Amy Schumer would like you to know that she likes talking about sex. Her sketch show based on her stand-up material, Inside Amy Schumer, talks about sex a lot, and for a comedy show, that makes sense; Sex lends itself well to comedy; there are plenty of weird, funny, gross, exciting things about sex that can inspire many comedic scenarios. Schumer also chooses to pair her comedy with self-deprecation, another topic that often lends itself well to comedy. However, when she combines these two in her act and persona, it’s not really about her sexuality or her role in it; it’s still about looking at sex through a masculine role, the tired conceptions of “men just want sex, women want a relationship” and a women’s sexuality is defined only by how much a man finds her attractive. And Schumer wants you to know that she is not attractive to men. It’s frustrating to see that this is the route she is taking to get the laughs. Someone in Schumer’s life must have given her the advice that “make them laugh before they can laugh at you” a little bit too much to heart. In this case, it seems she wants more men to laugh at her and her sexcapades than women and men laughing with her.
I can’t help but wonder if Schumer is compromising her art, knowing that being the girl who says the “shocking” things about sex will get more of an audience than one that actually has more to say about sex. I’ll never know, so all I have to base my view is what she currently puts on her show- a show that is literally named after a play on words about her passive role in penetration- and right now, it’s pretty damn frustrating. Look, here are things Amy Schumer doesn’t owe anyone: She doesn’t need to be a feminist, she doesn’t need to speak about women’s sexual empowerment, and she doesn’t need to stop talking about sex. Perhaps Amy is doing the exact comedy she wants to do- and apparently it’s paying off. She has been amassing a following and the premier episode of Inside Amy Schumer had high ratings. The issue I take that her comedy is based on sex through the male gaze, with her as the target of the shame (and her as the literal target of ejaculation, as she often likes to talk about.) It’s not only not funny, it’s tired and it’s frustrating. Amy Schumer, Comedy Central and the audience could and should do better than this.
Comedy Central has produced a lot of sketch shows based around a single comedian’s act and writing (this season alone saw Kroll Show, The Ben Show, Nathan For You, among others) which are all men. Schumer’s show, inevitably is the representation of women because it’s the only one. When the show is focused more on male-female dynamics than any of the other shows, it’s a problem, especially when it still only represents (not to mention reenforces) the tired, sexist roles that men and women play in sex. She’s commenting on gender, but just making a surface comment; she’s not displaying any other thought about it- WHY it’s ridiculous, hypocritical or any other feelings on it. It plays out as the Cathy cartoon of sketch comedy. From the first three episodes, there are several instances that are frustrating to watch:
A sketch in the pilot episode shows her post-coital with her one night stand, who rudely pushes her out the door. We see each of how their day progresses in a split-screen: Amy obsesses over the guy, mistakes their one night stand for the beginning of a relationship, and continues to obsess over it while the guy sits in his dirty bachelor apartment, eating pizza and playing video games, and forgetting who she is when she calls. Amy looks like the pathetic, needy, crazy one, and even though she puts her self in the unflattering role, it neither funny, insightful, or empowering. She invites us to laugh at her pathetic actions. Schumer makes it very hard for the audience to relate to her, she seems more concerned with us reviling her actions.
Amy continues to play the self-humiliation game by showing her in the casting couch of the infamous “Two Girls One Cup” and after learning what is required her from the scene, accepts anyway in a show of no self-respect for herself, with the casting director commenting on her weight and general perceived unattractiveness. She doesn’t protest it, she just accepts it, seemingly making it okay to talk to her like that. Schumer comes off as either too stupid to realize or that she agrees with the sentiments. In the third episode, she is cast as a special agent with the code name “Butter Face” who is tasked with performing oral sex on the villain to distract him while her male counterpart arrests him. It shows the ridiculous sexism of the situation, but it doesn’t go further than- Amy’s character is angry, but still goes through with the act. The comedy that comes from this, if you could call it that, is that Amy has to undergo this humiliation, and not because of the ridiculous injustice. Her character shown no agency to change it. This sort of humiliation does not evoke sympathy, it is an invitation for the audience to also insult and demean her. It is very apparent that Schumer really likes to put herself into the pathetic/needy/unattractive/stupid role, which is surprising because it is her show. If you were steering the ship, wouldn’t you want to play the heroine? Amy has a lot of hangups about her worth as an attractive sexual being and and I expect that comedians play out their natural insecurities in their act, in fact, it’s almost a requirement.
