The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
FAKED IT 'TIL I MAKED IT
There is nothing better than being your own boss. Well, there is, actually: not having to work at all. That is way better. But I’ve worked so many jobs over the years, and have experienced all of the unique and specific humiliations that came along with each one. And even when I was doing something for hire that involved zero dignity, I still always liked the feeling of doing something useful. Even as a kid, I just wanted to show everyone I could pull my own weight (which was never less than 150 pounds, even in middle school). For as long as I can remember, I was seeking employment. I felt so stifled and useless during childhood. I wanted to contribute. Lemonade stands weren’t cutting it. I hated that I was too young to get a job or join a gym. It’s amazing these things I was so dead set on having are now two of the worst features of my adult life. But back in the day, I wanted in. I wanted the satisfaction of making my own money and being proactive.
Before I got paid as a performer, most of my paying gigs were pretty unglamorous, regular, shitty, low-paying jobs. I worked in at least a dozen bars or restaurants in Manhattan alone, and when I was in college I worked as a house painter for a while. Every weekend at six a.m., I’d be up on a ladder with a roller and brushes, painting the inside of someone’s house, a Chinese restaurant, or a school. But I liked all those jobs. Even at a job I hated, I always loved the feeling I’d get when I was done. The beer at the end of a shift, or the feeling of looking at the clock and seeing it change to the minute you can leave, is so freeing. That moment you’re allowed to walk out the door is an experience that cannot be replicated. I honestly feel for people who’ve never had to work, because they will never know that feeling. The people born rich, with their Gatsby-like days spent lying around fanning themselves, wondering if they should go into town. They’ll never know the sheer elation you feel when the manager of a steakhouse tells you, “You’re cut after you finish your side work!” What a feeling, to furiously roll silverware into napkins and then take that first step outside, breathing the air, knowing that you’re now on your own time. Heaven.
My very first job was being a baby model, because I was an exceptionally cute baby. JKJKJKJK. I was a very average-looking infant. By “average,” I mean I resembled a pug more than a baby. But my parents needed someone to model the baby furniture they sold. As my parents, they believed I was adorable—that, and they knew I would work for free. I posed in a bunch of the cribs, and I was on the cover of their catalog (it’s probably why the company went bankrupt). It was the beginning and end of my print modeling career. I’ve been meaning to get back into it.
My parents continued to take advantage of my work ethic when they made me model stuff from their second store, Calling All Girls, which sold gifts, clothes, and haunted-looking dolls for girls. It was only a good idea compared to their initial business plan, which was to sell shoes. (“Schumer’s Shoes”; this would have ruined my life as a tween.) The slogan my mom devised for Calling All Girls was “No Boys Allowed!” It should have been “No CustomersAllowed!” because literally no one ever shopped there. Not a smart marketing technique to immediately shun 50 percent of the population. But anyway, “No Boys Allowed” was plastered on buttons and T-shirts that Kim and I constantly wore as little walking billboards for our parents. I guess this slogan was supposed to amp up the marketing to the “fairer sex.” But even more than being pro-girl, it was just straight-up anti-boy. Or it could have been read the wrong way, like “No boys allowed, but MEN ARE WELCOME!” There were so many wrong turns to be made with this slogan. And so few ways to go right. I was an eleven-year-old inviting men to approach me. I looked like a walking To Catch a Predator ad. Chris Hansen should have paid me, not my parents. Either way, I guess “No Boys Allowed” was supposed to be my mom’s not-so-subtle way of telling us that men were bad. I never bought it, but you could say the writing was on the wall, and on the shirt and the button, for that matter.
With the new store, I was not asked to be a print model, I was asked (or rather told) that I’d be spending my weekends at the Javits Center—a huge convention center that held trade shows on the weekends. My parents would showcase their inventory by using Kim and me as display items. We wore “No Boys Allowed” shirts with a picture of a lock and key on them. And the shirts came with a key you would wear around your neck. In retrospect, this was all a little disturbing. I guess my mom thought it was cute for us to be prissy little bitches who “locked” boys out and dangled the key to our goods in front of them. And the unintentional message had a vague anti-rape implication. I mean, there are some countries where little girls are sold into sex slavery and their virginity is purchased, and there I was at the age of eleven, with my seven-year-old sister by my side, literally wearing a key around my neck and a big message that said, “YOU DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO THIS.” Anyway, Kim and I would stand there in our booth for hours and hours and help sell—I’m sure—zero more shirts for my parents’ store. I don’t remember what I was paid, but I liked the idea that I was a model.
