We long ago cut off our cable television connection, and do our best to keep the rest of contemporary popular culture out of the house, but we must admit that we have succumbed to the comedic charms of Amy Schumer. She’s suddenly quite controversial, of course, and the criticisms are yet another example of how very humorless the modern left has become.
If you were not already aware of Schumer’s existence, it was bound to happen sooner or later. We only heard of her a few months ago when a friend recommended her work, following one of our frequent rants about the sorry state of comedy, but since then she’s become a full-blown media sensation. Her eponymous “Inside Amy Schumer” is a hit on the Comedy Channel, with the best of it showing up free and widely watched on YouTube, she has a new movie out that’s been heavily hyped, and her hard-to-define style of satire has inspired countless think pieces in the the more high-brow publications. In the old days of Lennie Bruce and Ed Sullivan the controversy would have been about her exceedingly profane language and shockingly frank sexuality, but these days that’s unlikely to raise any eyebrows and instead all the tsk-tsking concerns her occasional heresies against the left’s received wisdom on the holy trinity of race, class, and gender.
An adjunct professor of African-American history and an associate professor of something called “critical culture, race, and gender studies” teamed up to write an op-ed for The Washington Post that found a few of Schumer’s stand-up comedy lines offensive. One was an observation that “nothing works 100 percent of the time, except Mexicans,” which strikes us a vast improvement on the old Jose Jimenez routines and their now-outdated stereotypes of the siesta-taking Mexican that the Sullivan show used to feature. Another was Schumer’s confession that she used to date Latino men but decided she liked consensual sex better, which does seem to imply that Latino culture is more tolerant of rape, but the professors seem to make the same point by claiming that 80 percent of the Central American women and girls who illegally immigrate to the United States are raped while en route through Mexico. Another joke included in the montage of offense that accompanies the article has Schumer talking about “hanging out with literally all my black friend,” whose name is “Tamimba or whatever, Tapestry, something wild,” and includes a very stereotypical impersonation of a white girl acting like a stereotypical black girl and a throwaway line about black people being noisy at the movies, but to us the joke seemed mostly about herself.
Thus far Schumer has largely avoided any criticism on gender grounds, partly because she is a woman, albeit a white woman, and partly because she skewers the most boorish aspects of dude culture with such savage wit she is routinely described as a “feminist comedian,” but we expect that will last only until her fans get the bigger joke. Not long ago one of the world’s foremost scientists, Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, was forced to resign from his post at University College London and a committee seat with London’s Royal Society because of a brief public jape that seemed to imply women are too often overly emotional, which of course caused many women to become overly emotional and demand that his distinguished career of making great advances in the live-saving field of biochemistry be halted, but Schumer seems to be making the same point in a masterpiece sketch titled “How to Fight Like a Girl,” and she seems genuinely sympathetic to the men who have to put up with it, yet her feminist credentials remain temporarily unquestioned. She has a sketch about football and rape that is traditionally feminist yet still very funny, and another very funny sketch about a beleaguered secretary back in the beleaguered secretary days, but she’s more likely to turn her satirical sights on the fairer sex. Like Mary McCarthy and Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark and Dorothy Parker and all the great distaff literary wits, Schumer is a keen observer of the peculiarities of other women, with hilarious takes on the unexplainable tendency of modern young women to respond to every compliment with a self-deprecating denial, their one-upwomanship over such matters as whose “rescue dog” was rescued from the most heartbreaking circumstances, the age-old cattiness of womankind’s inhumanity to woman, and of course women’s more recently liberated sexuality.
Schumer convincingly plays a wide range of roles in her skits, which are much better than her stand-up comedy, but her usual comic persona is that of an alcoholic, narcissistic but insecure, not very bright, and recklessly promiscuous modern woman, which is apparently confusing to many of both her most ardent fans and dissatisfied critics. Several young women we know don’t like Schumer because they don’t like alcoholic, narcissistic but insecure, not very bright, and recklessly promiscuous modern women, several men we know are fans because her character seems an attainable ideal, and we think both are missing the joke. Perhaps we’re reading more into a late-night cable sketch comedy program than is actually there, but to us Schumer is casting an observant eye on the post-sexual revolution American culture and rightly finding it ridiculous. Her account of a one night stand, and the wildly divergent reactions of the man and woman involved, is another scathing satire of dude culture but comes down even harder on the naive young women who go along with it. Another sketch, charmingly titled “Gang Bang,” is first-rate satire about the second wave feminism’s strange notion that sluttiness is somehow empowering. An encounter with God during a herpes scare is a surprisingly funny reminder about the other problems that come with her comic persona. We don’t know what to make of Schumer’s “Time Travel” skit, except that she’s always self-deprecating and smart. None of this sort of sexual counter-revolutionary humor is exactly feminist, at least not as the term is now understood, and we eagerly await the maelstrom when her fans figure this out.
When they do, we expect there will be the usual charges regarding class. We have no idea about Schumer’s background, but by now she’s surely rich enough to expect some criticism regarding that. She’s an attractive woman, with blonde hair and a round face and a pleasingly plump figure that the friend who introduced us to her work describes as “hot, but in a realistic way,” and her debatable appeal is a recurring joke in her comedy, and already she’s getting criticized for making jokes that only attractive women can appreciate, which Schumer’s comedy convincingly suggests is also a class issue. That should give the left another reason not to laugh, no matter how funny the jokes are, and another reason to insist that all the laughing stop unless the approved targets are in the punchline. It’s no way to make comedy, or run a society, but we’re glad that a few counter-revolutionary humorists are still out there.
— Bud Norman