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How Amy Schumer went from unknown stand-up comic to inescapable movie star

Amy Schumer in a scene from “Inside Amy Schumer.” (Matt Peyton/Comedy Central)

Amy Schumer is everywhere.

She’s on Comedy Central starring in her hit sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer.” She appears on “The Bachelorette” to mock the contestants. She’s on the cover of magazines. She’s all over your Twitter and Facebook feed when her comedy skits go viral. And this month she makes her feature film debut in the Judd Apatow-directed “Trainwreck,” which she also wrote.

Even for Hollywood, where stars can instantly materialize, this is an awfully quick rise for Schumer, the raunchy 34-year-old comedian largely unknown outside of in-the-know comedy circles just a few years ago. How did it happen? We chart the Amy Schumer path, which took her from a unknown stand-up comic to movie star in just 10 steps.

[Why Amy Schumer is officially the new John Oliver]

1. Channel childhood trauma into comedy.

Schumer, who grew up in Manhattan and Long Island with an older brother and younger sister, often talks about her troubled early years, especially after her parents divorced when she was around 12. “The perfect age to leave some damage,” she called it on the “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast. She elaborated: Her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his furniture company went bankrupt. Her mother dated multiple other men. Schumer went through a serial shoplifting phase.

“I’m the middle child, so I kept trying to keep everyone in a good place. Like, let’s laugh about this,” Schumer told GQ. “Let’s laugh about how sad it is that the bank is taking dad’s car away.”

2. Get onstage.

Schumer majored in theater at Towson University near Baltimore; she told the Baltimore Sun that she chose the school because of a campus visit that included a beer pong tournament and a hook-up. “If you make out with a boy and you win at beer pong, I’m like, ‘I’m going to school here. I belong here,’ ” she said.

After graduating in 2003, she moved back to New York City, where she continued to study acting and waited tables to pay the bills. About a year later, she got up the nerve to test her comedic skills. On her 23rd birthday, she made her stand-up debut at the Gotham Comedy Club in front of a crowd that included friends and her mom.

[7 reasons Amy Schumer would be the best ‘Bachelorette’ ever]

3. Hone your act.

Schumer watched the tape of that first performance and was mortified. “It was kind of like there was nowhere to go but up,” she later said. She told Maron she would get a tape of her performances, head to Best Buy and watch herself on the display TV in the store, sitting on the floor and taking notes. She constantly did gigs at New York clubs, starting with “bringers” (where you have to bring audience members for a chance to go on stage) but worked her way to bigger venues and made enough money to devote herself to comedy full time.

4. Choose a memorable persona.

As NPR’s “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross once said, Schumer’s stand-up persona is “an attractive, middle-class, educated single woman who’s a little slutty.” A major theme in Schumer’s act is sex – talking about sex, analyzing sex, the weirdness of sex. Much of it is vulgar. (Sample joke: “I finally just slept with my high school crush! But I swear, now he like, expects me to go to his graduation. Like I know where I’m going to be in three years … kids, right?!”)

(Warning: Video contains explicit language.)

Schumer agreed with Gross’s characterization. “I think I have been promiscuous, and I think a lot of women have,” she told the host, adding that no one would blink if a man did the same routine. “And I like to talk about it as a way to make those women feel less alone and less strange and dirty about their own actions.”

Frankly, Schumer said, her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, wholesome appearance has unwittingly become a part of her act, given that it throws off fans – at least on their first exposure. “They would see a picture of me and be like, ‘Aw, she looks sweet, she kind of looks Amish. . . . We should bring the family. I bet she talks about shopping!”

5. Get on national TV.

When asked about Schumer, comedian Bill Bellamy echoes this sentiment. “Her sense of humor is so knock-you-off-your feet, because you don’t expect her to say the stuff that she says,” he explained. “Because she doesn’t look like she’s going to say it.”

In 2007, Bellamy was the host when Schumer appeared on Season 5 of the NBC reality show “Last Comic Standing,” where a group of comedians competed for $250,000 and a TV special. Schumer landed in fourth place, but the national exposure helped. After the show, which was filmed in Los Angeles, Schumer took her act on the road but still got on stage as much as possible in New York City, eventually moving up from opener to headliner.