Making me her show pony really backfired on my mom, because when I entered my early teen years, I started demanding a weekly blowout for my frizzy, curly hair. Most twelve-year-old girls were not getting blowouts on the reg, but my town hated Jews and I wanted to hide my little fro, so I began to plot how I could get more blowouts. They were not cheap, so I got the idea that I’d sweep up hair at the salon after school if, in return, they’d blow-dry my hair once a week. I don’t remember how long I kept up this arrangement, but it seemed very worth it at the time. I guess the salon, much like my parents, wasn’t worried about child labor laws. I loved the work too. I was part of a team, and I felt useful, but the shop wasn’t that busy. I’d sit anxiously and watch the stylists clipping hair, waiting for any of it to fall on the floor. When it did, I’d rush over to it, like an annoying human Zamboni or Olympic curler. I was too eager, people complained, and I was let go.
It was the first in a long line of completely justifiable firings in my life. I was so eager to work that I’d “fake it ’til I maked it” even if I was completely unqualified to do a job. And then I would end up getting fired when my inexperience was revealed. The second time I got fired was when I lied in an interview at a different salon and got a job as a shampoo girl. I thought I was doing well until I completely blew it with my first bald customer. This man only had hair in a small patch in the center of the front of his head and a thin strip along the bottom in the back, like a clown. No offense to this specific brand of male-pattern baldness, but it’s accurate to say that this dude had textbook Bozo hair. I started washing his hair—just his hair, and not the sizable amount of bald scalp. He shouted at me with a lisp, “Wash my whole head pleathe!” I said, “No! Whenever I wash the parts without hair, the water bounces back and sprays me in the face!” He marched right up to the owner, and within minutes I was fired.
I really appreciated the bosses who deliberately overlooked my lack of skills and hired me based on my confidence and bravado alone. I worked at a well-known steakhouse in Grand Central Terminal—a really expensive, white-tablecloth place that catered to fast-talking businesspeople, commuters, and tourists. I was completely unqualified to work there and had no fancy-dining experience, but I lied and said I did. I didn’t make it past the first interview, but as I was leaving, I overheard someone who was there for a second interview, which gave me the idea to just show up the next day and repeat what I’d heard. Fake it ’til you make it! I thought. The next day, I showed up and confidently said, “Hi, I have a second interview with Frank.”
They looked me up and down, confused, but I sat and waited for whoever Frank was. The general manager came out and asked me some questions. The one I remember is, What is the main ingredient in tequila? I answered, “Triple sec?” He told me I was very wrong and that it was agave and hired me anyway. I still don’t know why. Maybe my delusional confidence was mesmerizing.
For most of my nine months working there, I was the only woman. It was an all-male staff full of career steak waiters. I had to wear a jacket and tie. The jacket was white, so the dust from Grand Central would settle on me and turn the jacket gray by the end of my shift and make me scratch my face until I looked like I had leprosy. I was too young and blotchy to work there, but I faked it ’til I maked it and eventually got pretty good at it. My sales were among the top there. I’d offer things that weren’t on the menu, like a surf and turf, which just meant I’d charge them for a lobster and a filet. I was indeed an asshole.
There were other times I showed up unqualified and ended up doing a great job. Like the time in college when I taught aerobics—or as they called it, “group exercise”—to chicks like me who’d doubled down on the freshman fifteen. I did actually have a certification to teach kickboxing, and I was able to leverage that into a job teaching a lot of other stuff I had never even tried before, like yoga, Pilates, spin, step, and dance. Before you go down the path of thinking I wouldn’t be your first pick for a fitness instructor, let me inform you that my classes were very well attended and fun. I’d have the girls yell out the names of their ex-boyfriends or whoever they were mad at while they threw kicks and punches. I gained some fans who’d follow me from class to class. What I lacked in physique and expertise, I completely made up for with my likability and motivational yelling.
