Editor's note: This interview contains adult themes, including a discussion of sexual assault.
Amy Schumer is tired of answering a question journalists ask her all the time: Is this a good moment for women in Hollywood?
"It is an amazing moment for every woman," she tells NPR's David Greene, "if you have ovaries and you're in the 90210 ZIP code."
One reason Schumer hates that question: She's a New Yorker. The other? She thinks women generally have it tough all the time. And speaking up — about sex, gender stereotypes, crazy, unrealistic expectations for women and their appearance — is a signature of her comedy.
Schumer was already a comedy star the last time she spoke to NPR a few years ago. Then, last year, Trainwreck — the movie she wrote and starred in, somewhat inspired by her own life — was a hit. And she got really famous.
Now, she's written a memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (and, yes, she has one).
Like her comedy, the book is revealing. She shares excerpts from her personal diaries going back to her preteen years, complete with footnotes from present-day Amy (young Amy dreamed of living in New York and making money acting and bartending, all of which she's done).
Schumer says she always knew she was funny. "I only remember loving making people laugh. And making myself laugh."
On being a comedian and an introvert
I think standup is pretty good for an introvert, because you are performing, but, I mean, it's on your own terms. There are so many people in the room, but it's a one-sided conversation. And you actually don't have to interact, unless you want to. ... I don't want to pull the curtain back, but comedians do want laughs. That is the goal. Being introverted, it doesn't mean necessarily being shy or being afraid of public speaking, it just means that it's hard for me to interact with people for too long.
On writing about being sexually assaulted (Schumer says she had fallen asleep and woke to find her boyfriend having sex with her without her consent)
Talking about this in the book, it's a lot and it's risky, and then people say, "You didn't use the word rape." People ... they just want a pull quote. They want clickbait. And so just talking about being sexually assaulted in any way, you know, for women, it's never like, "Oh, I'm really sorry that happened to you." Which is really how it should be, and how you would think it would be. But it's more, we look for problems we have with how that woman has spoken about her sexual assault.
I call it "grape," because it's this gray area. Not of whether or not it was rape, but it's not the way we think of, like, a Law and Order episode. And when it's not as black and white for everyone, it makes it harder for them to digest. So it's this very personal thing to me, that I decided to share. And I'm only looking for people to feel less alone reading it, and maybe for a guy to read it and think, "Oh." Maybe that'll stop somebody in their tracks, I don't know.
On whether the world has changed for female comedians in the past few years
Not enough. Things are being talked about more than they used to be, things like the wage gap. ... I do talk about sex because I do think that a lot of things translate from the bedroom into how you live your everyday life. Like, as a woman, I think that a lot of women are in relationships where they're with someone who doesn't make sure that they orgasm. And the woman doesn't make it important ... and I think that translates to the office, where you should demand to be spoken to and treated equally to men. I feel like there won't be enough change ... until there's no wage gap, and until someone says "You're my favorite comic," not "You're my favorite female comic."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The surprise TV hit of the summer is a show that looks like it could have been made 30 years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV THEME, "STRANGER THINGS")
SHAPIRO: "Stranger Things" is a suspense horror show on Netflix. It's set in 1983 about a small town where a boy goes missing one night.
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DAVID HARBOUR: (As Jim Hopper) Ninety-nine out of 100 times - kid goes missing, the kid is with a parent or a relative.
WINONA RYDER: (As Joyce Byers) Well, what about the other time?
SHAPIRO: There's a mysterious government lab, a monster and boys riding around town on bikes. If you're hearing echoes of "E.T." or "Goonies" or any number of other beloved '80s classics, that's not a coincidence. When the show's creators Matt and Ross Duffer pitched "Stranger Things," they didn't use a storyboard or a written synopsis. They told me they assembled a trailer made of snippets from '80s films.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think it was around 30 different movies. A lot of them were from the '80s, but not entirely from the '80s - movies that we cut together to kind of tell the story of the show. But it was cool because then we - you know, we had, you know, a lot of shots from "E.T.," but we scored it with, like, John Carpenter synth music.
So I think it helped us figure out what the show was going to feel like, and I think it helped Netflix, you know, and other companies and producers understand what we wanted to do with the show.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: To us actually this stuff - it didn't feel like this hodgepodge. It all felt like a whole when we all put it together and we put the music over it. And I think the reason is that all those, you know, the Stephen King stuff, the John Carpenter stuff, the Spielberg stuff is all just about these small towns and these very ordinary people.
SHAPIRO: Matt and Ross Duffer are twins. They were born in 1984, a year after the show was set. "Stranger Things" is the first show they've ever created. And because they didn't know any better, they broke a lot of rules, like casting children as the leads. In the first episode, four boys played Dungeons & Dragons in their parent's basement, a scene not all that different from the Duffer's own childhood.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) A shadow grows on the wall behind you, swallowing you in darkness. It is almost here.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What is it?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) What if it's the Demogorgon?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Oh, jeez, if it's the Demogorgon.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It's not the Demogorgon. An army of trouble that's charged into the chamber.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Troglodytes?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Told you.
