Fresh Air
Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Each week, nearly 4.5 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 450 National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. Though Fresh Air has been categorized as a "talk show," it hardly fits the mold. Its 1994 Peabody Award citation credits Fresh Air with "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights." And a variety of top publications count Gross among the country's leading interviewers. The show gives interviews as much time as needed, and complements them with comments from well-known critics and commentators.
Trainwreck, written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, stars Schume...
In 2011, Apatow heard Schumer on the radio and was struck by her candor. The two went on to collaborate on the film Trainwreck, about a woman who doesn't want a relationship.

Comedian Amy Schumer is — by her own admission — an oversharer. Whether she's talking about one-night stands or drinking habits, she has a tendency to bare all.

In 2011, Schumer's blend of honesty and humor caught the attention of director Judd Apatow, who heard her being interviewed on the radio by Howard Stern.

"She was telling stories about her relationships and also stories about her dad, who has multiple sclerosis ... and the stories were very dark and sad, but ... they were really funny and warm at the same time," Apatow tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I remember sitting in the car thinking, 'This is a hilarious stand-up comedian, and I don't think she understands what a great storyteller she is.' "

Apatow contacted Schumer and the two went on to collaborate on the screenplay for Trainwreck. In the film, which Apatow directed, Schumer plays a single woman who doesn't want to commit to a relationship. It's a role that resonates with the comedian.

"I've always had this major fear of having my heart very broken," she tells Gross. "I've mostly been in long-term relationships, but I think I've never really given myself over to them for the fear of being hurt."

Schumer's character in Trainwreck has a sister who is married and has one child and another on the way. The sisters struggle to see eye-to-eye on relationships, raising a family and how to care for their ailing father. The sisters' relationship is similar to Amy's relationship with her real life younger sister, Kim Caramele. Caramele left a job as a school psychologist in Chicago to work as a producer and writer on the Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer.

Apatow and Schumer talk with Gross about their collaboration on Trainwreck, and — if you listen to the audio above — at the end you can hear Caramele talk about what it was like to watch herself portrayed onscreen.

Interview Highlights

On portraying the awkwardness of sleeping with people for the first time

Amy Schumer: A lot of this version of myself is based on me in college, I would say my sophomore year specifically, where I did have a bunch of partners who I knew I wasn't going to date.

Judd Apatow: Song-writing partners?

Schumer: Yes, song-writing partners, Judd. And we tried to keep Judd very sheltered. We told him that his daughters are here because of storks bringing them. So there were these experiences and, yeah, sometimes you're like, "I'm going to spend the night here," and then there's some guy and he's breathing on you and you're just like, "Ugh!" you just resent him.

So I was like, what if this were different if I were to actually say to him, "I'm not just going to try to be the thing that you want and try to be this perfect person for you? If I'm going to stay here I'm going to put a pillow between us and don't breathe on me." ...

For me personally, there's this misconception that women want to be held all night, and some do, and some guys like that, and I love spooning ... I love to be held, I'm very affectionate, but when I go to sleep I'm like a "please-don't-come anywhere-near-me" person.

On dating a pro-wrestler and how it made her feel about her own body

Schumer: Truly, it did not make me feel self-conscious. I think, as a woman, I just kind of feel like wherever my weight is, if it's up or down when I take off my clothes there's a certain sense of "You're welcome," you know? And I feel like I look like a real person and I'm soft and squishy but I'm a woman and I feel sexy and I got to tell you, Ter, when you're naked with someone who is jacked like that, you still feel hot. The way it feels to touch a person like that, for me, it wasn't as exciting as I kind of thought it would be. ...

Apatow: It's like having a Mack Truck on you.

Schumer: Yeah, it's like a refrigerator fell on you. I like someone who is a little squishier.

On her father's reaction to seeing himself portrayed onscreen

Schumer: If I thought he would be offended by anything that would definitely interfere with my writing. There's a lot I didn't put in the movie about both of my parents, but my dad has seen all of his scenes in the movie and he loves it. It's the cloth that I'm cut from; he's also an oversharer and someone who is very open about being a human being and the mistakes he's made and he knows it's an accurate portrayal and he's thrilled, honestly. I'm not like, "The art comes first!" If I thought anybody that would be hurt by something, I would never write about it.

