and make it pay off with a laugh has, after all, helped make her one of the hottest comedians on TV and the concert circuit these days.
So, let the star of Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” explain how it came to be that she finished her work for a bachelor’s degree in theater at Towson University in 2003 but didn’t receive her diploma until 2007 — in the lobby of Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House.
“I say I graduated in 2003 from Towson, but that’s not actually true,” the 31-year-old New-York-born performer says in a recent interview. “I went to Towson and had the credits to graduate on time, but then I found out I needed to pay $200 to post these credits. And I was like, ‘What?’ And I was so enraged that you had to pay to post credits that I was like, ‘What an arbitrary, made-up thing.’ So, I didn’t pay the money.”
In 2007, Schumer, who left Towson and moved to New York, had just finished a season as one of the final contestants on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” reality competition. A show tour was headed for a stop at the Lyric when Schumer got a call from Jay Herzog, then chair of the school’s theater department. Herzog and faculty colleague Robyn Quick had been following Schumer on TV and read an interview in which she mentioned graduating from Towson in 2003.
“So I’m coming to Baltimore, and the chair of the theater department calls and he’s like, ‘Amy, bring $200 and we’ll give you your diploma,’” she says, laughing at the memory. “So I didn’t actually get my diploma until 2007 in the lobby of the Lyric — just out of stubbornness.”
Stubbornness, or the almost genetic resistance to rules and authority that seems to feed the work of our best stand-up comedians?
“I think it’s like things you’re not willing to accept that are part of society and you want to speak out about them,” she says in answer to the question. “That’s a big part of stand-up — for me, anyway.”
Make no mistake, there’s no problem with Amy Schumer when it comes to speaking out about things.
“You know Amy’s been compared to Sarah Silverman,” Herzog says. “And I think the point of comparison is that Amy’s a risk taker. You know, she steps over the line. And she’s willing to go there, and I think that’s been her success. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. She’s willing to be dirty. She’s willing to be hip.”
Her humor, he says, is in keeping with a sensibility that’s also evident on Lena Dunham’s series “Girls” — on which Schumer has been cast.
“She knows what’s going on in her generation really, really well,” he says. “When I saw her cast this year in HBO’s ‘Girls,’ I thought, ‘How perfect, because that’s where her generation’s at — and Amy’s right there.’”
There’s an aggression, an edge and a willingness to cross over sexual boundaries in Schumer’s humor.
“I’m celebrating because I finally just slept with my high school crush,” she begins in one joke. (Pause as the audience applauds.) “But, I swear, he like now expects me to go to his graduation. [Pause.] Like I know where I’m going to be in three years? [Expletive] kids, right?”
And that’s one of the few punchlines or even topics from her stand-up act that can be quoted in this or any other newspaper.
But she can also play the vulnerable and hopelessly needy fool in love.
One sketch on the premiere of “Inside Amy Schumer” begins with her waking up in a bed with a young man she just met the night before. The camera follows her as she fantasizes about their life together and then starts acting on it — from opening a joint checking account to marriage to having graves dug side by side.
Meanwhile, the object of her romantic obsession has a hard time remembering who she is when she calls. And the camera shows him masturbating while looking at the heavy-set, make-believe “mama” figure on a jar of pasta sauce.
That contradiction is at the core of her onstage persona. She uses a sweet, friendly, nice-girl look to make her raunchier, nasty and politically incorrect punchlines all the more laugh-out-loud shocking.
For the record, Herzog remembers the dollar amount that Schumer owed Towson as being $90 — not $200 — and believes it was a fee for a test she took to post out of certain curricular requirements — like Advanced Placement.
But no real matter. It’s all love and kisses between Schumer and Towson today.