Seemingly every new season of Inside Amy Schumer has brought us the same question: What is Amy going to donow that she’s gotten famous? Her profile has increased considerably each year that the sketch show has been on the air, and audiences are perpetually wondering how the show will be affected by that. We’ve watched her gradually evolve from a favorite at the Comedy Central roasts to a full-fledged superstar who pals around with Jennifer Lawrence. In that context, it’s natural to wonder how that ever-increasing fame is going to affect the comedy of someone who is known for dark humor and has never cared too much for keeping the audience comfortable. Luckily, Amy and her writers have done a fine job handling these adjustments in stride, and the show has continued to be one of the most consistently uproarious comedies on television.
One of the most frequently covered aspects of this show has been its feminist-leaning tendencies. After the second season hinted at feminist concepts with sketches like “Hello, M’Lady,” which skewered “nice guys” who turned cruel at the first hint of rejection, season 3 went into it full bore, with several sketches taking on explicitly feminist concepts. In the same episode, we saw the “Football Town Nights” sketch that looked at rape culture in high school, and “Last Fuckable Day,” a spot-on satire of Hollywood ageism. There was also the Emmy-winning song parody “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup,” which seemed to be a specific parody of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” but could be a stand-in for any song that attempted to appeal to female audiences with generic lines about how you’re perfect just the way you are, without offering real substance. The twist – that the boy band dudes change their mind after actually seeing her without makeup – drove the point home perfectly. Looking at these sketches, it was clear that Schumer had embraced the idea that she was a voice for feminism in comedy, and was bringing that into her show on a regular basis.
And yet, none of these sketches could match the masterpiece of season 3, the 12 Angry Men parody. This was an episode-length sketch focusing on the question of whether or not Schumer was “hot enough to be on television.” It followed the premise of the classic play note-for-note; in the beginning, only one juror thinks she is, then spends the rest of the episode convincing the jury to change their minds. This involves asking whether or not Schumer gives them a “reasonable chub” (a welcome addition to the lexicon), before eventually they all change their mind. This was Amy Schumer taking on sexism directly, and using her newfound fame as the platform to do it. Essentially, this was an entire episode dedicated to digging into the real meat of the rancid concepts those other sketches had only touched on briefly.
Really, the 12 Angry Men episode could have been an unmitigated disaster; to begin with, stretching out one sketch into an entire episode can be a huge problem if you don’t have the material to back it up. More importantly, the sketch ran the risk of being excessively heavy-handed. Can 22 minutes of hearing why old-school objectification of women is bad and harmful really make for an entertaining comedy show, or will it leave viewers merely feeling chastened rather than entertained? Luckily, the sketch ended up being hilarious mostly because it used a light touch. The raging sexist attitudes that made up the jury room were presented as silly and out-of-touch rather than dangerous and menacing, similar to how the “Hello M’Lady” sketch succeeded by portraying potentially creepy guys as awkward and a bit douchey, but ultimately harmless rather than as a serious threat. These sketches expose the idiocy of sexism by portraying it as a ridiculous sideshow rather than as an imminent threat.
But while season 3 established Schumer’s interest in feminist-minded comedy, a few key things happened in between the third and fourth seasons. The first was that Schumer’s feminism faced a backlash. Older jokes like “I used to date a lot of Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual” re-surfaced, causing people to ask whether hailing Schumer as a feminist comedy icon was a smart move. Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that the punchline to that joke isn’t “all Latino men are rapists” but rather “can you believe how horrible and racist that thing I just said was?” She was using irony as a way of mocking the foolishness of racism. Still, you get the feeling that when Schumer made the joke, she had no idea that she would eventually become either a major celebrity or someone who the world of social justice cared about. She didn’t have to choose her words as carefully back then, and now, in light of her increased fame, it was coming back to bite her.
Still, it didn’t hurt her that much, because the other major development that took place in between seasons was that Schumer became an even bigger celebrity than she was before. Trainwreck became a massive hit, she starred in a Super Bowl commercial, filmed a standup special at the Apollo, and began a standup tour where she’s played at sports arenas for upwards of 20,000 people. Rather than just being a star in the comedy world, Schumer has become a legitimate A-list celebrity. This couldn’t help but lead to the question of whether or not she was too famous for cable TV. With season 4 beginning, we had to wonder whether or not Schumer had become too much of a big fish for her current situation.
So far, that hasn’t been a problem yet. Schumer has used her newfound celebrity to recruit other A-listers like Liam Neeson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. These sketches could have been exercises in vain “look how famous I am” narcissism, but they were both pretty damn funny, with Amy’s attempt at writing her own version of Hamilton particularly drawing some major laughs. But while Schumer has had some fun palling around with celebrity friends, the show has also taken on a more serious tone at times as well.
The second episode of season 4 began with a parody of QVC-type shows that was dedicated to selling guns. As the sketch goes on, it points out all of the dangerous gun loopholes that exist, while a list of pro-gun congressman appears on the screen. This sketch was clearly a direct reaction to a shooting that occurred at a showing of Trainwreck last year. While Schumer may have held anti-gun views before, this tragedy undoubtedly affected her on a personal level, giving her the need to speak out about it. This sketch is funny at first, and certainly effective in making its point, but it’s the closest Inside Amy Schumer has ever come to being a bit too heavy-handed in its message. Still, considering how close this issue likely was to Schumer’s heart, she can be forgiven for being too on-the-nose just this once.
Elsewhere, the show has shown off its serious side in the “Amy Goes Deep” segments, which is often the least funny but most interesting part of the show. In season 3, she interviewed trans activist and adult actress Bailey Jay, in an interview that was met with mixed reviews. Some criticized it for asking questions about trans people that they would rather not be asked, while others praised it for starting a much-needed dialogue. This season, she has continued to bring on guests from walks of life we might not otherwise think about. One of her best interviews with the series was with a woman with Down Syndrome. Schumer succeeded here by not condescending, and treating her like a human being. But while that segment was heartwarming, Schumer was also willing to get dark with the segment where she interviewed a sociopath. This person spoke openly about not empathizing, and described some pretty disturbing behavior of their childhood. Still, Schumer took the interview head on, never recoiling, and always keeping an open mind to what her guest had to say. If the criticism of Schumer after her old jokes started an internet controversy was that she was a typical White Feminist, the “Amy Goes Deep” segment is what can prove those assertions. Week by week, she has shown that there is no under-discussed aspect of humanity that she is not willing to provide a voice and representation to.
With Schumer’s celebrity status lurking in the shadows of her show, we can’t help but wonder how much longer Inside Amy Schumer will be for this world. Still, while it’s here, it’s something we can appreciate. Schumer is using her celebrity to have fun with some of our favorite big stars, but more importantly, knowing she has one of the more popular comedies on basic cable, she’s used her fame to give people we normally wouldn’t hear from a chance to tell their stories. Most importantly of all, she’s been able to take on more of an activist persona while not giving up the bawdy humor that made us love her in the first place.