We know that “Inside Amy Schumer” can do great parodies, and it can do biting social commentary, and that it has a gift for hiding the latter inside the former. That's been apparent throughout its run, and early in the Comedy Central sketch show's great third season, which has featured a dead-on “Friday Night Lights” parody that was really about rape culture, as well as last week's “One Direction” spoof about women who don't need makeup.
Tonight's remarkable episode (it airs, like usual, at 10:30) takes both sides of the show to an extreme. Titled “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” it's an episode-length parody of Reginald Rose's classic play “12 Angry Men” (and particularly of the staging of the 1957 Sidney Lumet film version) in which the jurors – played by Jeff Goldblum (the foreman), John Hawkes (the crusading hold-out) and Paul Giamatti and Nick DiPaolo (the two bullying loud mouths), among others – are arguing over whether Schumer is attractive enough to have her own television show.
This is territory the series has covered before – notably in last season's focus group sketch – but this one digs deeper in multiple ways, and not just because Schumer and her co-director Ryan McFaul were determined to recreate as much of the real “12 Angry Men” as they could. The arguments among the jurors cover a lot of territory, not just about Schumer and her show, but women in pop culture – and, really, beauty standards in general – there are moments from the '50s versions that are echoed here both for comedy (the switchblade Henry Fonda produced becomes something very different in Hawkes' hands) and even pathos (DiPaolo recreating Lee J. Cobb's famous breakdown at the end of the movie).
I spoke with Schumer and McFaul about it at different times last week, and I'll publish the McFaul half of the conversation tonight after the episode airs. For now, here's Schumer on why she decided to do this, what kind of hand-holding Comedy Central needed to let her do an episode based on 60-year-old material, in which she barely appears – even if the guest stars include Giamatti, Goldblum, Hawkes, Dennis Quaid (as the judge), Vincent Kartheiser and a bunch of other familiar faces – and why she keeps revisiting this particular theme in her comedy.
Where did the idea come from to do a full “12 Angry Men” parody?
Amy Schumer: I've always loved the movie. I had the idea before we even started writing this past season. Where did it come from? I don't know. The idea of women's images being judged and deliberated on is not a new theme for the show, but it's not something that's changed much. It's an ever-constant theme for every female artist that I know. Just that word, “deliberation,” what's the ultimate example of that? And it's a jury, and “12 Angry Men” is the quintessential jury movie. So I thought, “What if I rewrote it, and we used incredible actors, and did a shot-for-shot recreation?” The whole idea just came to me, and I was really excited, and one of the show's producers and actors, Kevin Kane, said, “You should make it a whole episode.” And I felt very inspired and very excited and got to writing right away.
You've got an impressive cast here. Some were on the show before, like Paul Giamatti as God last season. How did you figure out who you wanted to be your jurors in this?
Amy Schumer: I got to hang out with John Hawkes a little bit this past summer, and always thought he was an incredible actor, and funny, and he gets it, and so thought of John and thought of Paul. Jeff Goldblum and I wound up doing this project together, and I told him what we were up to, and he said, “Oh, that sounds really interesting.” I thought he was just “yes”ing me in the moment, but he showed up. And then Vincent Kartheiser, we just asked and he said yes. And then other New York actors who are my favorite. I wrote the role for Kumail (Nanjiani), I wrote the role for Nick DiPaolo, who's a hilarious New York comedian. He's been on “Louie,” but he hasn't been able to show his chops, and I knew he could play this part. He looks like Lee Cobb from the original, and Kevin Kane is one of the strongest actors I know. And we just brought in a bunch of other people who had been on the show before. To rewrite it, I wrote out the characters in nicknames. It's over 12 roles, so to keep them clear in my mind, I wrote them out.
I'm just going to tell you a bunch of stuff. Is that easier?
That's fine. Do it.
Amy Schumer: Instead of numbers, I would write “Old Man.” Or Juror #2, who's Chris Gethard, reminded me of Piglet, so I wrote “Piglet.” “Voice of Reason” was John Hawkes' role. I just made myself write it. The first draft was 36 pages, and I knew we had to get it down. It was hard: it's a lot of insults about me, and I had to do it in new and creative ways that I felt I hadn't before. It took me two weeks to do my first draft, and then I gave it to Jessi Klein for a pass. I said, “I need you to take this. It was starting to get me down.” It's not just about me, it's about the industry and the state of the world. Even though the characters are all exaggerated, they're not that much. It's one guy who projects a girl who rejected him onto you, and one guy who is into you but feels like it's not okay, and that he should like something else. It's all these things that actually exist. At times, it was really hard to write, but it felt worth it to push on. Everybody was encouraging me to do this, and I knew I wanted to direct it. I thought also, that would be a good way to sell it to Comedy Central, that I wouldn't be on screen, but I would be ever-present behind the camera. Dennis Quaid came on board last, we shot his scenes after we had shot all the scenes, and he was just great. I'm really excited that he's the person who opens and closes it. I directed it with Ryan McFaul, who's our normal director. I would say usually, he was in charge of more technical things, and I was more about the performance, but I did have a lot of technical information for this scene, just because I played such close attention. I really liked directing with him. I hope he wants to do that again. It was a really good time.
