“So, what’s your policy on ‘pussy’?” inquires a polite Amy Schumer regarding what can and can’t be said during THR’s annual gathering of Emmy-contending comedy actresses. If the ensuing conversation — held inside a Manhattan studio where, at one point, one of the six women offers another oral sex — is any indication, nothing is off limits when feminism and comedy collide: From rape and death threats on Twitter to the absence of women in late night (“Les Moonves is asleep in a cave somewhere far away,” offers Lena Dunham as an explanation) to hanging their hopes on Hillary Clinton, Schumer, 34 (Inside Amy Schumer); Dunham, 29 (Girls); Gina Rodriguez, 30 (Jane the Virgin); Ellie Kemper, 35 (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt); Tracee Ellis Ross, 42 (Black-ish); and Kate McKinnon, 31 (Saturday Night Live), prove they are as fearless as they are (f—ing) funny.
What was your most mortifying moment performing comedy?
KATE MCKINNON I did stand-up at the Aspen Comedy Festival once, a tight two and a half minutes. I asked the booker afterward, “What did you think?” She said, “There wasn’t enough for me to judge, but what I saw, I didn’t like.” I went to a Starbucks and cried.
LENA DUNHAM But look at you now!
AMY SCHUMER I was opening for [comedian] Dave Attell at an Improv in Washington, D.C., and was walking past the White House. This woman came up to me; she had kind eyes. I’m like, “She’s a fan!” I was like, “I’m a comedian,” and she goes, “These people are on a hunger strike; would you perform for them?” I then noticed there were 40 people there with signs showing how long it’d been since they’d eaten. I called some friends, and I was like, “I shouldn’t do this, right? [Comedian] Jim Norton was like, “You gotta take the gig.” (Laughs.) So I tried to write hunger-strike jokes. These people looked like everyone in The Exodus.
TRACEE ELLIS ROSS You have such a good soul.
SCHUMER So I performed, and no one laughed.
GINA RODRIGUEZ They were hungry!
SCHUMER I made jokes like, “Hey, at least no waitresses will be distracting you here!” But I bombed. They put a video of it online, and I found out later they were a known terrorist organization. Making people laugh is what I can do to give back.
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Photoshoots & Portraits > 2015 > Session 13 | The Hollywood Reporter