I just can’t. The unanimous praise she gets from progressive, left-leaning media confuses the hell out of me. Sure, she’s got some wonderfully subversive humor about sexuality and the complicated reality of being a woman, but for as quickly as outlets like Salon and Huffington Post publish zealous pieces decrying gaffes about race from the right, they have nothing but praise for Amy Schumer.
Yes, the Amy Schumer that makes fun of black names, and makes tired jokes about asian women’s vaginas, Latino men being rapists, the list goes on.
And I mean, I’ve come to expect that from American standup comedy. The biggest, most well-known acts are revered for being raw, boisterous, and ‘politically incorrect.’ And while I’ve got my own qualms with that, I acknowledge 2 things: 1. what is most popular is going to appeal to the white middle-class sensibilities of America’s [pop] cultural gatekeepers and 2. most popular stand up comedians aren’t trying to be ‘progressive’, they just call it as they see it. [and more than likely, their view of things is limited by who they include in their inner circle]
But if you’re a young, left-leaning mediaphile, Amy Schumer is unavoidable. I have my Facebook newsfeed tailored specifically for news items that are relevant to the LGA’s core audience, and it’s taken a lot of unfollowing and ‘See fewer posts like this’ to get it to be useful for me. But no matter how many times I try to hide Amy Schumer stories, they continue to pop up like weeds, and I question if Facebook’s newsfeed algorithms just want to make my life a living hell. Starting in June and ending today, I screen capped 31 Amy Schumer stories in my feed, mostly from Salon. I saw an Amy Schumer story almost every day. No other standup comedian comes close, and the only individual who popped up more than that in my newsfeed during that time was President Obama.
Out of those 31 pieces, 30 of them were pieces praising Amy. And yes, she does deserve some credit. Her humor and candor surrounding her experiences with body image, rape culture, and the crazy, contradicting forces that place pressure on women and their identities is wonderfully subversive, and her self-deprecation yields genuine bittersweet laughs from her audience.
However, when someone can juxtapose jokes about how terrible rape can be with how black mothers should have google in the delivery room to correct a ‘crazy’ name choice, it’s surreal to me. When someone can so poignantly and hilariously challenge one realm of power in society, and stomp on the human dignity of a historically marginalized group with simplistic-ass jokes that strip away any semblance of social context, I don’t know if that’s cognitive dissonance, or just plain stupid.
The one piece I stumbled upon in my newsfeed critical of Amy from the Washington Post nails it. Authors Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard note, “Schumer herself has shined a spotlight on rape culture, misogyny and sexism. But when it comes to race, she betrays this tradition. Blind or not, joking or not, Schumer used her stage to play and profit off race while people of color are bearing the brunt of racial violence.” More reprehensible is Schumer’s lack of self-awareness in her response to criticism on Twitter, “Playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which is what makes it so fun for comics,” she wrote. “You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’ but you are wrong. It is a joke and it is funny. I know because people laugh at it.”
But why are they laughing? Are they laughing at the ridiculous reality of how entire groups people can be disrespected and dehumanized for cheap laughs? Or are they laughing because a comedian has put the audience’s own limited, ignorant worldview into words? If you’re appealing to the latter, then you are being lazy.
Schumer has used the excuse that her racist jokes are told through a dumb white girl persona, but where in her routine is there any indictment of these attitudes? Don’t get it twisted— cheap stereotypes put on display without questioning their validity just hurts the people they’re haphazardly applied to, not the morons that internalize and believe them.
I’m of the belief that when tackling controversial topics involving human beings and their identities, good comedy should punch up, never down; it’s something you hear often these days. You attack perpetrators and power holders, not victims and the marginalized. You’re supposed to punch the rapist, not the rape victim; the racist, not the discriminated; the rich corporate executive, not the downtrodden worker. You go after the assholes that deserve the hate. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver are masters at this, and they’ve earned all of the praise they get because they manage to tackle very nuanced, complex, controversial issues, and somehow, only manage to offend the most backward, privileged, delusional people.
But Amy’s inconsistencies regarding race are glaring. When you attack sexism, but spew racism, it comes off as egotistical and selfish— that you only want to address the issues that directly affect you and people who look like you. And it’s embarrassing that Amy doesn’t have the self-awareness to say “I told jokes in bad taste to establish my career, but now I see what I did wrong, and I won’t continue to do it.” Instead we get half-ass apologies and the delusional “she’s not racist, she’s a feminist” defense from her fans.
Amy Schumer has some bright spots in her repertoire, but she’s proven far too inconsistent, far too selfish, and not worldly enough to be praised in the manner and frequency she is, especially by zealously liberal media outlets. The people who instantly jump to the tired defense of “they’re just jokes” are trying to avoid a conversation they’re not equipped to have, and will likely never get it. That’s fine; those people will always be there. But for those of us who like to have our perspective challenged with new experiences and knowledge, let’s not confuse controversy and subversion with ignorant dehumanization. Let’s reserve our praise for comedians who respect the human dignity of all groups of people, and don’t pander to people’s lack of experience for cheap laughs. Comedy is a product of the social environment it inhabits, and while it’s incredibly subjective, what you choose to laugh at is reflective of your worldview. Let’s reflect on why we’re laughing and be more selective. And as for me, I’ll still be hiding Amy Schumer stories in my newsfeed.