Meet The Woman Who Convinced Amy Schumer Not to Do That "Stupid Sex Talk Show"
By Patricia Garcia
When Amy Schumer got up onstage last month to accept the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, she thanked many people: the suits who represent her, the girl who gave her that smoky eye, and, most important, the one woman who made Inside Amy Schumer what it is today.
"I want to thank Jessi Klein, the head writer, who had a baby, like, 10 seconds ago," she said. “I almost made a stupid sex talk show that nobody wanted, and she got drunk and told me that I had to follow my dreams and make my dream show."
Over lunch last week in Brooklyn, Klein clarified: "I think what I said to her was, this could be your Louie." She first met Schumer in the stand-up scene, where they'd run into each other here and there, and they became friendly acquaintances. After Schumer secured her Comedy Central show, she called Klein and asked her to work on the series. Initially, the network had pitched a talk show starring Schumer, but Klein, who had once worked in Comedy Central's development department, decided there was a better route.
"When we started talking, she told me that she was actually trained as an actress," Klein said. "So I said, 'Well, why don't we do something where you can act?'" The result was more along the lines of a sketch series, although neither of them wanted it to feel ridiculous: "Even the sillier things that are more absurd, they still kind of come out of trying to write something that feels grounded in reality."
Since its debut, "Inside Amy Schumer" has been lauded as one of the funniest shows on TV, as well as a feminist triumph.
"I don’t necessarily think I'm writing feminist things. I just write what I'm thinking," Klein said. "It's based on my experience, and my experience is that I’m an observant woman in the world and much of my day is bullshit."
That absurdity of being a woman is taken to the extreme in many of the show’s sketches: It’s front and center in "Sex Prep," which sees Schumer hurriedly getting ready for a date and having to squeeze in a facial, wax, manicure, and other beauty rituals all in one afternoon. It's mocked in a musical way in "Girl, You Don't Need Makeup," which features a boy band singing to Schumer to go natural, before quickly changing their minds after seeing her without foundation and mascara. And in one of the show’s most celebrated clips, "Last Fuckable Day," Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus all poke fun at sexism.
That viral hit had been sitting on Klein's computer for two years. "We were just having the hardest time casting it," she said. Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton were initially considered for the main role, but scheduling issues kept putting the sketch on the back burner. "There was a point where I thought this wasn't going to happen," Klein said. "Which was a shame, because I just wanted people to say 'last fuckable day' over and over again." It wasn't until Klein met Nicole Holofcener, who ended up directing the sketch, that they eventually landed Louis-Dreyfus and the rest of the cast came together. "Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a goddess on earth. I'm obsessed with her," Klein said. "Watching her, all of them — they're all so funny. It was a long labor of love."
Another highlight of the season for Klein was shooting the critically acclaimed parody of 12 Angry Men, in which a jury made up of Paul Giamatti, Jeff Goldblum, John Hawkes, and other actors furiously debate whether or not Schumer is attractive enough to be on a TV show. Before filming the sketch, Klein had doubts as to whether or not viewers would even remember the original Henry Fonda–starring movie.
"I remember this being a huge thing that I watched when I was in junior high, but I'm a dinosaur," she said. They filmed the 20-minute black-and-white episode back in February in an old porn studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn: "At some point in the middle of shooting this in the middle of a storm, in the middle of a porn studio, we were like, this is kind of special and awesome." After it aired, Klein was not only proud that it received an overwhelmingly positive response, but that most people knew that it was based on the 1957 original. "It was heartening for our show and also for life in general that people still watch a fairly incredible movie about justice and prejudice," she said, laughing.
This "batshit year," as Klein calls it, has been hugely successful for Inside Amy Schumer and, of course, the show's star. "We're all really proud of her and kind of in awe that this is happening, but not surprised," Klein said of her friend and collaborator. "I don't know anyone who works as hard as she does." You could say the same thing about Klein, who has worked in television for almost two decades. She was always interested in comedy (she even admits that she had "a weird little girl obsession" with Groucho Marx). Out of college, she landed a job in the development and talent side of Comedy Central, which led her to frequent comedy clubs at night. “I would either see someone amazing, where I would say, 'Oh, my God, I want to do that.' Or it would be someone terrible, where I would I think I could be at least that bad,” Klein recalled. She finally worked up the courage to get up onstage, and after that she decided she wanted to be on the creative side of the comedy business.
A born-and-raised New Yorker, Klein briefly moved to L.A. to work in several writers' rooms. "My first writing job was for a show on Comedy Central called The Showbiz Show With David Spade, where I wrote a lot of jokes about Britney Spears's vagina," she said. "It was kind of a perfect first job because the stakes couldn't have been lower." After a few years there, she had a moment when she realized she had to return to New York. "[At my gym in L.A.] there were so many women that were upsetting to look at, but one in particular, who was that non-age, where you’re either like 20 or 80," said Klein. "One day, she was there, and I also overheard a snippet of two guys discussing karma in a way that was just unacceptable, and I decided I had to quit my job and move back to New York."
Even after she moved back and began working with Schumer, Klein admitted it took a little time for the pair to really hit their stride. "I think with most shows, you kind of zero in on the tone over time," she explained. "Though there are some shows that are perfectly what they are from day one, like Friday Night Lights. I’m so bummed I didn’t see Kyle Chandler at the Emmys."
The Emmys was a particularly absurd moment for Klein because, as Schumer mentioned, she had just had a baby and was still breastfeeding. Along with her Andrew Gn dress and heels, Klein had to bring a breast pump to the awards ceremony as well. "I really didn't want to have to walk the red carpet with my pump," she said. "I happened to know one of the producers of the Emmys, and I asked her if a PA could come take the pump from me when I arrived. I felt like such a diva."
Klein will share several stories about the hilarious indignities of motherhood in her first book, a series of autobiographical essays, which is slated to come out next year. As she begins writing the fourth season of Inside Amy Schumer, she’s still unsure whether her experiences with pregnancy and motherhood will also make it on the show. But she certainly has plenty of material to work with: After their big Emmy win, the cast and crew continued on to several after-parties. Klein, however, had to take care of business in a backstage dressing room: "I've just won an Emmy, and I'm alone in a room with my tits out, just quietly sitting by myself."
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