Kurt Metzger has made a career of courting controversy. Both in his standup and as a writer for Inside Amy Schumer, Metzger has crossed the boundaries of political correctness, particularly on gender issues. It’s an attitude he maintains off the clock, too, and he’s repeatedly come under fire for vitriolic remarks to and about feminist critics, as well as a deleted Facebook post in which he apparently admitted to having choked an ex-girlfriend.
But amid the negative publicity, Metzger’s career has flourished. He continues to write for Schumer’s show, and Louis CK recently cast him as a lonely, well-read loudmouth in the new web series Horace and Pete, in which Metzger’s character shares both his first name and his signature smartass energy.
In an interview with MEL, Metzger discusses the plagiarism accusations against Schumer, why he considers Dave Chappelle a prodigy and the controversy that he sees as a smear campaign based on cherry-picked social media posts.
How did Louis CK originally describe Horace and Pete to you?
He pitched it as a sitcom with no laugh track. I would’ve said yes to whatever he was pitching. I didn’t realize I would have that many lines, though. The first script I got was a mouthful; it was a long thing to memorize.
But we didn’t shoot a ton. On other stuff I’ve worked on, there’s a lot of takes and coverage, but Louis did three or four takes and that was it. That was the best part. He told us, “If someone is falling, help them out.” It was much closer to theater than TV.
What’s Louis like as a director?
That guy is a genius. I didn’t understand the half of it until I worked on Horace and Pete. I remember at one point the way the set was built he could walk up the stairs behind the bar and look down at all of us and tell us what to do. It looked like he was a puppet master. But he has clear ideas, and he’s very collaborative. Jessica Lange would have an idea, and she and he would sit and work it out.
The show is kind of about how depressing bars and their patrons can be — so much so that we never see your character outside the bar. Did you have a concept, though, of what type of person your character was outside of the bar?
The closest thing was they asked me what I do for a living, and I said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Whatever it is, it’s mysterious and I don’t like to discuss it.
How has being on the show affected your career?
None of these things feel like a big monumental change. Even the things I thought were my big break are not my big break. I get stuff like six years after it would’ve been my dream to get it. Which is good because I’m a guy that chokes a lot. So it doesn’t feel overwhelming to me. Because if things are overwhelming, I have a tendency to choke. In fact, I’ve choked a million and one times in my career. I didn’t get into the Montreal Comedy Festival until after my sixth time auditioning. It was at a point where I didn’t give a rat’s ass.
You’ve done a lot of comedy that’s been distributed mostly via the internet — whether it’s a web series like Horace and Pete or posting essays to Facebook. What effect do you think the internet has had on comedy?
I think it’s mostly been good because you can put up stuff on your own. You can get to your audience easier. It opens up a lot. And the bad parts of it don’t make it impossible to do comedy or ruin comedy. People talk about how political correctness is ruining comedy. It’s not ruining comedy; people that are funny are funny. It’s ruining certain audiences and making them dumber, but that was always a problem; there’s always things making the audience stupid.
Let’s change gears slightly. What did you make of the whole “Amy-Schumer is a joke stealer” scandal?
It was a bullshit smear against her. Amy had this joke that Wendy Liebman had done years ago that Amy didn’t steal from her but should’ve dropped. She said, “I came up with it fair and square. I’m not going to lose the joke.” Wendy herself said she didn’t steal it, and they worked it out. But because of that hubris she opened herself up to all these people who were looking to get her. It was a crock of shit. They took apart everything she’s ever made — her show, her movie — and pointed to stuff that was merely parallel thinking.
But there are these guys who hate her because they perceive her as a feminist. It’s quite literally a move to get her. The gun thing, too. They hate her because she dared to say something about guns. Imagine a maniac with a gun murdered people while watching your movie. Somehow, though, people are mad at her because some victims asked her to talk about it. Fuck these dudes. They all think being mean is comedy. This and a pornstar are the two jobs that everyone thinks they can do.
When did you think you could do comedy?
I’ve always been one of those jerk-offs, too. But I actually did it. I put my money where my mouth was; I didn’t sit anonymously online, blathering. I have more respect for an open mic-er once a week than I do for some guy with a day job that fancies himself a comedian on Twitter.
