amy schumer: offensive or avant-garde?
However you feel about Amy Schumer’s comedy, it’s hard to deny that she is controversial. But, her ability to use comedy to bring feminism, as well as other current issues, to the forefront is provoking discussion. And that’s a win — not just for comedy, but for the feminist movement, as well.
Women in comedy has recently been a topic of debate. The question that has plagued female comedians for decades is, “are women funny?” Recently, Disney CEO Michael Eisner made a controversial statement at The Aspen Ideas Festival — “In the history of the motion-picture business, the number of beautiful, really beautiful women—a Lucille Ball—that are funny is impossible to find.” Pretty AND funny? Let’s check our history. Starting with Lucille Ball, there has been a parade of undeniably funny women — Carol Burnette, Vicki Lawrence, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, Lily Tomlin, Jan Hooks, Kathy Griffin, Whoopi Goldberg and let’s not forget the entire cast of The Golden Girls.
It is easy to see how these comedians have influenced the new generation of female comics — Kristen Wiig, Melissa MCCarthy, Jenny Slate, Tig Notero, Chelsea Handler, Jen Kirkman… The list goes on and on. But are these women beautiful? Does it matter? Amy Schumer, who stars the lead in the new romantic comedy Trainwreck, was unnecessarily criticised for “being too fat” to be believable in this type of role. Amy Schumer’s swift response was to post an unapologetic, mostly nude picture of herself. Would one of her predecessors have been able to make such a bold statement? Probably not, which is why Amy Schumer’s brand of bold feminism is so important. Amy’s opinions, addressed through her comedy, are reminiscent of stand-up comics like Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Silverman, but her message is being shouted from the mountaintops.
While Schumer often broaches feminist topics, some critics complain that she doesn’t subvert expectations so much as reinforce them. These critics would believe that many of her sketches, featured on her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer (see showtimes here) seem to be playing into stereotypes of women rather than lampooning them. But I don’t think these critics get the joke. Embracing the very definition of satire, Amy is able to send up common assumptions about women through gender-bending concept sketches and even sometimes by being the brunt of her own jokes, setting up absurd situations in a way to mock sexist behavior and the expectations put on women such as in “Sext Photographer.”
She has also been both criticised and praised for her openness about sex and particularly her enjoyment of it. Some feminists consider this empowering, suggesting that she is taking control of her sexuality and not allowing herself to be ashamed of it. But, the underlying message here is not necessarily just about sex. It’s about erasing that one, seemingly innocent phrase that women have been taught to say since childhood, “I’m sorry.” Amy Schumer has clearly stated through her comedy, her actions, tweets, and interviews that she will not apologise for claiming what she wants, what she needs, and what she deserves.
Not only is this an important statement for women, and feminists; it is an important message to aspiring comedians. The best comedy comes from taking risks, being brave, and being willing to fail, as long as you get back up and try again. Some critics have branded her statements as merely an extension of the characters on her show, and dismissed her work as being “just an act.” Regardless of whether this is true or not, people are listening, taking note, and laughing… a lot. Feminism should be embraced individually. The basics of feminism are easy to understand, yet the point is still difficult to get across. Women in comedy, particularly Amy Schumer, have an extraordinary opportunity to use their craft to embrace feminism in their own way, and inspire others to do the same.