On her experience of helping her father move into assisted living

Schumer: The way that he went into assisted living was that he remarried and he moved in with this woman — he was living with her in New Orleans — and then she, out of nowhere, kind of kicked him out and left him on the side of the road in his wheelchair, and we had to just go get him and move him into assisted living. So she kept all of his stuff. ... This might've been ... six years ago. Yeah, it was horrible. I got the call and I had to go onstage right after and, yeah, it was traumatizing.

On how their own parents' divorces influenced their own relationships

Schumer: I think, for me, I honestly haven't met anyone yet that I want to be with forever, that I would want to commit to, that I would want to start a family with. I love that idea and I'd be into that. I don't know how realistic I think monogamy is for some people, and I sort of have some evolving views of that, but I love the idea of making a commitment to someone and having a family, but, yeah, I've never met — there's no "one that got away." I never ran from something that would've been good. ...

My reason for not marrying young like some of my friends and starting a family is because I didn't want to do it. I never fanaticized about being married; I never played "wedding" or "bride" when I was a little kid. My interests were in other places and I wasn't lucky enough to meet that person.

Apatow: As a kid you just think, "Why didn't you guys try harder? Why didn't you figure it out?" because you only see it through your eyes, of how it affects you. I think it made me think there's work that goes into it. ... My parents should not have been together, so as you get older you realize, "There was no way that was going to work anyway." ... But I got very lucky I met an amazing person young and I have two amazing kids, so I'm not in the situation my parents were in. I'm in a very happy situation that still requires work, but it wasn't what my parents were dealing with.

On the 'Twelve Angry Men' episode of Inside Amy Schumer, in which 12 men debate whether Amy is "hot enough" for television, a parody of the 1957 film

Schumer: This was the first scene that I thought of over our hiatus. ... My two friends, [who are] male comics, were deliberating at a party if they thought Michelle Williams was hot, the actress, and they're both really debating this and, "I don't think I'd have sex with her," and I'm just looking at them and they look like complete gargoyles, you know? I just kept thinking of the word "deliberating" and I was like, "What's the ultimate deliberation?"

There's a constant stream of articles and comments about Lena [Dunham] and Mindy [Kaling] and myself, and I love that movie, I've seen it a million times, and I just thought, "What if I did a scene, just a scene from it?" I thought it could be half the episode and just really re-create it and use amazing actors ... and Kevin Kane, who is one of the producers on the show, was like, "What if you made it the whole episode?" I was just so ecstatic. It just breathed a whole new life into me. ...

I was like, "I'm going to write this thing." So I wrote it and it was the hardest I've ever worked [on] and it was really difficult to cook up. ... I got kind of upset, it got to me. I had been writing, I was on the road, I'm on trains and on planes and I'm writing horrible things about myself — saying I'm built like a linebacker, I've got Cabbage Patch-like features. ....

I spent so much time writing that and then writing which shots I wanted to re-create and preparing to direct it. ... The network said, "Sure." ... And I'm so proud of it. I can't believe it happened. ... It was so liberating to write this and I just feel very free from judgment and it was really liberating and therapeutic.

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It's a common pledge of candor for a roster of presidential hopeful. As linguist Geoff Nunberg explains, the promise to "tell it like it is" has its roots in black speech from the '40s and '50s.

"I tell it like it is." Chris Christie made this his campaign slogan. Donald Trump repeats it whenever he's challenged on something he's said. And Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich and Rick Santorum have said the same thing. It's the conventional pledge of candor, or what passes for it in American public life.

It's actually odd that anybody's still using the phrase. By rights it should have gone the way of dated '60s slang like "right on" and "can you dig it?" Like those expressions, "tell it like it is" had its roots in black speech in the 1940s and 1950s. Back then it just meant to come clean about something. In 1954, the R&B singer Roy Milton had a modest hit that went "Tell it like it is, Don't say you love me when I know you don't."

The phrase caught on in the early '60s, when black activists made "tell it like it is" a byword for confronting the realities of race in America. It was picked up by the hippies and the student left, and it soon became a hallmark of youth culture. Howard Cosell promptly co-opted it as a slogan, and the frenetic disk jockey Murray Kaufman wrote a guide to the younger generation called Murray The K Tells It Like it Is, Baby.