SHAPIRO: Pretty soon a new girl appears, the weirdo in the woods. She's got a shaved head and uncanny powers. Also, she barely talks. The Duffer brothers cast an eerily intense 11-year-old to play her named Millie Bobby Brown.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What was interesting is by the end of this shoot, this 11-year-old girl - I'm going up to her and going well, how do you feel, what do you want to be doing? - you know, like I was treating her like she's, like, a 41-year-old Shakespearean actor.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Well, and also because she's very - which is something else that most child actors don't have - she's very aware of the camera.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But at the same time, she's like a little...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: She's still 11.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: She's still 11.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: One day she showed up on set and she's just covered head to toe in glitter. And she's like I don't know where this glitter came from.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And it's like I'm not having this problem with any of my adult actors covered in glitter.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I mean, that - I mean, yeah that was a real deal. It was like 40 - that was a 45-minute delay. That's a - that was...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's very - I don't know if you've tried to get glitter off someone, but it's very difficult. And yeah, so we fell behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: So she's still a child.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) It really delayed your production schedule because she came in covered in glitter?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, 45 minutes in the morning, which is a - and you actually have a limited number of time with kids. So as funny as it is to talk about now, it was not funny.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No. We're like why are you sparkling? You're, like, in "Twilight."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, you're not a vampire in "Twilight." You know, what's going on?
SHAPIRO: The obsession with this show is more intense than I think anything I have ever seen. What was your, oh, my God, what have we done here moment?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You know, the first thing that really messed me up was the - there was the - Stephen King tweeted about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And then I was like what? I mean, that to me was - because that didn't - no one else had tweeted really at that point. And, like - and he - you know, he obviously is one of our idols and was such a big inspiration for us and an influence on this show, and that sort of messed me up. I - you just don't think about it reaching those people. Yeah, it was insane. It was insane. I mean...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I mean, even starting Friday morning, you know, because the thing is released, you know, at midnight.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: People had finished the show.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: So many people had already finished and were tweeting all these great things about it. And then it just kept - through word of mouth, it just started to grow more and more and more. And so even on Twitter what starts as a, you know, a few tweets turns into more and more and more and it just kept growing. And then - you know, and then you start seeing all this fan art online.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The fan art.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And amazing fan art and that's when we started realizing that - you know, and all this love for Barb, of course. And that's when we...
SHAPIRO: Oh, I want to talk about Barb. Here's the thing about Barb, she's a very minor character on the show. A nerdy teenager, the pretty girl's best friend on the sidelines.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")
SHANNON PURSER: (As Barbara Holland) Nance, seriously he invited you to his house. His parents aren't home. Come on, you are not this stupid.
NATALIA DYER: (As Nancy Wheeler) Tommy...
SHAPIRO: And yet when I asked on Twitter what people wanted to know about "Stranger Things," I practically drowned in a tsunami of fervor for Barb.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: For us, it's easy to relate to her because high school was a - it was terrible for us. And I know it was for a lot of people, right? You either love it or hate it, and we hated it. And so I think there's a lot of people that feel like they were on the outside looking in, like Barb.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think the other reason people really connect to her is because no one casts anyone like her. I mean, she looks like someone you might really go to school with.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, our teens have, like, acne and it's like - it was, like, great. I'm glad we didn't - to me it's important to try to keep that and make it feel as real as possible.
SHAPIRO: To some people, the show apparently felt a little too real. In "Stranger Things," a Department of Energy facility gets up to some nefarious activities. And a couple of weeks ago, the real Department of Energy decided it needed to set the record straight.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I love that the Department of Energy issued a public statement that they're not evil. That was like - that's my favorite thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Out of thousands of scientists, none of them are evil. But it's, like...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I bet there's one evil one.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There's one - (laughter) someone in there is evil. In a thousand people, someone's not a good guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Someone's up to no good.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah.
SHAPIRO: That is actually one of the bullet points in the DOE's slightly tongue-in-cheek blog post, quote, "national laboratory scientists aren't evil." Other headlines from the blog post include, the Energy Department doesn't mess with monsters and the Energy Department doesn't explore parallel universes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And also I love how they pretend like they know how an interdimensional monster works.
SHAPIRO: In the world of "Stranger Things," Matt and Ross Duffer actually do know how an interdimensional monster works - in excruciating detail. The twins wrote a 30-page document describing what is actually going on in this world, with answers that the eight-episode show never fully reveals.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We want to try to create a mythology that has specific roles and a back story, and at least to us we understand. And then again, even if we're not doling all that out to the audience in this, you know, first season or perhaps in other seasons, we still want to know that we have this solid base, and that we know the answers to it.
So it doesn't - I don't want - I want the audience to feel like they're safe, that we have these answers. And if we're not giving it to them, we're not giving it to them for a reason.
SHAPIRO: Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, thank you so much for your time, and congratulations on the huge success of "Stranger Things."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, thank you so much, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This was so fun. Thanks for talking.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV THEME, "STRANGER THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.