The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
ON BEING NEW MONEY
The term “nouveau riche” is a fancy way of saying you’re a rich person who acquired your wealth on your own. You didn’t inherit it all from your great-grandfather. You worked for it. Either that or you bought that lottery ticket fair and square. But I actually prefer the term “New Money” because it’s a way of saying, “Yes, I am trash and I’m embracing it!”
I am New Money.
I feel lucky to live in America—where people will treat someone like me (trash) as if they come from bloodlines with Benjamins streaming through them. In England, they are not as impressed with people who have made their own dough within their lifetime. New Money is considered gaudy there. But in America New Money is celebrated more than Old, because it was earned in some way or another. We use our new money for stupid shit like spa treatments where eels eat the dead skin off of our toes or baby seal fat is injected into our assholes so we look young again. (A lot of marine life is utilized for some reason.) People applaud us. Go ahead, start a charity and give back a little and no one in the States gives a hot damn how you got it. You were knocked up by a basketball player and took him for all you could? Great, here is your own television show. You made a sex tape with a mediocre rapper? Here is the key to a billion-dollar corporation. Or in my case, hey, you told dick jokes to drunk people in small rooms at places called the Giggle Bone and the Banana Hammock? Would you like a movie deal?!
Looking back, I realize this is technically my second time to fall into the New Money category. My parents were living the textbook New Money lifestyle during my childhood . . . until they slipped into the No Money lifestyle just in time for my delicate preteen years. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was born a precious little half Jew in Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side and sailed the five blocks home to our huge duplex apartment in a limo. Dad’s idea. To unbury the lede, my parents were rich. They were rolling in it. I mean, I thought they were. They’d take a private jet to the Bahamas at a moment’s notice, and they thought the high life was going to last forever. It didn’t.
My dad owned a company called Lewis of London, a baby furniture business that imported cribs and such from Italy. I don’t remember why they named it “Lewis of London” but if they were looking for a fancy name that only New Money people would use in order to make something sound high-end and international, they knocked it out of the park. At the time, no one else was selling fine foreign baby furniture, so rich Manhattan parents sought out my father’s store, where they could pick up the fanciest tiny infant prisons that money could buy.
I had some extravagant, rich-person things as a little kid. We moved out of the city to a nice suburb on Long Island when I was five, where we would eat lobster once a week and smoked fish for Sunday breakfast. Or as we called it, Jewing out hard! On lobster nights, Mom would bring the live ones home from the grocery store and put them on the kitchen floor for my brother, sister, and me to play with. At the time, I thought it was just a fun thing we did before boiling the tasty crustaceans, but in retrospect, I realize that we were playing with our future food in a Little-Mermaid-eating-Sebastian way that was very uncool. Couldn’t they have just gotten us a pet goldfish? All the other kids were outside riding bikes and we were making our lobsters race each other like gladiators. Sick. Either way, when I remember what it was like to grow up in a wealthy household, the food we ate stands out the most. Come to think of it, that’s mostly what I remember about any event or moment in life—the food that was there. A couple years ago, before I had “real” money, I asked Judd Apatow if it was fun being rich, and he explained to me that once you become rich you find out all the good things in life are free. He said you can buy a house, good sushi, and CDs, but that’s about it. Still, as someone who waited a lot of tables and ate off people’s plates on the way back to the kitchen, fancy sushi sounded pretty good to me.
Anyway, Lewis of London cornered the market—until other stores started selling European baby furniture and my parents lost it all. Which happened, incidentally, during the onset of my father’s multiple sclerosis. Cool timing, Universe!!! I don’t remember how it felt to lose everything, but I do remember men coming to take my dad’s car when I was ten. I watched him standing expressionless in the driveway as it was pulled away. My mom claims she didn’t know what was happening financially, but if this were an episode of MTV’s True Life: Squandering That Chedda they would say, “She blew his millions on furs and homes.” And if it were a Lifetime movie, they would say, “She was a victim whose life changed drastically in a split second.” I don’t know which is true. Probably neither. All I know is that my mom stayed in the house denying reality like it was her job when those men came to take away the black Porsche convertible.
I didn’t generally notice the loss, but I did notice a change in the quality of my birthday parties. That’s probably where I felt the biggest shift in my family’s financial situation. When I turned nine and we still had money, my parents threw me a “farm party” at our beautiful home on Surrey Lane, a quiet street in Rockville Centre. Early that morning, a box with holes in it was placed in the garage. When I removed the lid, a gaggle of baby ducks looked up at me. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I remember believing in my heart that I was the little girl in Charlotte’s Web. I was so in love with those little creatures that I could have sat there and petted them all day, and died happy.
