Amy Schumer Can’t Escape Backlash… She’s OK With That

Amy Schumer
Photographs By Victoria Stevens
Amy Schumer was in the zone. This was in March, when she was filming on the street in Brooklyn for her upcoming movie “Kinda Pregnant,” a comedy about a woman who pretends to be knocked up for attention. In one take, Schumer emerged from a subway station while answering a phone call — and was interrupted by a stranger shouting at her from the sidewalk: “Fuck you, Amy Schumer! You’re a Zionist! You love genocide!”

Disruptions of the four-letter variety aren’t unusual in a raucous place like New York, though they’re usually less pointed. Schumer didn’t break character, refusing to stop working as the woman carried on. The actress finished the scene finally, packed up her stuff and went home to her husband and their 4-year-old son.

“It didn’t even raise my heart rate,” Schumer says over brunch at a cozy Brooklyn Heights tavern a couple days later. “I didn’t cry. Nothing.”

Dressed in a zip-up hoodie, her blond hair pulled back in a messy bun, Schumer is not recounting the story for sympathy; she’s used to pissing people off. Still, the 42-year-old “Trainwreck” star doesn’t want to make people mad all the time. But it sure happens a lot — when she’s doing press, hosting the Oscars, sharing anything and everything on social media.

“I can’t help it. A lot of people can help it, but I’ve never been able to,” she says of her tendency to sound off, knowing it’ll trigger people. “But I also want to be helpful. Do you know what I mean?”

Victoria Stevens for Variety

In this instance, she means the current discourse on the Middle East feels one-sided to her, and she’d like to change that. “The focus is so razor-sharp on Jewish people but not on Hamas,” she says. “It’s very strange. So I’d recommend people read a book — ‘Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth’ by Noa Tishby. Or anything — Jewish people wrote everything down.”

None of this has stopped Schumer from getting jobs. She was prolific during the pandemic, creating two shows — Food Network’s “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook” and “Expecting Amy,” a three-part documentary about her nauseating pregnancy — and churning out new episodes of her comedy series “Inside Amy Schumer.” More recently, she debuted the second season of her Hulu comedy “Life & Beth,” taped a stand-up special and appeared on “Only Murders in the Building.”

And she’s got two Netflix movies in the can: Jerry Seinfeld’s “Unfrosted” and “Kinda Pregnant,” which marks her first starring film role since 2018’s “I Feel Pretty.”

“I’m striving for it to be one of the 10 funniest movies of my lifetime,” she says with unbridled confidence about the Adam Sandler-produced “Kinda Pregnant,” which she helped write. “I think it’s going to be as funny as ‘Trainwreck.’”

In that raunchy box office hit from 2015, Schumer developed a character not unlike your risqué hot mess of a best friend. But the actress, who in real life is more soft-spoken than her crass stage persona, has a serious side. With it, she wades into all kinds of hot-button topics, from a woman’s right to choose to gun control to sexism in Hollywood. It’s made her one of America’s most divisive celebrities.

Take the topic of the Israel-Hamas war. Since the Oct. 7 attacks, Schumer has been scrutinized for her social media posts, which some feel conflate Palestinians with Hamas. She was also criticized for sharing a video of Martin Luther King Jr. condemning antisemitism and saying that Israel has the right to exist. Bernice King, the activist’s daughter, responded to Schumer’s post by saying that while she and her father were against antisemitism, she was “certain he would call for Israel’s bombing of Palestinians to cease, for hostages to be released, and for us to work for true peace, which includes justice.”

Victoria Stevens for Variety

“It’s gotten to this place,” Schumer says, “where you can’t speak up for other Jews without people feeling like it’s a slight to the conditions in Gaza.”

She’s referring to the 32,000-plus Gazans killed since the Oct. 7 massacre, and the million on the verge of starvation.

In fact, she wants people to know that her public activism doesn’t mean that she supports the Israeli government. “I don’t agree with anything that Netanyahu is doing, and neither do the Israelis I know. Of course what’s going on in Gaza is sickening, horrifying and unthinkable.” She adds, “And, I don’t think it’s OK to hate anyone because they were born Jewish.”

She’s going on like this because moments earlier, a 20-something woman approached our table and addressed Schumer. “Thank you for everything you’re doing for Israel,” the Brooklynite said. “I follow you on social media. I used to live in Israel and … thank you. We support you.”

After the woman disappears, Schumer says, “That moment you just saw? Maybe 10 times a day that happens to me.”

Backlash to Schumer’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war is not the only reason she has become a lightning rod. Schumer, who was raised in Manhattan and moved to Long Island for high school after her parents’ divorce, was never shy about voicing her opinions. Her breakthrough appearances on Comedy Central Roasts of Charlie Sheen and Roseanne Barr were clear signs that she had no trouble keeping up with male comedians. From the start, though, she noticed they didn’t get as much hate directed at them as she did. “People get really mad at women,” Schumer says. “They save a special kind of vitriol for us. It’s not new. I think it’s because they fear women. That’s my guess.”

