This interview was originally broadcast on June 25, 2013.
One of Amy Schumer's comedy routines begins with the declaration, "I'm a little sluttier than the average bear. I really am."
Degrees of sluttiness may be hard to define, but Schumer does talk frankly about many subjects — including sex — that can be uncomfortable for people, both in her stand-up act and on her Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer, which is now in its second season.
The show, a mix of stand-up, sketch comedy and interviews, has tackled everything from the oblivious racism of the elderly to the hang-ups women sometimes have about giving and receiving compliments from each other.
And then, yes, there's the sex stuff. (Not for nothing was Schumer's hit 2012 Comedy Central special titled, simply, Mostly Sex Stuff.)
Sex as a subject for Schumer wasn't a conscious decision. She says she was always a sexual girl, but that as she grew older and came into her own, sex was simply the thing she was thinking about and talking about with her girlfriends. She questions how attractive she is and "how slutty" she is — and it's something she goes back and forth on. These thoughts, questions and conversations spilled naturally into her comedy.
"I didn't grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "So I thought, 'OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the women's perspective in a less apologetic, honest way.' "
In joking so boldly about sex, Schumer is something of a risk taker in comedy, where the subject is still considered man territory.
"I'll get offstage, and the club owner will be like, 'That was a lot about sex,' " she says. "And they would never say that to a male comic."
On her mother
"I have a joke where I say, 'Oh, I'm going to bring [my mom] to a soccer game because I want to show her what boundaries look like.' I just grew up in a house where things weren't that taboo to talk about. And my mom, when she was teaching us to say our different body parts, taught me how to say 'vagina' the same that she taught me how to say 'ear.' I think she wanted us to be able to tell her if we were ever molested without being embarrassed — and so there wasn't this sense of shame."
On uncomfortable sexual experiences
"Most women I know that I'm close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn't completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it's not all black and white. There's a gray area of rape, and I call it 'grape.' It's the guy you went home with in college, and you said, 'No,' and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. ...
"There's just so many different things that can happen, so it's not always this, 'Well, you're going to jail and that's it.' There's other stuff where it's like, 'Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to ... press charges or take any action against this person.' But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like 'grape.' "
On the oblivious racism of older relatives
"My great-grandma, who was a bootlegger in old New York, Estelle Schumer, she passed away a couple years ago, but her liquor store is still up on 54th Street. ... She was 94 when she died, or 95, and she would ... just say a word. ... She would call black people 'colored,' and it would just make all the blood rush to my head like, 'No, that's not OK.'
"But then you think, 'Well, she's so old,' and then, you know, I would mention that to my friends and then ... I realized ... most people I know have older relatives that will just say something that's just so unacceptable. And then I just thought, 'Well, what's the age? What's the cutoff?' Because if one of my parents said something inappropriate I would stop them."
On how comedy doesn't work everywhere
"People just think that comedy can work anywhere. A lot of times we'll be asked to do a fundraiser or something like that. Or, 'Oh, will you do stand-up at my friend's birthday?' And it just takes so much for a show to be produced well and for stand-up to be successful, or a roast to be successful, but people just don't realize that. They're just like, 'Oh, tell me a joke.' Whenever someone says, 'Oh, just tell me a joke,' like a cab driver or anybody, you learn the lesson over time to never do it. It never works."
Japan says it will kill fewer whales when its seasonal Pacific hunt begins next week and will only observe whales in the Antarctic, after a U.N. court ordered it to stop taking the marine mammals from the Southern Ocean.
Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the Pacific catch target would be lowered to about 210 from the current 380. Hayashi said that while the Southern Ocean hunt is suspended this year, Japan would invite "famous scientists from home and abroad" to help devise a new research program that would satisfy the court's demands," according to The New York Times.
Japan, one of only a few countries that continues whaling, has exploited a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's moratorium that allows a limited number of animals to be taken for scientific research. Tokyo, however, has acknowledged that the slaughtered whales - which are caught under the aegis of its Institute of Cetacean Research, in fact end up on Japanese dinner tables.
The Times says that last month's ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Japan last month "questioned whether the program was really for research, pointing out that it had yielded few scientific results. Japan says its 26-year-old research program is needed to monitor recovering whale populations in the Southern Ocean."
The chicken clearly rules the roost of American egg production. Our hens laid 95.2 billion eggs in 2013, according to government figures. And we'll be awash in them Easter weekend: beating them into yolk-laden desserts, hiding them in backyards for small hunters and gobbling candy made in their image.
But many other birds lay tasty eggs, among them the ostrich, quail, duck and goose. Other cultures have long recognized their virtue. The Chinese salt and preserve duck eggs to make "1,000-year eggs"; the Italians, Spaniards and Japanese all have their own take on the quail egg.
I recently had the chance to eat a dozen duck eggs over the course of a few days (while visiting a friend who raises ducks), and I was immediately won over by their rich flavor and texture. Since then, I've cooked them every which way and am thoroughly smitten.
I wondered how they would stand up in a blind taste test against the chicken egg. To push the test even further, I got my hands on some goose eggs (shipped courtesy of one of the country's few producers, Metzer Farms, in Gonzales, Calif.) and quail eggs.
Sixteen colleagues joined me. Would the duck emerge as the clear victor? I felt pretty certain it would.