As another scene called “O’Nutters” started, and I began to have some hope for some real subversive irony. O’ Nutters is the name of an Irish bar, a parody of a Hooters restaurant, where the waiters wear tight pants to highlight their testicles. A waiter flirts with Amy and her friends, who are flattered and unaware that he is giving them attention as part of his job (again, “stupid, clueless Amy”). Their male friend, depressed from a breakup, finds his happiness when he wins the “wet nut” contest, which entails dancing on a bar while a hose sprays at his crotch area. You don’t even need to see the sketch to realize that the premise is the glaring switch the gender roles, having a themed restaurant in which the women openly ogle the men. Which, as a premise, merely acknowledges this gender imbalance as a mere nod. There was plenty of opportunity to make further references to how ridiculous the concept of a bar based on someone’s body parts are, it goes in a direction that is more about the sight gag of an overweight man’s testicles flopping around as he dances on a bar in slow motion. It’s an unfinished thought with a surface level-gag, and really all it does is culminate in a dick joke. What a wasted opportunity for some great material.
Amy, as herself, or the persona she is acting under, also interviews various women in careers which rely on their appearance: a model and a stripper, in this instance. Again, this initial premise seems like a great idea, and have the potential for being funny AND giving some insight. Again, this just shows us another missed opportunity. The purpose of the interview segments seem only to set up Amy to make a disparaging comment about herself “people pay me to put my clothes BACK ON!”, rather than actually gaining insight into these women’s lives and how being based on their appearances has had an effect on them. In fact, it seems we are supposed to be laughing AT the stripper, whose interview is edited in a way to make her look dumb. These “interviews” are insulting to these women and their choices in careers. Although Amy feigns interest in their lives, her “oh my god, really?” reactions gives the audience cues that these are women who are trashy and/or not worth our respect, and spectacles to judge and gawk at.
Amy is also fond of calling herself a slut, and certainly not in a way in which she is claiming the word for herself. It’s another way of putting herself down and ultimately contributing to slut-shaming. The show also includes clips of her stand-up act and in one segment, Schumer even talks about how all women are “raped a little bit”, often finding themselves engaged in sexual encounters they may have not been thrilled with. It’s a provocative concept, and actually one that merits exploration. I believe that you can talk about rape in comedy, especially when it calls attention to the injustices and not used as a threat or comedy for it’s own sake. And now that Schumer had my attention, I was hoping she would do just that. My only explanation of why it was included was a way for Comedy Central/the show/Amy to generate some sort of reaction, due to all the intense dialogues around rape jokes and when it is okay and not okay for comedians to joke about rape. The clip seems to be present to serve as soundbite that adds shock value of someone mentioning rape, moving onto the next segment quickly before the audience can barely digest it. The comedy was the mere utterance of the word rape and nothing actually about it.
However, one sketch did give me hope that this show possibly has the potential to be both be funny and insightful. Amy meets up with stylish, attractive friends, who compliment each other yet resist the compliment with increasingly ridiculous self-disparaging remarks, “I am literally a cow, I sleep standing up”, finally encountering a friend who replies with a mere “thank you” after her coat is complimented, which results in a scramble for the other women to scream in agony and frantically commit suicide in various ways because they don’t know how to handle someone with such confidence. It’s over the top, uses lots of physical gags, and is an observation about a ridiculous real life scenatio, all for which makes for great comedy. The sketch has a feminist premise and didn’t need to announce itself explicitly as feminist. It’s funny because it takes something that is ridiculous in itself, i.e., why do women always put themselves down, but adds a layer of hyper-reality. I’d love to see more like this. Unfortunately, this sketch was more of the exception and not the rule.
I’m fully aware that Comedy Central is a major television network whose bottom line is numbers; viewership trumps content and quality. And we are still in a place where the type of comedy that sells is comedy that appeals to men, even if it is a show based on a women’s comedy act. I am not saying that it is Amy Schumer’s duty, and her duty alone, to step up and be the savior for feminist comedy. Really, it’s the audience that has the power; and when and where we have some comedy that doesn’t promote old stereotypical notions about women’s sexuality, I can only hope it gains the audience it needs. For now, Inside Amy Schumer is not that show.