Warning: This story contains spoilers for Life & Beth.
Nearly two years ago, Amy Schumer did something she had never done before: she wore a pair of shorts to a chiropractor appointment. The seemingly insignificant wardrobe choice—it was summer; she was hot—had a profound effect on her life. It was during that visit that her practitioner first noticed the scar on her upper thigh, the result of a horrific surfing accident when she was 16, which required 41 stitches in three layers. “He said, ‘Oh my god, this is completely why your body is pulling this way—it’s protecting itself,’” Schumer recalled during a Zoom interview in early March. “He told me, ‘This scar has caused you so much pain for so long.’”
Her wound had technically healed, but she hadn’t fully dealt with the psychological effects of the incident. “The metaphor that you need to deal with the emotional trauma from the past so you can get out of physical pain was not lost on me,” says the 40-year-old comedian, who has long suffered from “excruciating” back and hip pain, as well as endometriosis, a painful disorder in which the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the organ. After that visit, Schumer realized that “these things aren’t going to go away if we ignore them—the past is just going to keep hurting you,” she says. “When you get to this age, you better evolve if you want to move forward.”
Schumer’s new Hulu series Life & Beth, streaming March 18, is her attempt at letting go of the teenage trauma that is still causing her so much pain today. On the dramedy, which she created, wrote, and directed, Schumer plays Beth, a seemingly successful woman who, after suffering a family tragedy, embarks on a sometimes funny, often heartbreaking look back at her formative teenage years when her parents got divorced and she became the de facto adult of the family. Her journey to self-discovery leads her back to her Long Island, N.Y., hometown, where she meets a socially awkward farmer (played by Michael Cera) who forces her to be more honest with herself.
Life & Beth is a passion project heavily inspired by Schumer’s own childhood growing up too fast with her mom in the suburbs of Long Island, following her parents’ divorce. When it comes to what’s fact and what’s fiction on the show, “I would say it’s 50-50,” she says. Her scar (written as the result of a boating accident) plays a major role in the eight-episode series, as does her adolescent battle with trichotillomania, a mental disorder that involves recurrent urges to pull out one’s own hair. “That’s something that I’ve never discussed before,” she admits. “But it was such a big part of the trauma of that time in my life.”
Shortly after Schumer’s parents separated, her dad lost his once-lucrative furniture business and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Hair-pulling became her way of dealing with the stress. It got so bad that she had to wear a wig to school to cover up a growing bald spot. “It’s been the thing that I’ve been most ashamed of,” she says. “It feels really freeing to finally let go of some of that.”
Schumer has never been shy about mining the horrors of her life for entertainment purposes. She believes creating art about her past trauma is part of the healing process. “When you deal with chronic, often invisible pain, it’s such an isolating sort of private journey,” she says. “You really have to advocate for yourself—and that’s what I’m doing here.” Yet she understood why those closest to her were nervous to see their own lives recreated for the small screen. “I’m really happy to talk about anything that is about me personally,” she says. “But any parts of the show that are based on anyone, I did run by them.” Schumer’s husband, chef Chris Fischer, acted as an unofficial fact-checker, reading several drafts of the pilot to make sure she didn’t misrepresent their relationship, which was the inspiration for Beth’s unconventional love story. Cera also spent time with Fischer, who has autism spectrum disorder, to better understand the man he was (sort of) playing.
Life & Beth became Schumer’s way of working through her complicated feelings surrounding her mom’s affair with her middle-school best friend’s dad. “It was really brutal,” she says of the romance, which she wrote about in her 2017 memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. The experience, which ended Schumer’s friendship, made her realize that her parents were only human. “They weren’t invincible,” she says. “You can’t help but let that brutal realization change your whole perspective of them.”
After watching the entire show together, Schumer says her mom was “surprisingly cool” about her interpretation of that difficult time in their lives. “My mom owns her mistakes,” she says. “So any sort of feelings I was holding on to from that time towards my mom, I really don’t have anymore. I feel very lucky that I’m a forgiving person.”
While that might read like a punchline to a joke, Schumer means it sincerely. After becoming a mom in 2019, she realized that she had to “let the old sh-t go” and forgive her parents for whatever they had done in the past. She also had to forgive herself. Looking back at those difficult years made her feel more empathetic toward her 13-year-old self. “I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished,” she says. “But that’s who’s still in there, you know? I need to remember that too.”
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