How old were you when you did your first open mic?
The first things I did were poetry readings. Barnes & Noble would have poetry readings that you could sign up for. I went to art school so I was doing funny poems and spoken word. One of the first places I did standup was called the Laff House on South Street in Philly. It was mostly an all-black comedy club. At some point, comedy got real segregated. There was a split — it was either Seinfeld or Def Jam. And if you were an open mic-er, doing an all-black room was better because you had to learn to communicate with people that weren’t where you were from. Someone like me had to go and write shit that translated to everyone.
And you never got discouraged?
I got discouraged every goddamn day. You always think you’re funny, but this is a totally different thing. It’s like walking; it feels natural until you have to start thinking about it. Then it becomes this very awkward, very thought-out ordeal. That’s what stand up felt like to me in the early days. It’s a whole quest of figuring out how to get back to where you were before you were trying to figure out how you were going to do it. Chappelle’s one of those guys who’s like a genius like that — just a smooth, natural comedian. It’s almost like he’s not even thinking about it. He can think and write jokes, but he’s smooth as shit on stage. Like a prodigy.
So you’re not a natural?
I’m a natural writer, not a natural performer. When I started, my girlfriend at the time said it looked like I wished I could stand behind the curtain and just recite the jokes so you didn’t have to look at me.
A lot of people might be surprised to learn that you’re a writer on Inside Amy Schumer because you’ve been so vehemently denounced as an anti-feminist online.
But that’s not true. I am a feminist. If feminism means equality, then that’s what I am. I always claim I am, and I always say I am. I don’t know about the second wave, third wave or any of that shit, but I know I’m into equality because I feel like it gives me more freedom. I don’t want to get married and have kids and all this other bullshit. And if women don’t have to do that then I don’t have to do it either.
It got so bad, though, that there was a campaign to have you fired from Amy’s show. How did she react to the negative press you were getting for the things you were saying and writing online in reaction to being labeled a misogynist?
I brought it on myself because I run my mouth. But she stuck by me. I remember telling her, “It’s my fault. If you have to fire me, go ahead.” She said, “Of course I’m not going to fire you.” I knew she probably wouldn’t take me up on the offer, but I wanted to give her an out. I had gotten a call from the producer of the show saying they needed to talk to my manager; it was like I had been called to the principal’s office. I couldn’t believe it.
My only real thinking on social media is that I don’t post anything I can’t defend. I had no idea someone was going to cut and paste something I wrote, out of context, and use it to try to destroy me professionally. Nor did it ever occur to me that they’d bring Amy into it.
But that’s what this sort of individual does. They live in a bubble and pick sides based on their politics. My girlfriend calls them people who make a decision to laugh. I just laugh at shit. I hear a joke, if it strikes me as funny, I laugh. But there’s a certain type of identity politics person who has to filter it through their fucking politics first. They have a checklist. I can’t respect you if you’re like that.
What is it like being one of the few male writers on Amy’s show?
I’ll give you a good example: There was the Friday Night Lights football town sketch we did. They were going to throw up some grim rape statistic at the end. And I said, “Will you please not fucking do that? We don’t need to be hammy with this shit. It gets the message across. Do not squander what you’ve done with this great sketch.” I remember Amy at the time being like, “We’ve earned it.”
But I don’t believe you ever earn the right to go, “But seriously folks, here’s what I really mean….” Make it a joke, and you’ll get the same message across.
I remember someone asking Mel Brooks once why when Gene Wilder went off on his own, his comedies flopped. [Brooks] answered it was because Wilder put too much heart into it. [Brooks] said, “If I see heart, I kill it like a cockroach.” And if you watch something one of his movies like Blazing Saddles, there’s a lot of heart in it, but it came out on its own.
Is this the purpose she wants you to serve on the show?
Exactly what I do in the room is what she wants me to do. I write a lot of sketches — and I’m a buffer for when it gets to be too much of a giant queef.
John McDermott is a staff writer at MEL, where he last wrote about how Lebron Isn’t the Player Michael Jordan Was, but He Might Be the Better Man.