You talked about having to sell it to Comedy Central, and there's a joke at one point in the episode about doing how much of the audience will know the source material. Did they require selling, or is your relationship at this point good enough that if you come in excited, they're going to want to do it?
Amy Schumer: They were worried that I wasn't going to be in it enough. They may have said okay right away, but it was a little, “Ah, we're a little worried about this.” We sort of sold a little bit of a bill of goods at first that I would be in it more, and we would do man on the street segments throughout. And then we slowly scaled it back, so there was no stand-up, no man on the street, until my presence in the episode became very minimal.
As you say, this theme isn't new to the show. Last year, you did the focus group. But this is a really extended version of it. What do you feel you can do in both this format and at this length that you couldn't do in previous sketches where you took on this theme before?
Amy Schumer: Really delve into what the reasoning is behind this. The debates that I've overheard with both men and women is that there is a rage for a woman taking her clothes off on TV. There is this strange anger towards women who are comfortable with themselves, who some people feel like they shouldn't be. The message that's sent to us through the media and Hollywood and magazines is, “If you're not one of the most beautiful women in the world, you should hide yourself.” That's a message that's being driven through so many different avenues that both men and women start to listen and think, “She has no right to do this.” And also I find that men have this quality that women don't have where, if I like a guy and I think he's hot, that's it. I don't ask my friends if he's hot. You know? I have very different taste in men than my friends and my family. There's never an overlap. And they've never checked with me to see if he's hot. But with men, there is this constant checking in. And you might not think a girl's that pretty and if your friend thinks she's hot, that might change how you see her. And I just found that kind of thinking very strange. So to really dive in and take a closer look at what the reasoning is. And also point out the behavior in people. I've been lucky. Honestly, there was one article about me when the “Trainwreck” preview came out. I didn't read it, but I know it was mean and it was about me physically, saying I wasn't pretty enough, or whatever. But other than that, I've been lucky that I haven't gotten that – those articles haven't been written about me. I haven't experienced that strange, selective rage that other women I know have. Nonetheless, it really bothers me, and it's a behavior I want to point out in people. Just examine it for them. Hopefully, people recognize behavior in themselves. And I also think it's funny.
Well, you're trying to discuss a serious issue here, and you're also doing it in the context of this really hardcore '50s drama, and Nick DiPaolo has the Lee J. Cobb breakdown. How do you thread the needle between making the point and making it be a funny episode that's on Comedy Central?
Amy Schumer: We worked really hard on making sure it was funny. And it is a parody. When he has that breakdown, I don't know how it's going to affect people. The people I've shown it to have laughed. And I don't know. The people I trust are like, “Yeah, this is funny.” We punched it up and just worked it out and worked it out. We really paid close attention and did the best we could with the scene, and I really hope people feel like we've earned it. I feel like we did.
You talked before about being alone in a room and having to write all these insults about yourself, and that's not the first time you've had to do this. What is the creative process of that like? Where are the ideas coming from, and do you find yourself saying, “Is that too mean? Do I want that said about me on my show?”
Amy Schumer: I'm not worried about, “Do I want that said about me?” But I am aware that it is to me. Writing it was hard, just because it was a tonnage issue. I'm just sitting there for hours and hours, and I'm on the road as a comedian, so I'm on trains and planes and in a car, and I'm just sitting there and coming up with new ways to trash myself. Once we were shooting it, and once we were in the room, it was not hurtful at all. It's very liberating, actually. It's also because I am confident, I am someone who feels comfortable in my own skin, and I do feel sexy. But I also know that opinion is out there about me. I honestly, eventually, didn't take it personally at all. But when I was first sitting there writing it, to write 30-plus pages, where on every page, it's everything that could be wrong with you, and all these different reasons why people would say, “You shouldn't be someone who's looked at,” yeah, it was a bummer. But then it became really fun and liberating, and I'm so proud of what we turned it into. And I think it was good for me.
It was really hard work, and I think that it's special. I'm more proud of it than anything I've ever done.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com