Razer: The sad ascension of Amy Schumer

Comedian Amy Schumer is funnier than hell. Actually, she’s funnier than that waiting-room in hell where comedians prepare to prove to Satan that they have earned eternal damnation. She’s the blonde busting out of her chemise, texting Joan Rivers in the Seventh Circle to run through a version of The Aristocrats and check that the abortion material is sufficiently taboo for the Dark Lord’s taste.

For the past few years, Schumer has gone to the edge, transgressed it and landed herself in the gulch of good taste with legs up and a discount Brazilian in bulging view. In the best tradition of stand-up, she has delivered routines that sell a hopeless soul. Like Richard Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld, Rivers and all the un-save-able greats, she built a persona that could neither be redeemed nor offer us redemption. Then, she met Judd Apatow and tragically ascended to heaven.

In deed and, most troubling, in performance, Amy Schumer has become “empowering”.

There are those who enjoy Comedy With Heart, and good luck to them. Some audiences truly enjoy a moral presentation and this, we must suppose, is the only reason for Jay Leno’s obscene longevity. Lucifer knows, the guy’s not funny but his friendly shtick served for many years to send Americans to sleep stuffed with the syllabub of “understanding”.

Then, there are those who enjoy Comedy With Bite, and this audience deserves less patience. For mine, the illusory “edge” of Andrew Dice Clay, Daniel Tosh or the insufferable Bill Maher is a far milder artistic bet than even the worst of PG13 comedy. While Leno’s heart-warming tales of family served to freeze the ideological bias of an audience on the edge of sleep, the reeking libertarian ooze of Maher is a bigoted dream that simulates total wakefulness. This dullard, and his stupid mate Daniel “Rape Joke” Tosh, absolutely play to a dominant morality. It is not unusual to think that women have become a little uppity these days and it is hardly a new or a dangerous thing to suggest that the western world has become enslaved to mild language. Of course, the western world has become enslaved to mild language and Dice and Tosh, despite their frequent references to rough back-door sex, are as guilty of it as the cleanest liberal comedian. There is and there can be no artistic valour in “saying what everyone’s thinking”.

It is the great comic’s work to say what no one is thinking. This, in its most basic terms, is the foundation of an exceptional joke. Those of us who admire the great American artform do so for its capacity to offer us a vision of reality precisely as it isn’t. It would be naïve, of course, to think of comedy as a revolutionary force and ridiculous to assess it in these terms. Comedy, despite what enthusiastic new fans of the middling old periodical Charlie Hebdo will tell you, is not dangerous. It is, however, somewhat necessary unreason in a culture like the west where must go about pretending that we’re reasonable.

Tosh never dares touch the incredulous confusion that is the bedrock of great comedy. He is always as sure of himself as was Jay Leno. To stay sure of himself, he plays to the ethics of an audience who will thank him for “saying what everyone’s thinking”. By these means, the audience can believe themselves to be the true guardians of the very best morals and that is every bit as “edgy” as a cumquat.

Artists like Sarah Silverman or Doug Stanhope produced thought of which we were otherwise incapable. I do not enjoy Stanhope’s defence of arms ownership and I have no particular fondness for the idea, advanced in the past by Silverman, that some women aspire to be raped. But, I admire the shit out of their absurd logic. They are not telling “truth” and none of us is ultimately convinced that either sexual abuse or death by firearm is defensible. We are, however, convinced that thought and morality outside usual conventions is possible.

Broadly speaking, this prospect of transgression is what turns some of us into comedy nerds. It’s not, necessarily, that we want a different morality or a different world. We just need to know that the possibility of it can be occasionally expressed. That there can be particular persons and particular moments that do not belong to the present is a great thrill.

For many years, Silverman provided great thrills. Just as you felt you could predict the climate of her next gag, she’d rain on your forecast. She was cloudy, thunderous and chaotic until she became, in recent years, fine and mild.

Silverman’s 2010 memoir The Bedwetter signalled the end of the storm. It’s a moderately funny book, but it’s also a redemptive one in which the author shares her vision for a more tolerant world. It was less of a surprise when more agreeable comedians, like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Lena Dunham, released memoirs that sought to “empower” their readers and began delivering more optimistic work in which they cast themselves as role-models. There’s a great public appetite for aspiration and let’s forgive these stars for doing the opposite of comedy.

