Season 3 of “Inside Amy Schumer” is blowing up everything we knew about how comedy on television tackles gender. The first two episodes of the show’s return featured some ballsy, thought-provoking sketches with viral appeal, but for its third installment, it went long-form.
“12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” featuring an amazing cast including Jeff Goldblum, Dennis Quaid, Paul Giamatti, Vincent Kartheiser, Kumail Nanjiani, Chris Gethard and John Hawkes, is a 20-minute celebration of the 1957 Sidney Lumet film starring Henry Fonda, mimicking the original on the level of a shot-by-shot remake. It is also a savage, brutally funny riff on the question, “Is Amy Schumer hot enough to be on television?” — a question Schumer’s heard plenty before. To get the story behind the episode, co-directed by Schumer herself, Indiewire got on the phone with “Inside Amy Schumer” co-creator Dan Powell, who revealed the genesis of the idea, how many days it took to shoot, how the cast came together and why, exactly, Schumer keeps having to have this conversation.
I want to start off by getting the origin story of this episode.
It was a sketch idea that Amy had had since the very beginning of the season. I think she came up with it in between Season 2 and writing Season 3. In fact, I know she did. She had it even before we walked into the writers’ room for Season 3. But then I think one night she was hanging out with one of our producers, Kevin Kane, and they were watching it together. He broached the idea of maybe trying to broaden it out and do it as a full episode, and she was super into that. So she texted me and Jessi Klein, the other showrunner, and said, “Hey, why don’t we just make this a whole episode, and I can direct it. What do you think?”
It’s one of those things where I would have been freaked out by if it had been Season 1, but at this point in our show’s life, I felt like we’d earned the right to try something new and unique, and break outside of our format. So Jessi and I said, “Yeah, let’s spend this season trying to work out the script, and if we get it to a place where we’re all comfortable with it, we’ll give it a shot.”
This is the first long-form experiment for the show.
Definitely. It most certainly is.
What is it about being in Season 3, not Season 1, that made you feel safe about taking this on?
First of all, just in terms of the commentary that the sketch is making, I feel like Amy is well-known. So it feels like the commentary is going to resonate more, now that we’ve had a couple of seasons under our belt and people are familiar with the recurrent themes of the series. I think also a big thing in this episode was trying to get the calibre of actors that we wanted to pull this off. Having a couple of seasons under our belt and people knowing the show allowed us not only to reach out to bigger talent, but also have big talent reach out to us — like, Dennis Quaid reached out to us about doing something, so he ended up in this. And ultimately, just having earned the right to break outside of our usual format and do something new and unexpected. Sometimes it takes a couple of seasons to earn that right.
A lot of things I want to ask you about there. Can you say, off the top of your head, if there was specific commentary that you feel like this episode is a reaction to?
Well, yeah! [laughs] The opening sketch of Season 2 was called “Focus Group,” where it’s Amy watching a focus group through one of those two-way mirrors, reacting to the show and being asked questions about how funny they think the show is and how do they think the writing is. And the only thing the guys want to react to is Amy’s appearance. In Amy’s experiences, and even my experiences looking at comments online, there’s just so much attention paid to Amy’s appearance over her comedy, whereas that’s just not something that male comics generally have to deal with. It’s an added thing that Amy has to deal with in her career as a comic, and it’s certainly a response to that.
What’s interesting is that “Focus Group” is the only other sketch she’s credited with directing.
Yes. She directed that last season, and then she directed “12 Angry Men” this season. These are the two where, obviously, the issue resonates with her. In this in particular, in addition to being something where this sketch, if you can even call it a sketch… This episode was very much her baby, her idea from the very beginning. She’s very close to it, but she’s also a fan of the original Lumet movie. She wanted very much to make sure it matched, as much as possible, a lot of the nuances of the performances and the camera angles, and things like that, from the 1957 original Lumet film.
It was a movie that I didn’t ever anticipate seeing parodied so thoroughly in a comedy sketch. But it is also one of my favorites.
Yeah, it’s a great movie and it’s great acting, and I think there’s a huge level of absurdity in taking a classic movie from the ’50s and updating it for the gender politics issues of 2015. But we had a lot of fun with it.
Talk to me about assembling that cast, because it is extraordinary.
Paul Giamatti had done something with us last season — the herpes sketch — and so he had a lot of fun on set and said he might want to do something again, so we reached out to him.
I can’t recall how Amy knew John Hawkes. I know that they had met each other and that they had been emailing back and forth. Amy’s utterly fearless about reaching out to people on Twitter and by email, for people that she respects and wants to appear on the show. With lot of these performers, it was just Amy reaching out directly.
We also have a great casting director in Gayle Keller who was able to help us get Vincent Kartheiser. She helped book Vincent and she cast George Riddell, who played Juror Number Nine, the old man. He just got in through audition, but he was so funny that we ended up casting him off of a piece of tape.
And then Adrian [Martinez] had been on the show, Chris Gethard was a friend of the show and Kumail Nanjiani, Amy knows through stand-up. So the archetypes were built first, based on the original “12 Angry Men” script, and then we went to see “Who is the most interesting actor we can get to fulfill this archetype?” I think Amy had been talking to Jeff Goldblum, and they had met at some point. But it wasn’t like we necessarily wrote backwards, or that Amy wrote backwards for the people that she wanted. The script was written first, and then we went about casting it.
John Hawkes as a Henry Fonda type is really inspired.
