About two-thirds into her stand-up special The Leather Special — which came out today on Netflix — Amy Schumer’s act makes a turn that perfectly encapsulates the comedic point of view that launched her from well-liked club comic to stadium headliner in three years. But to get it, you first need to know about the 35 minutes that precedes the notable joke.
The material comprising the first half of the set could be filed under “Mostly Sex Stuff,” to borrow the title of her first special. It’s like Trainwreck come to life. There’s a joke about how the worst thing to have a naked photo of you called is “brave.” There’s a bit about coming out of a blackout to a guy going down on you. (“That’s brave,” she says.) There’s a particularly thorough chunk about the smell of her vagina (hence the “brave” comment from the previous joke). She breaks down what it’s like to have sex with her (she compares herself to one of those silver frozen street performers). She acts out a scene of having her boyfriend — how do you say? — come on her tits. It’s all vivid and honest.
It’s subversive, insomuch as conventional comedy wisdom dictates that you end your act with your sex material. Most audiences, being red-blooded and such, tend to laugh the hardest and loudest at sex stuff because it’s titillating and inappropriate; consequently, you shouldn’t put it early because it’s hard to then follow with anything more subtle or thoughtful. Schumer flips that thinking, loading the front of her special with her bawdiest material. It was an intentional decision, as Schumer planned the set sequence deliberately to build to the best moment of the special.
After talking about feeling like trash at the Peabody Awards ceremony — when they showed a clip from Inside Amy Schumer where she takes a bite of a burger and then goes to the bathroom to “make some room” — Schumer downshifts hard to talk about the victims who were killed at a showing of Trainwreck. This leads to a discussion about gun control, an issue she has taken greater interest in since the shooting. It’s the type of material that’s tough to pull off after 30 minutes of debauchery. And, certainly, the audience response is much more muted. Watching it I felt tense, if only because I had heard reports of walkouts. But all of it was prelude this joke:
“You know, I totally hear you guys. You’re like, ‘Schumer, you were just talking about come all over your tits, now we have to listen to this shit.’ But what’s crazy is that you can catch a hot load all over your titties and still not want your loved ones to get shot in a theater.”
That’s why she opened with sex talk. She was saying, “Is this what you want from me? Well, guess what, that person is also the person with opinions that make you uncomfortable.” It’s like a boxer getting an opponent to lower their guard, while their back hand is winding up for a big ol’ uppercut. It’s Schumer at her best — pointed, raunchy, unapologetic.
Her last special, Live at the Apollo, suffered from feeling disjointed, with personal, feminist material not blending well with jokes that were written and told as if she was playing an ironic character. Here, Mostly Sex Stuff–era Amy Schumer perfectly blends with the Peabody Award–winning Amy Schumer. The Leather Special is Amy Schumer’s best hour to date, because it is the most Amy Schumer.