But, when Schumer, who had been doing so well as an arsehole, is given over to a therapeutic tendency, some of us nerds despair.

Schumer is yet to release a book, but when she does, you can bet it’s going to be of the “If I Can Help Just One Woman” order. Self-help is where she’s headed. Her recent hit film Trainwreck follows the Apatow formula of obscenity-and-inspiration and she is freed at the film’s end not by comic excellence but by her optimism. The profitable culture of self-development looks set to turn one of our funniest devils into an angel of hope.

Comedians, like cats, cannot improve and hope to remain themselves. To watch Schumer on the Today show talking about charitable “empowerment” of women through sensible fashion choices is to watch your tabby put your needs above his own. The power of comedy, of cats, and of Schumer in particular is in their ungovernable sass. That she has come, as so many other comics, to honour an orthodox moral view — in this case of “empowerment” — is enough to make one cough up a furball on the culture.

23 responses to “Razer: The sad ascension of Amy Schumer

  1. Classic liberals believe that merit will confer riches in the race of life and that luck is mostly made but not always. For those who by accident or lesser natural endowments fail to prosper Government is there to ensure they are never on their own. Inherited privelege is the enemy of Liberalism.

    As far as comedy goes the best is an absurd or madcap exaggeration of every day events. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore come to mind. Firing Dud and his piano off the deck of the Arkroyal by steam catapault takes some beating.

  2. Yes, yes and yeah.

    I came across Schumer a year ago while wasting yet more time aimlessly on the intertubes and found her hilarious. The movie less so.

    But I was pretty bemused with her self-righteous, offended reaction to that Aussie radio yob. Sure he was a dick, but he was hardly outrageous calling her ‘swanky’ – it’s not a description a million miles from the persona she has assiduously developed. She could’ve just put him down and got on with it, but she played out this prissy, uptight offended thing, which I thought was hilarious, given how most of her comedy is playing on notions of offensiveness.

    Maybe it’s the tendency of US stand-up comedians to be really scripted and really uptight about their ‘art’, but I thought much less of her after that. A little bit of a hypocrite … Razer, I’m afeared you’re right and she’ll come out with a chunder-inducing heartwarmer of a book in the not too distant future.

    1. Yeah, I had a similar reaction. I was happy to attribute it to jet lag, but following Trainwreck, which was the worst kind of “celebration” of “empowerment”, I have prepared myself for more Offended Amy.
      Also. Don’t talk to the Fitzies and Wippas, or whatever these creatures were, if you prefer not to explain yourself to tools.

  3. Count me in for Maher all the way. He represents a progressivism that has balls, and isn’t whittled down to demanding trigger warnings on everything and meekly asking the conservatives to stomp on our faces a little more softly.

    His boorish misogynist streak (which doesn’t manifest in his show’s panel selection or treatment) is a symptom of his era and warning that the muscular left is dying out. I can forgive a few trite references to banging waitresses if they’re mixed into a solid argument for a loud and proud progressive movement.

      1. Not sure how you could place him anywhere else. Apart from contempt for the more precious forms of political correctness and a refusal to treat Islam as a protected form of religion, his politics are textbook leftist.

        1. Which “textbook”? It ain’t Capital and that’s pretty much *the* textbook.
          He is a liberal. This is not the same, at all, as being a lefitst. That we see centrist, free-market views as left today is itself evidence that leftism is something we could do with.
          I’m not being a pain, here. I’m just pointing out a distinction. One that is written down. A mildly progressive Dem is in no way a leftist. Leftism is a belief that capitalism will eventually reveal its internal contradictions and no longer be viable after a period of great productivity. It’s many other things, too but central to leftism is the idea that the way things are produced and consumed in capitalism is not sustainable. Leftism has a material focus. Leftism does not believe that capital can be civilised. This is not me talking. Just an account of leftism. Which is not liberalism. A liberal is not a leftist, whatever he tells himself.
          These are things that are in no way left: Malcolm Turnbull, liberal feminism, Steven Colbert, John Maynard Keynes, Thomas Piketty and Bill Maher.
          These people believe that capital can be civilised and redeemed. Leftists do not.(Leftists might wish to see the life of capitalism prolonged in a more just and liberal way, as in the case of Syriza. But this is not because they believe in liberalism. This is just because they believe the left is not ready to assert itself.)
          Not a critique. Just an observation and a desire to see leftism as something more than a cultural view. This is written down and it’s not really a matter of debate. Left isn’t what we so often say it is. It’s not libertarianism and it’s not “stickin’ it to the man” and it’s not a rejection of euphemistic language. Which, by the way, we can see Andrew Bolt railing against any day of the week.
          Bill Maher is not a leftist. He’s a liberal.