By 1968, George Wallace supporters were calling out "tell it like it is, George" at his rallies, apparently unaware that the phrase had been introduced a few years earlier by the likes of Malcolm X and LeRoi Jones. Politicians took it up to sound tuned in and relevant. Richard Nixon used it in his speech at the 1968 Republican Convention, urging the "forgotten Americans" to "tell it like it is." Gore Vidal suggested that Nixon probably didn't know what the phrase meant but assumed it was the kind of hip slang that Jack Kennedy would have heard from his Rat Pack pals in Vegas. But it was a natural fit for Nixon's vice president Spiro Agnew. "I have a little experience in ... telling it like it is," Agnew said, as he ripped into the media, the campus protesters and the liberal intellectuals he called effete snobs, the charge that introduced effete into the modern political lexicon.

There had always been American politicians who made a virtue of their bluntness, from Andrew Jackson to Harry Truman. But nobody had ever used the media quite the way Agnew did. He fed their appetite for copy even as he was vilifying them. The more caustic his rhetoric was, the more play it got, and the more he became the rallying point for the resentments of what he called the "silent majority" — actually, a phrase he was using well before Nixon did.

It was around then that "telling it like it is" acquired its modern political meaning, which probably saved it from extinction. It isn't about personal honesty, like Jimmy Carter's "I will not lie to you." It promises blunt, no-nonsense talk about the hard truths that others are too craven to acknowledge. The colloquial use of "like" signals blue-collar authenticity. "I'll tell it as it is" may be grammatically correct, but nobody's going to want to have a beer with you.

From Agnew down to Christie and Trump, it's more often politicians on the right who have made that boast, particularly when they're known for being outspoken and combative. The rhetoric works best when the speaker can square off against the conservatives' traditional targets — the media who suppress the truths we need to hear, the intellectuals whom Ronald Reagan attacked for telling it "the way it is not."

It's true that Democrats like Ed Koch and Andrew Cuomo have used the slogan, too. But politicians on the left often go with a different applause line and talk about speaking truth to power. The target is shifted but the effect is the same — they're going to say what others don't want us to hear.

Politicians who say "I tell it like it is" like to follow it with something like "let the chips fall where they may" or "if you don't like it, tough." But that's always sham bravado. They're not going to run the risk of saying anything that will make their own partisans shift uncomfortably in their seats. The Republican isn't going to admit that voter fraud is a myth; the Democrat isn't going to say that gun control won't reduce crime. The "hard truths" they're going to tell are the claims that are intended to get a rise out of the people on the other side, to the gratification of the people on their own.

That has been the MO of political trolling since Agnew pioneered the technique a half-century ago, which is why "I tell it like it is" has proved so durable. Donald Trump reprised another phrase from that era the other day when he told a crowd in Phoenix "the silent majority is back" and offered to say what everybody's thinking but nobody else dares to admit. But there aren't any silent corners left in today's clamorous media world — everybody is talking at once, and you have to be pretty strident to get heard over the din.

We still recall Agnew for the zingers he got from his writers William Safire and Pat Buchanan — those alliterative aspersions like "pusillanimous pussyfooters," and "nattering nabobs of negativism." But those would be too polished to get the same kind of play today. These days, telling it like it is means testifying to your anger with plain talk and raw invective. Those effusions may not be memorable, but you can be sure we'll stay tuned to hear the next one.

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Don Winslow has written 17 novels, including The Power of the Dog and The Ca...
Novelist Don Winslow spent 10 years researching the Mexican drug wars. His new novel, The Cartel, reveals "a new generation of cartel leaders that are more violent, more sadistic" than ever before.

Novelist Don Winslow has spent 10 years immersed in the Mexican drug wars. He has studied all the players, from the lowly traffickers to the kingpins who head up the cartels. One of the characters in his new novel, The Cartel, is based on drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo, who escaped from a Mexican prison over the weekend.

Winslow points out that El Chapo is a rich and powerful man who likely had help from both inside and outside the prison. This was his second escape, and the previous one was followed by a surge in drug violence.

"He got out and tried to reassemble a mega cartel and really take over the border territories," Winslow tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "So, in effect, he touched off the war that went on for 10 years and cost 100,000 lives."

Winslow began looking into Mexico's drug wars in 1998, after reading a newspaper article about the massacre of 19 people in a Mexican town he sometimes visited. That research eventually led to his novel, The Power of the Dog, which traces the origins of the drug wars to the 1970s.

