Television
4:06 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

'Inside Amy Schumer,' Some Surprising Commentary

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 12:50 pm

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 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Amy Schumer has been a rising star in the world of comedy the last few years. Her name may soon have more recognition. She has a big Judd Apatow movie in the works. And right now, she stars in the second season of her Comedy Central show "Inside Amy Schumer." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says she uses her own sex appeal to challenge double standards about women. And a quick warning: Some of what we're about to hear may not be suitable for younger listeners.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: No one can send up sexism with a punch line quite like Amy Schumer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")

AMY SCHUMER: A lot of the women's magazines are supposed to, like, be confidence-building, but they really just scare the (bleep) out of you so you buy the products in them. Like, they all will put Jessica Alba or somebody like that on the cover. And she's super-sexualized, no matter what magazine. Her hair is soaking wet. And you're like, Good Housekeeping, like what does this even...

DEGGANS: Schumer turns those sharp jokes into a larger swipe at casual sexism. Here, she tries to navigate a shoot-them-up videogame as a female character.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Character) You were just assaulted by a fellow soldier. Do you wish to report?

SCHUMER: (As Character) Yes, I wish to report it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Character) Are you sure?

SCHUMER: (As Character) Yes, I'm sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Character) Did you know he has a family?

SCHUMER: (As Character) No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Character) Does that change your mind about reporting?

SCHUMER: (As Character) No.

DEGGANS: It's a poke 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As Character) So amazing. I think the most incredible part of Schumerinka's(ph) game is how she manages to be so thin and yet still have such large breasts.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Absolutely. It's just such a turn on to see tennis played with this level of integrity.

DEGGANS: Schumer sells all this cutting-edge comedy with a knowing attitude. She's a smart alec who talks about sex with explicit glee, like this bit about her encounter with a reporter from TMZ.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")

SCHUMER: And then he asked me, like, a slut question because I'm the it girl for that, and he was like - he asked me about a product called Instead. You've never heard of it. I've never heard of it. It is a product for women you buy at the drugstore. You put it in so can...

DEGGANS: Wait a minute. Maybe I shouldn't play the rest of that. The calculation at Comedy Central seems obvious: Use sex jokes to get the young, mostly male audience to pay attention and then school them with some eye-opening comedy about sexism and stereotypes. It almost makes me feel guilty. It grabs my attention. I laugh. And then I feel a little ashamed for how well the sex talk reeled me in.

But there are times when Schumer misses the mark. In this sketch, 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "INSIDE AMY SCHUMER")

PAUL GIAMATTI: (As Character) You did get herpes. You already have it.

SCHUMER: (As Character) No.

GIAMATTI: (As Character) Yes. Now, for me to undo your herpes, I have to create balance in the universe, you understand?

SCHUMER: (As Character) Totally.

GIAMATTI: (As Character) I'd have to kill off an entire village in Uzbekistan.

SCHUMER: (As Character) Yeah. Whatever you think is best, do it.

DEGGANS: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACADEMY AWARDS SHOW)

SETH MACFARLANE: (Singing) Meryl Streep we saw your boobs in "Silkwood," Naomi Watts' in "Mulholland Drive." Angelina Jolie, we saw your boobs in "Gia." They made us feel excited and alive.

DEGGANS: You waited for MacFarlane to at least nod towards a larger point about the movies' double standard for topless actresses but he never did. 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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.