6. Catch the eye of Comedy Central.

Working the New York comedy scene paid off: Right before she left for “Last Comic Standing,” Schumer was asked to be on an episode of Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” series, which featured various comedians at the venue. It kick-started a relationship with Comedy Central that would prove very lucrative down the line.

It was a good fit: “[Amy’s comedy] was a little edgy for broadcast TV, but it’s perfect for Comedy Central,” Bellamy remembers. “She was kind of edgy on NBC: At NBC, you’re basically at your mom’s house at Thanksgiving . . . like, watch your mouth!”

7. Be a roaster.

Schumer applied to be a writer for the Charlie Sheen roast special in 2011. She didn’t get the gig, but she landed something better: a spot on the dais as a roaster.

Schumer certainly received attention after the broadcast, particularly for her dig at Mike Tyson (“You have a slutty lower-back tattoo on your face.”) and drawing controversy for her vicious barb aimed at “Jackass” star Steve-O: “I truly am sorry, no joke, for the loss of your friend Ryan Dunn,” she said of his co-star recently killed in a car accident. “I know you must have been thinking, ‘It could have been me’ and I know we were all thinking, ‘Why wasn’t it?’

However, it was host Seth MacFarlane’s line as he introduced Schumer that, years later, is unintentionally hilarious in its foreshadowing. “What can I say about Amy Schumer? I actually mean that sincerely,” MacFarlane said. “I’ve never heard of this woman.”

(Warning: Video contains explicit language.)

8. Land a comedy pilot.

Those who didn’t know Schumer were about to get acquainted: Following Sheen’s roast, Comedy Central was so thrilled with her performance they offered her a pilot deal. In between work on her show, Schumer filmed another special for the network in 2012 (“Mostly Sex Stuff,” which NPR reported was the second-highest-rated Comedy Central special in five years) and roasted Roseanne Barr.

“Inside Amy Schumer” debuted in April 2013 and critics were impressed. The premiere featured a line from Schumer’s stand-up: “I’m a little sluttier than the average bear,” she said, segueing into a bit about how awkward it is to ask for the morning-after pill.

“Schumer’s sharpness comes through best in such moments,” wrote Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever. “When she’s in stand-up mode and taking significant risks beyond the genre’s still-customary boundary lines of gender, with such Sarah Silverman-esque observations as ‘We’ve all been a little bit raped. Just a scoch?'”

9. Go viral.

The show did well for Comedy Central, drawing around a million people an episode. But more importantly, in the third season this spring, “Inside Amy Schumer” blew up on the Internet. Every week, the Web would be abuzz with Schumer’s latest sketch.

Her most popular sketches all had a feminist angle: A “Friday Night Lights” take-off where a new high school coach moves to town and tells his football players there will be, much to their dismay, “no raping”; a boy-band parody song called “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup” where the guys are horrified to discover what a woman looks like without foundation; a “12 Angry Men” parody where a jury debates whether Schumer is hot enough to be on television. The sketches were scathing enough to draw raves from her fans and criticism from detractors. But everyone was talking about her.

10. Get in Judd Apatow’s clique.

A few years ago, the “Bridesmaids” and “Knocked Up” director heard an interview Schumer did on Howard Stern’s radio show. According to Entertainment Weekly, he found her so funny that he immediately asked to meet her. After their meeting, Apatow encouraged her to write a script.

That eventually became the highly anticipated, Apatow-directed “Trainwreck,” starring Schumer as a 30-something commitment-phobic journalist who panics when she falls for a sports doctor (Bill Hader) she’s profiling for an article.

As “Trainwreck” approaches, Schumer is everywhere: She hosted the MTV Movie Awards. She made a guest-appearance on ABC’s “The Bachelorette” and skewered the lamest contestant: “J.J. is a sweetheart. He’s just missing charisma, humility and a sense of humor.”

Bellamy sums up what has made Schumer so appealing: “We need women in comedy with a strong point of view,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of women that are having Amy Schumer moments.”


Comedian Amy Schumer is being criticized for telling jokes that some say are racist. Here are some examples. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

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