Amy Schumer’s set for her inaugural HBO special buttressed my confidence in a number of my recent decisions. First, any prickles of guilt attached to last night’s spicy beer nuts and prosecco alchemized into third-wave feminist defiance. She also confirmed my suspicion that moving to Los Angeles would mean certain death to my body image, forever and ever amen. I should also, without question, begin incorporating the phrase “catch a d” more frequently into my quotidian interactions.
By the end of Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo, my impressions traveled in a triad of intersecting routes. I wistfully contemplated swapping dick-centric horror stories with Schumer, while downing several bottles of white. I was also warmed by the familiar and unapologetic doubling down on female bodily experience. But I had turned on the show expecting Amy Schumer the take-no-shit, boundary-thwarting comedian—not Amy Schumer, Your Rad Best Friend. Last night she delivered the latter.
Nonetheless, Schumer charmed her audience. Wearing a high-waisted black satin mini-dress and her locks long, soft, and golden, she called to mind a Cabbage Patch doll who had miraculously matured into a comely adult. She lobbed jokes about her day-old underwear—“it looks like someone blew their nose in it”—with an affable smile and a swig from the wine bottle that accompanied her on stage. She recounted the particular horror of contracting a urinary tract infection and reminded the dudes to “make your girls come.” For women seeking the affirmation of an “amirite ladies?” punchline, her material did the trick.
On that note, I absolutely wore a smile over the course of the hour, occasionally giggling in recognition (UTIs, man) or—on the rare occasion—guffawing at her viscerally bawdy humor. But when I sat down to watch Schumer’s special, I was eager for the whetted commentary of Inside Amy Schumer— the sort that distinguishes her sketches on a Hollywood woman’s last fuckable day and the farcical standards by which women are deemed attractive enough for television. I anticipated a set that flagrantly and profanely spoke truth to power.
Schumer, however, eschewed the stakes of gender politics for the vast majority of her show. She limply absolved herself of drawing on current events by claiming to be ignorant of the news. Her references to Hollywood’s double standards, while well-delivered, echoed the sardonic remarks of a host of famous women. Kevin James’s gorgeous romantic options in Zookeeper? It’s true, we all know that, by Hollywood’s estimation, men with pudge and double chins won’t deter the Rosario Dawsons of the world. When Schumer landed a more nimble joke on women in comedy being pegged as “sex comedians,” I wriggled in my seat. “Oh here we go,” I thought, “I knew she’d start throwing elbows eventually.” Alas, the moment was fleeting, and we returned to a rather tired argument about women enjoying sex.
The set included only meager references to race, too, which was, to some extent, expected. Schumer has recently come under fire for jokes that lay bare her blinkered perception of white privilege as she capitalizes on racial stereotypes. She has combatted these accusations, but perhaps did not want to jeopardize the success of such a prestigious gig—in Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater, no less—by crossing the wrong lines.
This move seems savvy in light of her one, partially race-based joke where she referred to Sofia Vergara as “Sofia Vagina.” Perhaps she merely intended to mock herself for a cartoonish inability to recall or pronounce names—no matter. The joke was ill-advised (and not at all funny) and its aftertaste was sour.
Schumer’s final segment—on the most ludicrous sex acts dreamed up and spewed onto Urban Dictionary—might have resurrected an otherwise toothless performance. As she catalogued sexual bizarrerie like “the Abraham Lincoln” and other wacko dickplay born from the minds of boys who’ve just discovered their testicles, Schumer barely paused for commentary. Opportunities whisked by—opportunities that a comedian like Amy Schumer could have maximized to their greatest, grossest potential. At last she concluded with “The Houdini,” disrupting the rhythm of her recitation by sputtering, “That’s just rape!” (It really is.) Finally, the Amy Schumer who deftly unites incisive feminist politics and belly laughs reemerged, just in time to bid her audience farewell.
But for what it’s worth, the bit earned Schumer an A-plus shoutout. Nicki Minaj, whose “Beez In The Trap” welcomed and ushered Schumer on and offstage, was delighted by this homage to the bowels of the internet:
The Amy Schumer of this HBO Special is a woman we know well. She was the sorority sister with great hair who secured victory in every case race and fucked to vanquish. She bore an especial resemblance to the “Amy” of Trainwreck, touting her hedonistic lifestyle, indiscriminate love of cunnilingus, and bedtime ritual of booze, weed, and Ambien. If Amy Schumer is not a “cool girl” in its most idealized sense, she is certainly cool girl-adjacent (perhaps explaining, in part, the mutual attraction between Jennifer Lawrence—Cool Girl Par Excellence—and Schumer herself).
Of course, the disconnect between Schumer’s amicable visage—full pink cheeks and winking blue eyes—and the grotesqueness of her comedy has galvanized her popularity. She recently landed an $8 to 10 million book deal. She opened for Madonna during the New York City stint of her Rebel Heart Tour. She won an Emmy for “Inside Amy Schumer.” The year 2015 has, thus far, been hers to conquer.
But the appeal of Schumer—her relatability, her chill—is also her kryptonite. If we know her too well, we cannot be surprised by her. If she spits truth that is fundamentally familiar, we may be comforted, but we will not be challenged. The tightrope between the provocative incision and the downward punch demands precise and agile footing. Ultimately Schumer will achieve that balance, one that incorporates an awareness of white feminist privilege enriching to her comedic social critiques. When she stood on the Apollo Theater stage she simply wasn’t ready to take the step.
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