There was one job that I couldn’t really physically fake. But I tried anyway. I was twenty-one years old, living on the West Coast with Dan, who did not turn out to be the greatest boyfriend (more on that later). Maybe my unhappy home life with him inspired me to make the strange choice to work as a pedicab driver. For those of you who don’t know what a pedicab is, it’s basically like a horse-drawn carriage, except a person on a bike is acting as the horse. I don’t know what got into my head that made me think this was a good idea. All you technically needed to qualify was a bike, and the pedicab company would rent you the cart for twenty bucks a day. They’d help you hook up the cart to your bike, and then it was up to you to pedal around town and find human beings to haul. There was a main street on a huge hill, and I’d ride to the top of the hill and hope people would want to pay me for a ride down it. Of course, that never happened. I’d sit there and wait for about an hour and then ride down to the bottom, where, naturally, people would always flag me for a lift. I wasn’t in great shape, so I’d get about halfway up the hill and feel I was about to roll backward—cart, passengers, and all. I’d come to a halt and yell, “Everybody out!” The passengers would have to help me push my cart up the hill. Due to some weird city ordinance, you weren’t allowed to quote passengers a fare. You were just supposed to let them pay what they wanted. Can you imagine if prostitutes had to follow this law too? “That was pretty good, here’s a shiny nickel.” Fuck that! I gave them my price like a nice little prostitute.
I did that job for a few months. I lost about three pounds and that was it. More than I lost teaching aerobics, but still, you’d think I would have lost more weight. But I was so hungry at the end of every shift that I’d binge-eat and then drink myself into a blackout so I could forget about having to work the next day. But something I did enjoy about that job was the nice camaraderie among all the pedicab drivers. We’d meet up in one spot in town, park our carts, smoke cigarettes, and talk about how rough our job was.
The ultimate faking-it situation on my résumé was the time I worked at a lesbian bar. All the female bartenders and I would go out and get really drunk before a shift, because despite what I imagined it would be like, bartending for ALL women was a fucking nightmare. The only thing worse than the drunk drama and the indecisive ordering was the fact that no one ever hit on me. All the other bartenders were straight, but I would look over an hour into our shift and they’d be cheating on their boyfriends, making out with female customers. At the end of the night, the bartenders were even drunker than they had been at the beginning of the night, so counting up the money and tips was impossible. Plus, they made us dance on the bar. It was humiliating. I’m not a good bar dancer. I’d wear a pair of pink underwear that read i love me and I’d lift my skirt to display this message, and sway around laughing. I ended up getting fired from that job—not for my gross dancing or my raging heterosexuality, but for closing early without permission. One night, I shut the place down at seven p.m. just because I felt like it.
I was always doing whatever I felt like doing at work. Sometimes it’s too hard to hide your feelings just because you’re on somebody else’s dime. Like at one restaurant I worked in, I decided to stop speaking to the clientele because they were so yuppie and rude. I was done with them. But waiting tables kind of requires you to talk to customers, so I got demoted to being the service bartender, standing in one place and only making drinks for servers to carry out to the floor. And now that I’m the boss and can be openly honest about my feelings at work, I try to set a good example for my staff to let them know they are welcome to do the same. Everyone is free to feel their feelings on the set of my TV show. Sometimes when I am extra emotional due to it being that time of the month, I just get on the loudspeaker and announce to all the cast and crew that I have my period. You should be able to be yourself and keep it real at work, no matter what you’re feeling.
Once when I worked at a little bodega by the train stop when I was fifteen, I felt my body telling me to eat a lot of the store’s hot dogs. So I did. Which doesn’t seem that strange except that I was always working a five a.m. shift before school. I was truly ill equipped for that job because even though I was supposed to ring up hot dogs, coffee, snacks, and newspapers, I had no clue how to make change. The coffee would cost $1.85 and they would hand me a five-dollar bill. I’d respond by just staring at the bill, hoping that through black magic the right amount of change would just float out of my hand and into theirs. I’m a great salesman, but numbers hold me back. I consoled myself by eating a lot more hot dogs. They were so good there. My paycheck was a lot lower than I wanted it to be because they were charging me for my enormous hot dog intake.