Since we could afford the whole kit and caboodle, real-life farmers carted real-life farm animals to our house in shifts throughout the day. Bring on the donkeys! We had a pony; we had goats; we had chickens. If you’re a kid from Iowa and you’re reading this, you’re like, who cares? A couple of animals in your yard sounds like a Tuesday. But trust me, if you’re from New York and you have a cow in your driveway, you’re rich—and the most popular kid in school for a year. All of my little friends dressed up in overalls and played in a pile of hay and went fucking crazy. It’s gross when you see it for what it really was: a bunch of well-off kids whose idea of a great time was to slum it like poor farm children. I’ve also been to a food-fight birthday party. Can you imagine starving kids in Syria watching us waste food like that? It makes me shudder.
Don’t worry, the irony came back to bite me in the ass soon after. Life got less and less comfortable for us after my parents lost all their money. We began moving into smaller and smaller homes until it felt like we were all sleeping in a pile—and not a fun pile like the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. A sad, poor pile like the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Amy, do you ever reference adult books? No!) By the time I was in college, my mom had moved us into a basement apartment where my sister, Kim, who is four years younger than me, had the one bedroom, and I had to share a bed with my mom. (Quick tip: Do not try to ditch a cab when you are blackout drunk and then get in bed naked with your mother. The cabdriver will follow you home and knock on your door, and then your mother will have to apologize to him and give him cash while you lie giggling and nude under the sheets, where you are experiencing the bed spins . . . I heard from a friend.)
But to be honest, I never felt poor, even when we were. I always had enough money for lunch and to go on field trips with my class. I was always well provided for. We would go to the occasional Broadway show or take a road trip to somewhere with trees and a lake or pond, or a sizable puddle when the going got really tough. We were living above our means, just not Real Housewives of New Jersey level. It was more like the staff at Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant. (Yes, I only speak in Bravo metaphors; thank God for Andy Cohen.) Luckily, all of my friends dressed bad and never had any interest in designer clothes or other material things. I’ve never worn jewelry (or spelled “jewelry” correctly on a first attempt) or name brands. My friends cared a little more than me but it wasn’t too noticeable. We would buy shirts from Bebe, but we could only afford the actual T-shirts that read “Bebe.” Those shirts were always on sale—and for good reason.
I drove a shitty car, but at least I had a car. Twizzie was a very used station wagon that smelled like a stable but could turn on a dime. I loved doing donuts in that car and would drive as many people home from school as I could fit. I would shout, “Pick ’em up!” (I think it was a Dumb and Dumber reference) as I made the parking lot rounds. If Twizzie went above thirty miles per hour everyone in the car felt like they were holding Shake Weights. But, still, it was a car! I didn’t feel like a low-income kid. I remember loving my prom dress so much that I wore it to the prom twice—when I went junior year and also for my own prom, senior year. I can’t remember ever wishing for something that I couldn’t afford. I was very lucky.
It wasn’t until college that I began to take note of the fact that I had to work a little harder than the average student to get by. I was living on my meal plan, stealing food from the student union, and scamming drinks off guys when necessary—which wasn’t easy because freshman year, I looked like a blond Babadook. I got a job teaching group exercise classes at my college and those classes were my main source of legal income. (I sold a little weed and shoplifted from department stores too . . . oops. Shhh. That doesn’t leave this book.) Anyway, I was the worst drug dealer ever. I would run out of baggies and have to use entire Hefty garbage bags for the smallest amount of weed. I’d give a gift along with it, like a baked potato or whatever I had lying around the apartment. And every summer when I came home from college, my sister and I would bartend at the only bar in Long Beach, where we served beer and wine and food fried within an inch of its gross life. We would work sixteen-hour days, returning home covered in ten layers of film from the fryer, our feet swelling out of our sensible shoes and aprons filled with dollars. We’d lay our tips out on the bed and count them, some days totaling as much as five hundred bucks, and we thought we were sultans. We’d fall asleep smiling and wake up at eight a.m. to do it again the next day.
When I graduated college I was B to the R to the O to the K to the E, broke broke. Vanilla Ice broke, before HGTV Ice. I made enough money waiting tables to pay rent and eat nothing but cheap dumplings every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And snack. And brunch. I lived in a closet-sized studio apartment with a Craigslist roommate. One night a bunch of comics were going to get sushi and I couldn’t go because I’d spent my last few dollars paying for my five minutes of stage time that night (an investment well worth it, since I bombed in front of all seven disgruntled stand-ups in the audience). Sushi in New York costs more than a blood diamond, so it was out of the question for me. But one of the comics, Lorie S., kindly bought me a California roll. I was so grateful and felt really embarrassed that I needed her to get it for me.
