'Inside Amy Schumer,' Some Surprising Commentary
No one can send up sexism with a punch line quite like Amy Schumer.
"A lot of the women's magazines are supposed to, like, be confidence building, but they really just scare ... you so you buy the products in them," she says in one stand-up routine. "Like, they all will put Jessica Alba or somebody like that on the cover. And she's supersexualized no matter what magazine. ... And you're like, ' Good Housekeeping?' "
But Inside Amy Schumer gives the New York native a chance to turn those sharp stand-up routines into a larger swipe at society's casual sexism.
In one moment from the show, she tries to play a shoot-'em-up video game as a female character, only to see that character stopped from going into battle and sexually assaulted, then pelted with questions like, "Do you wish to report it?" Then: "Are you sure?" And "Did you know [the assailant] has a family?"
It's a simultaneous slap at the boys' club of gamer culture and the military's terrible response to sexual assaults. In another sketch, she's a beautiful but awful tennis star — but the TV announcers aren't really interested in her athletic ability.
"I think the most incredible part of [her] game is how she manages to be so thin and yet still have such large breasts," says one match announcer, as the soundtrack to a cheesy soft porn movie plays in the background. Wonder if Anna Kournikova's ears were burning?
Schumer sells all this cutting-edge comedy with a knowing attitude. She's a smart aleck who talks about sex with the kind of explicit glee usually reserved for guys.
One great example involves a bit about her encounter with a reporter from TMZ. "He asked me, like, a slut question, because I'm the 'it' girl for that," she said, laughing. "He asked me about a product called Instead. ... It is a product for women ..."
Wait a minute. Maybe I shouldn't say too much more about that on a family-friendly website.
Anyway, the calculation at Comedy Central seems obvious: Use sex jokes to get the mostly young, mostly male audience to pay attention, then school them with some eye-opening comedy about sexism and stereotypes.
But for me, that combination also inspires a little guilt. It grabs my attention, I laugh, and then I feel a little ashamed for how well the sex talk reeled me in.
There are times when Schumer misses the mark. In one moment from the first episode of this season, she finds out an old sex partner has herpes. She pleads for help from God, and he arrives ... in the form of superstar character actor Paul Giamatti.
"Let me be honest with you," Giamatti-as-God says. "You did get herpes. You already have it. For me to undo your herpes, I have to create balance in the universe. ... I'd have to kill off an entire village in Uzbekistan."
"Yeah ... whatever you think is best," she says, blankly. "Do it." Later, she offers to have sex with God if he'll undo her herpes, and he refuses because he's gay.
It's wry and very weird. But Schumer's also working a stereotype: the ditzy slut. And that comes dangerously close to the biggest risk in modern comedy: A comic tries satirizing a stereotype, but just encourages it.
Schumer walks that line brilliantly, but there are others who haven't. Like Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who discovered just how difficult that kind of humor is during the Academy Awards last year when he sang a big production number called "We Saw Your Boobs."
It was delivered with an "ain't we naughty" kind of attitude. But you waited for MacFarlane to at least nod toward a larger point about the movies' double standard for topless actresses — and he never did. So a serious issue was passed off as harmless fun.
Schumer is too smart to make that mistake. Instead, there's a delicious tension between her attention-getting sex jokes and the social commentary she drops once we're paying attention.
I can't wait to see how guilty she makes me feel next time.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.