In 2018, Amy Schumer was pregnant and living in a Catskills farmhouse once owned by her family, then lost to bankruptcy when her father’s furniture company failed, then repurchased by Schumer six years ago. “It’s s—, but it’s ours, and Chris and I were restoring it,” says the Emmy-winning comedian, referring to her husband, chef Chris Fischer. “Actually, he was restoring it. I was just sitting there.”
Not surprisingly, poring over old journals in her childhood haunt triggered memories. “Suddenly, I wanted to tell [Chris and my] origin story, about falling in love, and to talk about the life lessons I learned” as a teenager.
Eighteen drafts later, Schumer was in Los Angeles pitching “Life & Beth,” a funny-sad, quasi-autobiographical series about Beth (Schumer), a depressed, Manhattan-based wine rep who moves back to her hometown of Long Island. There, she reconnects with old friends, considers her past (shown in flashback with Violet Young as an achingly self-conscious Beth), and develops a friendship with a blunt-talking groundskeeper John (Michael Cera) that slowly blossoms into romance.
Although Schumer has engineered her own projects before, with “Beth” she produces, writes, directs and, as its star, turns in a performance that taps into her natural aura of barely submerged discomfort. She also built an ensemble filled with comedy greats including Dave Attell, Gary Gulman and Yamaneika Saunders. “I was just setting myself up for success,” says Schumer adding, “When people of acclaim say yes, I’m like, ‘That’s really cool,’ because it means I don’t annoy them enough for them to say no.”
How do you prep for wearing every hat?
Judd Apatow walking me through his process was insanely helpful, and so was having a sketch show for four years. I learned that you just have to be really efficient. And when I was pregnant, I studied at NYU in their graduate directing program. I had all these tools available to me, and I did my best understanding that hopefully I’ll get better.
Michael Cera rose to fame playing slouching introverts. What made you think of him as Beth’s love interest?”
I saw him on an episode of Amy Sedaris’ show, and I just thought, “He’s an adult now. He’s married. He’s a total viable romantic lead.” And I thought that he could play someone on the spectrum really well.
Part of Cera’s research involved hanging out with your husband. He’s said he related to Chris’ competitive nature. Thoughts?
I think that’s inherent in a lot of men. I mean, I’m definitely competitive. But Chris and Michael, they just love a competition. And it doesn’t have to be an actual tennis match. It can be the dumbest thing. Like, “OK, the game is whoever can throw this and hit that wall.” And I can see that my son is already like that. I gave birth to a new competitor for Chris.
Your husband has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Was he OK with John, the character based on him, exhibiting some of those traits?
Chris and I are very down about sharing our lives. I definitely have people in my life who aren’t down. And I’ve learned to respect the consequences.
Let’s talk about “Abbott Elementary”s breakout star, Janelle James, who has a guest role on “Beth” as a sales clerk.
She’s so good. I’m not actually annoyed by [her performance]. But she’s good enough to be annoying. I know her from stand-up. I just think there’s no one funnier than her. She might be the best comic working today.
Of “Beth,” L.A. Times TV critic Robert Lloyd wrote: “There is great authority in the series’ discussions of produce.” Is that all Chris?
[Being authentic] is important to me. It always throws me off when, say, someone’s supposed to be a hairdresser and it’s clear they’ve never brushed someone else’s hair before. We [rented] the farm we were shooting at, so Chris was very much on hand. It was easy for me to be like, “Can you just come over here? What knife would you be using if we were going to be harvesting this?” I wanted everything to be on the money.
Wait. In one scene, John says, “Cover crops are b—.” Explain.
[Pause] That’s so funny. That line really bothered him. I fought to keep it just because I liked how it sounded. He’ll be happy to know that somebody checked me on that. [Laughs]
Your real-life mother read every script. Did she have any objections to your depiction of her as a deeply problematic parent?
When I wrote my book, [“The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo,”] the things she took umbrage to were very specific. It’d be like, “Make sure that [people know] you went to Hebrew school on Sundays.” Things that made you think, [incredulously] “That’s what you have a problem with? What about [me writing about] your affair with my best friend’s dad?” Because of having already gone through that process, I wasn’t surprised. But she was so great about it. I was like, “I’m happy to take out anything you’re not OK with.” But she was like, “No, tell your story.”