But I worked really hard, and soon enough, instead of buying stage time at open mics and going home hungry, I started making a couple hundred dollars a weekend doing stand-up. And then about four years ago, I started making a couple thousand a weekend. The first very very big check I got was for a college performance where I was paid $800 for one hour. I ran around my apartment screaming for joy.
When I made my first real chunk of change doing the Last Comic Standing tour, I took Kim to Europe. Instead of sharing a cot in a filthy youth hostel, we got to stay in real hotel rooms with private bathrooms and everything. They weren’t fancy, but we felt like the Rockefellers. Or if you’re a millennial, the CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records.
But the thing about Old Money (Rockefellers) vs. New Money (Roc-A-Fellas) is that both still have M-O-N-E-Y. I don’t care if the Old Money folks look down on me for being New Money. I will happily clink glasses with them sitting up front on an airplane. What an amazing privilege it is to fly first class! I don’t take that for granted. I still recall the first time I stepped foot on a private jet. The first time for anything having to do with money is the best. I was doing a show headlined by Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Aziz he-doesn’t-need-a-last-name. The show was only in Connecticut so the trip home wasn’t far, but when Louis asked if I wanted a lift I said, “Fuck yeah!” People with money feel guilty about having it in front of people who don’t, and they don’t want to say the words that make others hate them. He didn’t say, “Amy, would you like to fly on a private jet I have paid for to travel the mere twenty minutes it takes to get home?” No. He said, “Do you want a lift?” as if we were in an old movie and I was a distressed damsel waiting for a streetcar on a rainy night.
It is awful how wonderful it is to fly private. Just disgusting. I recommend you treat this paragraph like a Choose Your Own Adventure book and skip ahead, so you don’t hate me and your life. When you fly private, a car drives you right up to the runway at the exact time your flight takes off. You want to take off at 9:00 p.m., your car drops you there at 8:55 p.m.! No standing in a crowded terminal (which is the right word for that, because it feels like death), no fluorescent-ass airport lighting, no long bathroom lines, no waiting in line for security with frantic people who left too late for their flight. No endlessly long lines to pay ten dollars for a water and gum you don’t even like, because they didn’t have your favorite. You just get out of your car and walk onto the plane, and you’re in the air in about fifteen minutes. There is a car waiting at the other end, right when you get off the plane; they hand you your bag and you go on your merry motherfucking way. I have been on a couple of jets that were fancy hip-hop-video-looking ones and some that were old and dirty. But it doesn’t matter. You are alone on there!!!! All of this is to say I feel crazy lucky to be in a position to even set foot on a private jet. I appreciate every second of it. Just like a New Money person should.
I stay in nice hotels, I Uber instead of hailing a taxi . . . even during pricing surges. I can get expensive meals when I want and that’s what I do for myself. I’m not going to bullshit you: it feels great to know I could send my niece to any school she wants even though she is already a genius at two and will get a full ride for her grades or a scholarship when she becomes a Division I volleyball player. It’s relaxing to know I can pay for my dad to be in a better facility and make sure he sees the best MS specialist in America. I also know how unfair it is that not everyone can do these things. I’m New Money, not an asshole. That’s a lie. I haven’t lied to you yet in this book, and I don’t want to start now. I am an asshole.
The best part about having money is that you get to be an asshole and burn money on stupid shit. If one of my friends is working at a comedy club, I will sometimes pay to have their greenroom filled to the brim with ridiculous bouquets of flowers, like a hip-hop artist’s funeral, with wreaths and the whole nine. One of the writers on our TV show made the mistake of telling me he had booked a very small guest role on the TV show Veep. Naturally, I had an insane amount of roses delivered to his dressing room to weird out the rest of the cast and embarrass him. I can afford to buy expensive fake astronaut suits in the gift shop at the Museum of Natural History for my sister and me so we can walk around in them all day just to be dickheads and never wear them again (see picture at the end of this chapter, on page 37). I can hire a private chef to cook for me and my family, without needing it to be a special occasion.
