In SketcHistory, The A.V. Club gets the story behind some of our favorite comedy sketches from the people who made them.
The sketch: “Compliments” from Inside Amy Schumer’s season-one episode “A Porn Star Is Born”
The story: Several twentysomething female friends gradually bump into each other on a New York street corner. One by one, each woman is paid a lavish compliment about her appearance or an exciting new development in her life. In lieu of accepting the praise, they all choose to deflect it in a harsh, self-deprecating manner. The last woman to arrive, Amanda, is told how wonderful her jacket looks. Instead of rejecting the compliment, she offers a sincere “thank you!” Taken aback by Amanda’s unexpected response, her friends immediately kill themselves in dramatic and gruesome ways.
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer star and co-creator
Daniel Powell, Inside Amy Schumer executive producer and co-creator
Amy Schumer: I’m pretty sure the sketch was written by Gabe Liedman and [head writer] Jessi Klein. And it came from the fact Jessi and I noticed how much we would deflect compliments. We’d do that around the office to the point where it was already a parody of itself. I’d be like, “I love your skirt!” and she’d say, “Are you serious? This skirt is made of my own shit.”
Daniel Powell: As I remember it, Gabe, who’s also a brilliant stand-up in his own right, did the first couple of drafts. And then Amy and Jessi spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on it and contributing jokes to it. I’m sure for the dozen or so jokes that were in the sketch there were probably 100 more. So it was a matter of picking our favorites. It was such a natural structure to fit joke after joke into, and it became so easy for the writers to pitch for, which is the kind of thing that gets them super excited to work on. The sketch is kind of mathematically efficient in terms of how quickly it gets to the joke, how little time there is in-between each joke, and then how quickly it gets to the payoff. We were really proud of it.
AS: We were surprised when it went viral, though. We didn’t think we were making some revolutionary social commentary. Even though some of our other videos have more hits on YouTube, I feel like this was the one that made people notice the show. Where they’d think, “Oh shit, this is a behavior we all do, and what does that say about us?” This idea of how nearly impossible it is to just say “thanks.”
DP: There’s no question that coming out of season one, this was almost always the sketch people brought up when they talked about the show. It helped guide us for season two, where we felt, “Okay, there’s something to be said for commenting on these specific types of behavior.” Not that we’d do that for every sketch—that would be a huge mistake. We’re not above doing a sketch, for example, where Amy’s so afraid of horror movies that every time she gets scared she farts. [Laughs.] But we also know that if we put a sketch like that in an episode, it’s probably best if we balance it with something with some level of commentary.
AS: It was a really fun shoot. Steve Tsuchida directed it, and having Abby Elliott on set, we were kind of starstruck. And everybody was down for it. All the performers had the option of half-committing [to their characters’ suicides], because we could always add in the effects after. But every girl was like, “No—can you show me how to make it look like I just twisted my neck off?”
DP: The casting was outstanding. Each performer really sold the shit out of their lines. Nikki Glaser in particular was so good as the one at the end who says, “Thank you.” I think finding that moment where she actually takes the compliment and then they all lose their minds sort of validated the rest of the sketch. Because if the thing just fizzled out without an ending, you’re not going to look back and think about how fun all those jokes were. You’re going to think, “Well, that didn’t really go anywhere.”
AS: Shooting took longer than we thought. Usually we shoot two or three things in a day, but that was almost a full day. The girls and I were all very into each other—we laughed all day. Our holding area was, no joke, in an active soup kitchen. We were upstairs getting our hair and makeup done, and to go to the bathroom we had to walk through the room where people were lined up getting food. And their food was way better than ours!
DP: Each season we’ve done the show, there’s always been this one sketch that gets us really excited, and it’s almost always about pinpointing a type of behavior that doesn’t feel like it’s been commented on that much—or at all—in comedy. The moment this idea came up it sparked so much discussion and so much excitement.
AS: I think one of the things women are taught is that it makes you more attractive when you hate yourself. To be accused of having any sort of an ego is really frowned upon. There’s a fear of somebody being jealous of you or envious of you, because then they won’t like you, and you want to be liked. So we think it’s attractive to be humble. Although sometimes it’s not about false modesty: If I walk outside feeling bloated and gross and someone says, “You look great!” I’ll be like, “Fuck you, I’m a monster!” [Laughs.]
DP: That pressure to exert humility is where the need to shake off the compliment comes from. It’s like, “If I take this compliment without qualifying it, then somehow I’m being narcissistic or egomaniacal,” which is absurd. I think that pressure to be humble also feeds the idea that women are obligated to give compliments all the time, which the sketch also addresses. Not to say that when women praise each other it’s insincere—that would be extremely unfair to say, but in certain instances, there’s some level of pressure to start off the conversation with a compliment.
AS: I have some friends where you can’t start a conversation with them until they’ve complimented not only everything about how you look that day, but anything they’ve heard about you. It’s almost like a form of catching up for them. But it’s kind of exhausting, and it takes away the authenticity of what they’re saying. I think every woman assumes we’re all so plagued with self-hatred and self-doubt that we’re like, “As soon as I see her, let me set her mind at ease that she’s not an unfuckable ghost.”
DP: I know that at least some writers on the staff have looked at sketches like this after the fact and said, “You know what? I don’t need to do that anymore. I don’t need to shake off compliments or say ‘I’m sorry’ for every little thing.” It’s a ridiculous little societal tic that doesn’t need to happen.
AS: I get a lot of compliments, and I sometimes feel it’s because people think I don’t have much confidence. That bums me out, because I’m thinking, “Do you feel like I need this praise?” I’ve noticed that I’ve done the thing where you just—[At this point in the interview, a passerby interrupts Amy to pay her a compliment. Amy accepts it, thanking her.] She just said, “Oh my God, I absolutely love you.” Now that’s a good compliment.