To run as scientific a trial as possible, I hard-boiled all four sets of eggs, staggering the time based on the size. We peeled the eggs, marveling at the pastel blue inside the quail eggs and the heaviness of the goose shell. Then we cut the alabaster ovals into half-inch wedges.
I blindfolded the tasters one by one and fed them a sample from each egg. Their task? To identify the bird species and choose their favorite.
The results of this study — in which I participated, blindly, as well — are revealing:
- The duck egg was described as: "gooey," "creamy," "really good," "like a chicken egg on steroids."
- The goose egg: "weird," "dense yolk," "bland," "funky," "sticky yolk."
- The quail egg: "tangy," "earthy," "briny," "dense," "sandy," "delicate and grassy."
- And good old chicken: "ordinary," "like my mom makes," "earthy."
- On average, my colleagues and I guessed correctly 48 percent of the time. Guess it's not that easy to tell the difference between all these birds.
- The egg with the highest number of correct guesses? Not so surprisingly, chicken, with 58 percent.
The point of the exercise, of course, was to find out which egg people liked best.
The winner was ... drumroll ... chicken by a hair!
Final results: chicken with 6 points, duck with 5 points, quail with 4 points and goose with just 1. (One colleague refused to play along.)
Since our sample size wasn't that big, I can't draw any major conclusions except that people prefer familiar flavors. Still, I was pretty happy to see I'd won over four people with duck. I was one of the duck endorsers, and I must confess that I recognized the taste as soon as the yolk hit my tongue.
I wondered, if people like duck eggs, why are they so little known in the U.S. — and so hard to come by? (They're expensive, too, at $6 or more a dozen.)
To find out, I contacted John Metzer of Metzer Farms, the largest egg-laying duck hatchery in the U.S. and supplier of my friend's flock (and the goose eggs).
"Chickens are more efficient — they can make more eggs per pound of feed than ducks, and feed is a major cost in producing eggs," says Metzer. "And ducks don't do well in wire cages that chickens are in. Their feet can't handle it."
So until we can breed a more efficient duck with chicken-like claws, there's little hope the duck egg will overtake the chicken.
In the meantime, anyone know where I can get an ostrich egg?
Every so often a high-toned arthouse director dips a toe into the horror genre and the results are uplifting: You realize vampires and space aliens are subjects too rich to be the sole property of schlockmeisters. That's the case with two new arty genre pictures: Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin and Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive — both slow, expressionist, non-narrative, the kind of films that drive some people crazy with boredom and put others in their thrall.
Under the Skin is nothing like the satirical novel by Michel Faber it's based on, but it helps to know what the book is about. There's this female alien from a planet of cow-like creatures. First, she has surgery to look like an Earthling, then she drives around Scotland seducing brawny men — who are drugged, castrated, fattened for slaughter and shipped to the home world in pieces. Director Glazer has eliminated every last drop of exposition, so where our protagonist is from and what exactly she's doing is beside the point. Instead, we get a creepy-crawly, near-abstract meditation on a woman's estrangement from her body.
Scarlett Johansson plays the alien. In the first scenes, she slips on a shaggy wig and a dead woman's clothes, adopts an English accent, and cruises Scotland enticing hitchhikers into a darkened building, where the world turns inky black and milky white. In near-silhouette, she doffs her clothes and draws these men into a pool of ... I don't know. Something oozy. The closer they get to her, the more they seem to dissolve. Occasionally, a black-clad motorcyclist rumbles by to make off with a body ... it's all very vague. Composer Mica Levi's quivering, atonal strings saw your eardrums; the soundtrack teems with blips and squeaks and a babble of human voices.
Many critics have rhapsodized over Under the Skin, but there's a touch of Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome — it's not that great. It's monotonous, and there were times I wished I could go out for a double — make that triple — espresso.
But the film picks up when the alien encounters a man with severe deformities. To loosen him up, she tells him he has beautiful hands; and when he asks her, on the verge of coupling, if this is a dream, she tells him it is and seems to mean it in the kindest way. After that, her formerly dead eyes signal a longing for connection; she regards her body — especially her private parts — with curiosity and wonder. The incendiary finale is shocking: You might not realize until then how much this depersonalized tone poem has gotten under your skin.
Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is more of an arm's-length experience, but it's a neat comedy about deadpan hipsters — deadpan undead hipsters. They're called Adam and Eve and played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton: an on-again off-again vampire couple since — maybe — time immemorial. Now they're in Detroit, a decaying city where the underground music scene thrives and they don't look a bit out of place. Adam and Eve aren't rampaging ghouls. They slurp blood-bank blood and confer hipness on their ramshackle surroundings.
Only Lovers Left Alive has its draggy sections, but Mia Wasikowska wakes it up as a hedonistic vampire with a devil grin and zero self-control. And once you get on the movie's wavelength, it's delicious. Learning to love Jarmusch's work means recognizing the passion under the deadpan snobbery. He digs outsiders. His vampires think longingly of the age of Lord Byron, and Adam has a reverence for vintage guitars.
I think there's a note of self-satire here, that Jarmusch is poking fun at his own stylized, white-boy cool. Underneath, though, he's deadly serious. Snatches of dialogue suggest he thinks the world is fatally poisoned — culturally, economically, environmentally. So this is a kind of dirge, a funeral service for artists of his ilk. It would be insufferable if it weren't so charming.