My bosses were these two late-forties Indian guys who
thought knew I was an idiot. They’d make themselves feel good by belittling me. They’d stand next to each other behind the counter and trash me. I didn’t blame them, because I was a terrible employee. I quit when summer came around, and shortly after that, the shop closed down for good. Mine was an honest and simple job, and I think if I weren’t on this career path, I’d like to go back to eating hot dogs all day. And I’m grateful to those two guys because even though they made fun of me every second I was there, they never fired me.
One of the things I’ve learned as a boss myself now is to have high expectations of people, but also to keep it realistic. You can’t expect someone to work past their potential. If you’ve hired someone with the mathematical aptitude of a pet rock, and she eats all your hot dogs and doesn’t know how to make change, try to figure out how and where she shines, and let her excel in that area instead. I try to be patient and forgiving with the people I hire, just as they are with me. Mutual respect. But when I realize they don’t have what it takes, I do the kind thing and let them go. I always think of that goldfish quote often attributed to Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Let that goldfish go someplace where it can join a school—and then hire an actual climber instead.
I still love hot dogs and lesbians as much as the next guy, but it was such a great relief when I could finally quit working for other people and focus on working for myself instead. Nothing feels better than running the show on my own now. I’m guessing almost every person reading this knows how much personal dignity you sign over when you work for someone you don’t like or for a company you don’t care about. But I still have to give it up to all the horrible bosses I worked for in the service industry, because most of what I know as a boss today has come from those experiences. And from learning NOT to ever be like them. All those mean chefs who belittled the waiters, and the sociopathic restaurant managers who led with fear and intimidation, wielding their minuscule amount of power to scare the shit out of any employee who needed a day off for even the most legit of reasons … All those assholes really showed me several specific versions of who I didn’t want to become if I was ever in charge. So I guess the nine million waitressing and bartending jobs I had really paid off in the end. But it’s also nice to learn by positive example now and then. I got more value from just one day on Tina Fey’s set and two days on Lena Dunham’s than I got from any other long-term job I’ve had.
Now that I spend most of my time on sets or onstage, I can finally say I love what I do for a living. But still, most days I can’t wait until I am done and allowed to go, which is almost never. And despite my poor track record at restaurants, bars, salons, and mailrooms (yes, I once got fired from a mailroom for throwing away the mail), I’m proud to say I’ve never been fired from a show business job. Once on a small one-episode TV role I was told I’d be canned if I didn’t stop ad-libbing inappropriate jokes, but that’s the closest I ever came. And now that I’m a boss and it’s part of my job to do the hiring and firing, I get what it feels like to have people’s fate in your hands. It’s not a sensation I enjoy. Turns out being on the other side can also be full of humiliation and hardship. But it still beats working for someone else. And there’s no turning back once you get used to running the show.
I GOT MY very first brief taste of being in charge at the age of ten, when I was a basketball referee for a little kids’ league. I’d wake up early Saturday mornings and put on my striped shirt and hang the whistle around my neck like a girl boss. Literally. I was still physically a little girl and hadn’t even started my period yet. But I was made for that job. It wasn’t easy, because the parents were bloodthirsty and insane. The kids were six-year-olds who couldn’t even lace up their own shoes, but these parents were calling for technical fouls. I threw my fair share of them out of the game. I’d call traveling on one of the kids and the father would literally get in my face—my ten-year-old, three-foot-eleven face—and yell, “Terrible call!” I’d blow my whistle and point to the door, and the angry adult would leave the room in a huff. It was the most difficult job I’ve had to date, harder even than hauling three obese men from Green Bay uphill in a pedicab. But somehow I think that job prepared me for everything I do now. It prepared me for being a female boss in an industry that is still mostly run by men. It prepared me for being called fat, ugly, and talentless on the Internet (because, I assure you, every troll online is even more vitriolic and nasty than those adults getting in my face on the basketball court). And it prepared me to get up early, work my ass off, and stand by my calls.
Today I wake up every day, mostly with way too much work on my plate and not enough hours to get it all done. I worry about the people on my payroll, that if I don’t do a good job they’ll be affected. I try to treat everyone equally (badly). JK, just equally. I do my best to make decisions that are fair and good for me and everyone else. I’m tired and beaten down a lot of the time. But it still feels so fucking good to know that no matter who or what comes at me, this is my court and I wear the whistle.