One thing that’s really important to Amy is not just that we get funny people, but that we get really strong actors. Amy has a very strong acting background from Esper Studio, and that’s something that she studied even before she was a comic. That’s something that’s really important to her: not just that people are funny, but that a lot of the comedy in this episode comes from the quality of the acting, in the context of such an absurd topic and the thing that they’re debating.
Of everything that happened whilst filming, what was the toughest moment for people keeping their shit together on set?
That is hard to say. In terms of not breaking?
That’s tough. There’s always a lot of breaking because the stuff is so funny. I’m sorry I’m having trouble.
Is there one thing that comes to mind? I imagine the dildo scene was a bit hard to get through.
That, certainly. Especially the choreography of getting it to the table, because the thing had trouble standing up on its own. You could actually see in our outtakes, we did a little outtake montage about how much trouble there was operating those things.
It’s also such a great moment because it’s directly tied to the original film, with the switch blade.
That’s exactly right.
Sorry, I’m just nerding out about “12 Angry Men.”
There was that reference, and then the reference where he’s walking ten feet to put the picture of Amy ten feet away from him. It’s also in the film, when they measure out the steps from the person’s bed to the door of their apartment. There are definitely a lot of moments that retro-scripted or mirrored the original.
How much room did you leave for improv?
Not a ton, to be honest. In fact, that’s something that we definitely do on other sketches, but with this sketch in particular, Amy and the writing staff spent so much time trying to get the nuance of every line. And also keeping in mind that we only had two days to shoot this entire episode, which is really, really quick. And there were so many set-ups in trying to get the camera moves to really match the movie. We had to plow through pretty quickly. There wasn’t a lot of room for improv, although I will say that Kumail’s line in the episode at the end of Act Two, where he’s like “So you just keep that on you in case any dildo arguments break out?” Kumail ad-libbed that.
I’m not shocked by that. But going two days? For how many pages?
19 or 20.
That’s not too shabby.
No, it was an intense few days and on the second day we went way over. But to the credit of everyone, we’re on the second day and we’re going into double-overtime, but none of the actors got flustered, none of them got annoyed. Everyone was hugging each other at the end and saying “We should do something again together, soon.” It was a great energy on set and it was a blast to put together. We were in awe, just to have these actors on set — actors of this caliber was something we never really dreamed of.
It seems like a really special opportunity that you wouldn’t get to see anywhere else.
It’s to Comedy Central’s credit that they let us do it, because it is a very absurd, high-concept idea. They were very supportive, and were like “Look, if the script is funny and you guys believe in this, then you guys take a stab at it.” They were a little bit concerned at first, about how little Amy would appear in the episode, but it was just something that they noted. We felt like her sensibility is going to be all over the episode and she’s the topic of discussion, so we felt that it was something that was worth the risk.
One of my favorite touches are the final Man on the Street interviews, which are the perfect button for the whole episode.
Yeah, I’m really glad we did that, because that’s one of those things that we wouldn’t have done had the episode run a full 21 minutes. And also, Comedy Central has a four-act structure and we wrote this intentionally to be three acts, so we always knew that we’d need something in the fourth act. I’m really glad that we were able to get Amy talking about the issues presented in there, because I feel like it adds a nice little coda to the episode.
I want to congratulate you guys on what was a really great launch week, especially with getting really good spread on two of the big sketches.
And also, we released “Milk Milk Lemonade” two weeks earlier. People forget that was part of the first episode. But that has three million hits on YouTube, and now “Football Town NIghts” and “Last Fuckable Day” both have over a million. All three things got really great press, and I’m glad we released “Milk Milk Lemonade” early, because that had a chance to have a life of its own leading up to the premiere, and then after the premiere all of the attention shifted to the “Football Town Nights” sketch and the sketch with Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] and Tina [Fey] and Patricia [Arquette].
“12 Angry Men,” meanwhile, is a very different thing to promote in this current environment. Internally, what kind of conversations did you start having when the idea came together — like, “How do we make the Internet watch this?”
That’s something that we never really discussed, to be honest, in terms of, “How do we make this bite-sized for the Internet.” Obviously, it’s a longer-form thing. This is definitely one of the things that we’re doing, where it is more directed towards the medium of television than online. We love having our stuff online. I am curious as to how Comedy Central is going to— it’s one of those things where they’ll put up clips, but you really have to see it all together. I really am hoping that people are compelled, if they hear about it, to watch the full episode on ComedyCentral.com or to DVR it, rather than watch it in a handful of clips. I hope that people do seek out and watch the full episode.
Like you said, Comedy Central will host the full episode. So it’s not impossible for someone to catch it later.
Certainly in this day and age, you can catch it on any number of platforms. But in terms of figuring out “How do we chop this up for the Internet?” afterwards, that was never really something we were considering when we were putting it together.
Looking forward to beyond the third episode, is there anything from this season you’re really excited about?
I’m just proud of the whole season, honestly. There are so many great sketches coming up. The first three episodes are what we released to press and were really excited about those, but I watched down our sixth episode today. We have so many great guest stars coming up. There’s a sketch with Rachel Dratch that I just watched today, that really, really makes me laugh. We had a lot of great interviews too. I know that the sketches are generally the things that go viral and the interviews are a little bit quieter, but I think the interviews this season are really tremendous. Generally, I’m just really proud of this season. It’s hard for me to pick favorites.
“Inside Amy Schumer” airs Tuesdays at 10:30pm on Comedy Central.