  4. Gives us a break Mz Razer….Comedians (female or male) inevitably become less edgy as they take off into the mainstream….as do critics….I persevere with your contributions because among the curmudgeonly bulk there there remain some exhilarating lines which make the effort worthwhile….just like performances by Sarah, Amy, etc.

    1. This is an arts and culture review site and therefore likely to be full of review.
      Chiding a critic for expressing their opinion in a publication designed just for that is a bit like yelling at the plumber for being in the bathroom with a basin wrench. Oh, you arrogant plumber. You just strut around doing the job for which you trained with such confidence, it makes me sick. What makes you so qualified to fix pipes? Don’t you know we all have a plumber inside us and your decision to plumb just denies the rest of us the plungers we richly deserve.

  5. I’ve never been a fan of Schumer, and even less so since she’s been forced down our collective throats and embraced by the crew over at Daily Life as the new Lena Dunham. I caught a glimpse of her live at the apollo performance and I’ve got to say, underwhelming and a bit stale.

    On the whole, I got to disagree with Doghouse and say women are (IMO) a lot funnier than men. Phyllis Diller – the grand dame of comedy – set a high bar (or is it a low bar?) and her death was a sad day for comedy. Plus I don’t think she ever wrote a book about being aspirational, inspiring and empowering. She just did her thing, broke a lot of barriers and didn’t bang on about the terminology.

    Top article Razer.

  6. I have no idea what Razer is saying in most of this article but she makes very good, unimpeachable, sense when she refers to Bill Maher as insufferable, a dullard and leaking a libertarian ooze. But then when she refers to Sarah Silverman – the self-declared some women want to be raped ‘comedian’ – as something other thatn a disgusting mangy pestiferous c… then Razer lost me again.

    PS I didn’t use the word first…so don’t even think about censoring this comment!

    1. It’s so true Doghouse. Penelope the 56yo secretary at your accounting firm is not NEARLY as funny as you and your mates pissing yourselves in the pub about that time Macca spewed up all over himself. But have you stopped to consider that maybe you’re just hanging out with the wrong women?

      1. Boy, have you ever got my number. Here’s a rundown– a day-in-my-life type deal:

        I start the day out with a bowl of Wheaties poured by my wife, complain the milk isn’t cold enough, patiently ask her to try harder before giving her cute pat on the button, a slap on her arse and a flip ‘bebopalula, baby’ before strolling out the door in a stetson 3xbeaver playboy fedora, a pair of stippled maroon wingtips and a good handful of old spice.At work I lean in close to my secretary and ask her if she likes hard drives, that with coffee that good, she’s REALLY going places. She gives me a beaming sunny ‘Hot diggity!’ and I can almost see an aura around her , a kind of crackling static, like the perimeters of a Dean Martin Flick.

        I later retire to to a gigantic black bed with chromium striping.It’s got lights and radio in the headboard, and is covered in a sham tiger fur throw. I tell my wife it’s real and that I killed it with a bic biro while prospecting in bangladesh. she believes me–why wouldn’t she? Sleep comes easily after the brisket and a deep dip into my collection of DVDs, which consists mostly of Lubitsch farces and candid camera. And while we’re on it–goddamn that woman can cook a brisket. I think that’s a really noble thing for a woman to be great at, you know–and nursing. Nursing’s a good one, too.When I finally nod off I dream of sweeping herds of mute, deshabille, hardbody nubiles grazing fields of baby’s breath innocently and doe-eyed as antelope. I mount several in no particular order. They are willing as bicycles.

        That’s me all over, man.

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