My agent is my friend and he is a young guy who is incredibly shy and does not like attention called to him. Unfortunately, I think it’s hilarious to humiliate him, so I have, on several occasions, hired a clown to show up at his office while he is in a meeting and make him balloon animals and sing to him. I’ve rented Ferraris just to drive them for an hour with friends. I’ve chartered a boat simply because it’s sunny outside. I am like a rapper, but a manageable one. I don’t buy the Ferrari or the boat; I rent them and purchase all the insurance. I don’t load up on Cristal for the ride. I buy a moderately priced sparkling wine and I only drink half a glass because it gives me a headache and I have writing to do. I’m like a conservative, reasonable rookie athlete. Or a lottery winner with a financial adviser and a sick sense of humor. I am NEWWWW Money.
It’s weird to be treated differently all of a sudden just because you have been on TV or have some cash. I am not special just because I’m famous right now. I won’t be famous forever—not even much longer actually, which is fine with me because it doesn’t feel good to have people be nicer to you because of your money. My favorite people in the world still give me shit and treat me like the Long Island trash receptacle that I am. I want to be treated the same way I treat people. One thing I will say for myself is that I am cool about money. Anyone who comes out of the rags-to-riches experience and isn’t cool about money is a douchebag. I try to remember where I came from. I remember when a 30 percent tip changed my day, or sometimes even my week. I remember when I had to sell my clothes to secondhand stores so I could do an open mic. I remember when I almost donated my eggs because I didn’t know what else to do to make a buck (and besides, I’m Jewish and my eggs go for double the price!). I remember when I went to the Penny Arcade coin-counting machine at TD Bank so I could take my boyfriend out to dinner at TGI Fridays for his birthday.
And now I can take my girlfriends on vacation and buy a California roll for everyone! I’ve definitely spread the wealth—whether through leaving good tips or helping out worthy causes, friends, and family. This should be standard practice for wealthy people. I get paid a lot for what I do. That is the nature of show business. If you are someone who can sell tickets and get people to see you live, you are overpaid. So there is no excuse not to hook people up. When I left the bartenders a $1,000 tip at the Broadway musical Hamilton, I found it odd that it became a viral news story. Doesn’t this sort of thing happen fairly often at THE most popular musical in a city where tons of rich people live? If I make a bonus at shows, I pass it on to my openers and to the people who did my hair and makeup. I’ve given most of my amazing best friends six-figure checks to make their lives a little easier, and I donated the majority of my salary for the fourth season of my TV show to the crew, all of whom have worked with Inside Amy Schumer anywhere between two and four years. Every dollar I made shooting the movie Thank You for Your Service went to the families of PTSD victims and charities for military families.
It’s fun to give money away! I still remember the first time like it was yesterday because it was something I had always dreamed of doing. After getting paid a large sum, I wrote my sister a check for ten thousand dollars and handed it to her in my living room. She looked down at it and said, “Shut the fuck up. No. No. Really? No.” She was excited about the money, but mostly she was just so happy for me, knowing how great it must have felt to be able to share. We walked around Chelsea Piers looking at the check and smiling. We ate lobster rolls and cake bites and felt like we were floating. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life. But more than being fun, giving is important! However, my business managers have told me to slow my roll, and my sister has warned me several times not to Giving Tree myself to the point where I am a stump with everyone’s names carved onto me. But I’m happier being generous, because even though I know what it feels like to have a surplus of money, I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to truly need it. People have had it way worse than me, of course, but I know what it is to depend completely on yourself in life.
THE YEAR AFTER my parents lost it all, my birthday party was much different than the barnyard fantasy experience I had during the rich years. The theme was the Lionel Richie song “Dancing on the Ceiling.” My dad put a light fixture on the rug in the middle of the living room and the seven kids in attendance danced around it as the song played, over and over again. My dad filmed it with his camera upside down, and then we all watched the recording and ate pizza.
I actually remember it being a great time. It was, and still is, a great song, and the kids didn’t care. We didn’t need a bounce castle or someone dressed as Rainbow Brite to have a good time—give us some pizza and a disco ball, and there’s a party. I didn’t even realize we were out of money; I just thought my parents were confused about my level of affection for Lionel Richie.
Today, I’m just as happy as I was when I was waiting tables at a diner or collecting unemployment after getting fired. I don’t believe that money changes your level of happiness. But things do get easier, and I feel great in the moments when I can help someone. I still mostly stay home and order Chinese food or sushi. I still get drunk and binge-eat late at night. But now it’s just on more expensive wine instead of the boxes of Carlo Rossi that got me through more than half of my life. I’m glad I struggled. I think I’d be an asshole if my money were anything other than the “new” kind. And for the record, when my niece asks me for a car in thirteen years, I will say “Of course” and treat her to a very shiny station wagon that turns on a dime and shakes what its mama gave it any time it goes over thirty miles per hour when she’s going to buy her friends forties.