called “Don’t believe her defenders. Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist.” It was a followup of sorts to Guardian’s recent piece that argued Schumer has a “blind spot around race,” which ignited a firestorm of internet reactions that resulted in Schumer defending herself publicly on Twitter. The Washington Post took two jokes mentioned in the Guardian piece and built a bigger argument that attempted to make an example out of Schumer’s standup:
While black families are burying their dead, churches are burning, black women church pastors are receiving death threats and the KKK is planning rallies in South Carolina, Schumer is “playing” with race. While Latinos are being deported in record numbers, while “80 percent of Central American girls and women crossing Mexico en route to the United States are raped,” while children are languishing in camps in the Southwest, Schumer has got jokes, and only white America is laughing.
And sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and a critic’s job is to express that with, you know, facts and stuff. There’s just one problem, though: The Interrobang reached out to one of the authors of the piece, and she flat-out admitted that she’s never watched Schumer’s show or standup:
The Interrobang: Have you ever watched Amy’s television show… in preparation for the article? Stacey Patton: Nope. Not at all. The Interrobang: Her stand up set[s]? have you ever watched any of them? Stacey Patton: Nope. None of them.
Ironically, Patton told The Interrobang that one of the main reasons she wrote the article is because “one of her primary concerns here is context,” though apparently that wasn’t a concern of hers when it came to putting Schumer’s entire comedy output on the chopping block. Even so, she had a whole lot to say about Inside Amy Schumer’s audience:
“Based on the images that I’ve seen, photos of her– again, I have not watched any of her videos but if I look and I see a predominantly white audience that tells me something right there. And based on what I’m seeing on social media– and I have a huge social media audience myself, most of the black people that are commenting– actually all of them that I’m seeing– have been reacting very negatively to her. So that tells me that she’s not very popular among people of color. The vast majority of people of color who watch comedy don’t watch her. They watch the Queens of Comedy or the Kings of Comedy. The reality is that the comedy world is segregated. Period. Yes you have a few comics who might cross over a little bit, but it’s largely segregated. Most black people that I know who watch comedy don’t watch Amy Schumer. Go up and down my time line and time lines of other friends. They’re like, never heard of her.”
While it’s important to understand comedy or a specific joke in the context of culture and history, accusing comedians of being racist without even seeing their work is not only dangerous for the comedian, but for all the other comedy fans and critics who enjoy having constructive, nuanced conversations about the comedians and shows we love, or even the ones we find problematic. Inside Amy Schumer covers a lot of serious social issues like gender equality and rape in an often subversive way that you can’t pin down on two joke quotes from another article, and the fact that Patton’s piece ran at a respected site like The Washington Post makes it all the more troubling. Patton has also been defending herself in the comments by arguing that whether or not she’s seen Schumer’s shows is a “moot point”:
Again, I spent time reading a number of articles and reviews of her show. I did hear the clips of her making the racist jokes. After reading those pieces and listening to those clips, I had no desire to watch her in action. I’m not saying that she’s not a good comic. And I’m not even saying that she’s a racist. I never said that. But those jokes she told were racist. You don’t have to be a rabid racist to hold racial prejudices. When I do have free time to watch comedy, I have my favorite go-to people that I watch and generally they are Black comedians and other comedians of color. I’m generally not into white humorists, with the exception of a few comics. As for those comments, whether or not I watched her shows is a moot point. I’ve been writing about race for a long time and based on my experience the criticism, name calling and all, would still ensue.
What lesson can we learn from this? If you want to write an article calling a famous comedian’s work racist, you should probably research that comedian’s work first.