Amy Schumer on her '12 Angry Men' spoof: 'I'm more proud of it than anything I've ever done'
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.