Schumer and Chris Fischer on “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook”
Courtesy of Food Network

That’s why, she says, she received death threats after doing a harmless bit while co-hosting the 2022 Academy Awards. During the ceremony, she jokingly brushed off “The Power of the Dog” nominee Kirsten Dunst as a “seat filler” — a term for the unknowns who are brought in to paper the audience. Some viewers thought she was serious and were enraged, unaware that Schumer had cleared the gag with Dunst and her husband, Jesse Plemons. Schumer says she just recently started running jokes by her comedic targets. (She certainly didn’t ask for consent, though, from Mike Tyson before referring to his face tattoo as a “tramp stamp” during 2011’s roast of Sheen.)

“The patriarchy is not a drill,” she says. “It’s so deeply ingrained in us. It’s painful and infuriating.”

Jennifer Lawrence, one of Schumer’s BFFs, tells me that it’s just part of being a woman in Hollywood. “At this point,” she says, “the expectation for scrutiny is so embedded in my DNA, I wouldn’t know how to operate differently.” But she thinks Schumer is better equipped than most to handle it. “Amy’s choice to use her voice to speak for justice puts her under immense fire,” Lawrence says. “I wouldn’t say she navigates it so much as she throws her middle fingers up and walks away from negative comments like a gas station fire in a Michael Bay movie.”

Talk of Schumer’s work often gets lost in the contentious conversation that swirls around her. But she’s happy to discuss her career. Her last two movies — 2017’s “Snatched,” with Goldie Hawn, and “I Feel Pretty,” co-starring Michelle Williams — were poorly received and have one thing in common: Schumer didn’t write them. “I’ve done projects that weren’t the vision I had for something,” she says. She doesn’t elaborate on which.

These days, she’s trying to exert more control over her work. That’s what inspired her to create 2022’s “Life & Beth.” She’s not playing herself (her character sells wine in bulk), but she directly borrows storylines from her life, bringing a sense of authenticity that feels worlds away from her portrayal in “Trainwreck” of a hard-drinking journalist who sleeps with the subject of her magazine profile. During Season 2, Beth gets married and has a baby while dealing with her husband’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Schumer’s real-life partner, chef Chris Fischer, received a similar diagnosis after they were married in 2018.

“This is a very different project for me, because I wear so many hats,” says Schumer, who also writes, directs and produces the show. “I’m learning more and getting better at it, and it makes me feel like I’m on the right path.”

Amy Schumer and Michael Cera in “Life & Beth”
Courtesy of Hulu

“Life & Beth” has been a good example of Schumer’s willingness to “go there.” In one episode, her character’s best friend, Jess (Sas Goldberg), a married woman with kids, gets an abortion after having an affair. Schumer, who directed the episode, wanted to address people’s often narrow view of who’s getting abortions in America. Because she knew the scene was going to feel deeply real, she hired a grief counselor and a nurse to comfort the cast and crew.

“It’s really trippy when you’re shooting something like that. Amy made me feel taken care of and, frankly, safe,” says Goldberg.

When she was promoting the most recent season, Schumer was bummed because most of the internet chatter wasn’t about the show, but instead about the size of her face as she appeared on late-night talk shows. (Schumer has Cushing’s syndrome, a hormonal disorder that causes a round, red visage.) That experience created some insecurity, but she quickly got over it. “The people who like me are not going to care if my face is puffy. Everyone has moments of self-doubt. I rose up and was like, ‘Fuck it, let’s go.’”

So Schumer’s now at a high point in her career: She’s happily turning down work she’s not excited by, she has the power to get shows and movies greenlit, and she’s fielding offers from top talent like Seinfeld. “This is a nice moment. I’m grateful. But the nature of this industry, feeling like you’re in a good place goes away fast.”

Case in point: Schumer has news that will disappoint millennials everywhere (and maybe even, because it’s Schumer, make them mad). Back in 2015, she and Lawrence said they were writing a screenplay — a comedy — in which they would play sisters. But it turns out that won’t be coming to the big screen after all.

“I don’t think it will ever happen,” Schumer says. “It was just, like, life kept going. My family was going through a rough time. I don’t want to say any more than that.”

She insists it has nothing to do with her friendship with Lawrence and is already thinking about future collaborations. “The way we’re hoping our careers go, we might do something with more grit and teeth.”

Lawrence confirms the bad news. “Now that we’re older, a sister comedy might not resonate as much,” she says. “But we have every intention of working together.”

For now, there’s “Life & Beth,” which Schumer wants to continue for as long as Hulu lets her. Still, it hasn’t yet been renewed for its third season.

“Life keeps going,” Schumer says. “I’m not worried about running out of stuff to say.”

Styling: Chloe Hartstein/The Wall Group; Makeup: April Townes; Hair: Clint Torres


From Variety US