In The Cartel, Winslow focuses on the more recent violence, which, he says, comes from "a new generation of cartel leaders that are more violent, more sadistic" than their predecessors. "Whereas back in the day, the cartels used to try to hide their crimes, now they announce them on social media."

Interview Highlights

On El Chapo, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel

This is a very smart man, a survivor, a man with billions of dollars at his command, a man who can reach out and kill almost anybody he wants to kill, to have killed, and a man who knows secrets about high levels of the Mexican government. There's a reason why they didn't extradite him to the United States — principally because he could afford high-level lawyers to block that. He could afford bribes to block that. But also because if he were extradited to the United States, his only deal-making ability now is to start telling those secrets and telling those stories. Don't think he wouldn't do it and don't think that certain people in Mexico are terrified of Chapo Guzmán talking to American federal prosecutors. ...

Chapo has been around, a player, since the late 1970s, so he survived the big DEA onslaught in the '70s. He survived a major war against the Tijuana cartel. He was responsible, probably, for killing a Roman Catholic cardinal. But in this latter phase, it's when Chapo escaped from prison the first time in 2001, he got out and tried to reassemble a mega cartel and really take over the border territories in Juarez, Laredo and Tijuana, so, in effect, he touched off the war that went on for 10 years and cost 100,000 lives.

On the new generation of cartel leaders and how they are similar to the self-proclaimed Islamic State

It's not like the cartels are like ISIS; ISIS is like the cartels. Ten years before ISIS was releasing beheading videos the cartels were doing it. They're very sophisticated. They know that they need, not only to control the action on the ground, but also the narrative, [to] control the story. I think ISIS is just taking a page from their playbook. ... The problem, similarly to ISIS, is they use these videos as recruiting tools. They're attractive to people who feel themselves to be powerless, they see these examples of ultimate power and it's quite attractive to them.

On dedicating the book to the journalists who were killed or abducted by cartels

It's one of the, ironically, great untold stories of this period. ... The cartels decided that they needed to control the narrative. They did that through social media, through the Internet and Twitter and all those things. But they also did it by attacking journalists. They bribed journalists, and journalists who couldn't be bribed or who wouldn't do what they said, they killed, and it's a real tragedy. I'm not a journalist — again, I'm a novelist. I write thrillers. I write entertainment. At the same time, though, as a writer, I do feel some kind of kinship with those journalists. And as an American writing about Mexico in a fictional sense ... it's much safer for me than, obviously, it was for those people. I felt that I should acknowledge them and honor them and do it by name.

On how America's drug problem relates to Mexico's drug problem

We are the largest drug market in the world. We're 5 percent of the world's population — we consume 25 percent of the world's illegal drugs. Mexico has the misfortune to share a 2,000 mile border with the largest drug market in the world. ... At the end of the day, they'll run out of products. It's the illegality that makes those territories so valuable. If you criminalize anything only criminals can sell it. If only criminals can sell it, there's no recourse to law, there's only recourse to violence. That's created the cartels. It's our simultaneous appetite for — and prohibition of — drugs that makes those border territories worth killing for.

On how marijuana is farmed with slave labor

What you have now in the immigrant community are more Central Americans than Mexicans and they make this long and dangerous journey up through Central America up through Mexico to get to the American border. A lot of them don't make it. They are kidnapped by the cartels, often murdered, the men, on suspicion that they might join a rival cartel and might be used by a rival cartel. The women and the girls are very often taken and forced into farm labor and/or prostitution. So I don't want to harsh anybody's high, I wouldn't tell an adult what he or she should do, however, I think that we ought to know the provenance of these drugs that we're taking (I say "we," I don't do any drugs), and know that there's a high probability that other people paid in pain and suffering for that party you're having.

On the effect legalizing marijuana (just in Washington and Colorado) has had on Mexican trafficking

Just two states that have legalized marijuana, do you know what's happened in Mexico? Forty percent of Mexican marijuana imports, they've been cut by 40 percent. In Durango and Sinaloa, where most of the marijuana is grown, they've almost stopped growing it now, because they can't compete with the American quality and the American market. ... I'm not making this up; you get this from Customs and from DEA, from the people who are trying to intercept it on the border and judge how much is coming through as a percentage of how much they seize, and what they're telling us is it's down 37 percent over the last two years. So by stopping fighting, just two states stopping fighting the war on that drug, it has been effective.

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