comedy review

With the Return of Inside Amy Schumer, at Least We Still Have Farts

Photo: Matt Wilson/Paramount +

The world has come to feel like a scary and precarious place, where rock-solid truths that once seemed like immutable constants are fracturing into pieces and terrible surprises lurk around every corner. The return of Inside Amy Schumer often tries to reflect that alarming world, to greater and lesser success. Schumer’s sketch series is at its best, though, when it’s reaffirming that some things are still reliable. Some truths do still exist. Namely: Farts are funny.

The joy of Schumer’s sketch comedy was always in its distillation of familiar cultural tropes. While most sketch comedy does this at least to some extent, the original Comedy Central run of Schumer’s show was most beloved for its ability to put its finger on some character archetype or real-world experience that hadn’t ever been articulated so clearly as a type — often because Schumer focused on female experiences that had often been ignored in male-dominated sketch groups. Sketches like “Football Town Nights” or “Last F**kable Day” were remarkable for the way they captured some idea or person, but also for how that concept became more visible once Schumer embodied and warped it. The best Inside Amy Schumer sketches often worked on the same logic as many of the most memorable political impressions: one or two qualities blown up into surreality, making a reductive portrait of someone that feels more real than reality.

But the prospect of achieving that kind of sketch material is different in 2022 than it was in 2013–2016, when Inside Amy Schumer first ran. Even in that short time, social media has become so much more prominent and inescapable, and it’s that much harder to present an articulation of some cultural phenomenon that will feel surprising and novel. Front-facing comedy, in particular, has taken over a lot of the space that once made Schumer feel so different from everything else around. In the right areas of TikTok and Twitter, you can hardly scroll for 30 seconds without running into a comedian in a wig, neatly embodying an influencer mom or an astrology obsessive or a toxic best friend. The magic trick of finding the trope that existed but wasn’t immediately identified as a trope has become more challenging to pull off.

Thankfully for the new episodes of Inside Amy Schumer, though, good sketch comedy can be more resistant to familiarity than other forms of comedy, namely stand-up. An early sketch, for instance, depicts Schumer with several friends (played by Cazzie David, Olivia Munn, and Bridget Everett) sitting in a lovely suburban living room, talking about how grateful they are. The scene is an onslaught of clichés about how important it is to practice gratitude and being present in the moment, but the achievement of it is really in the tone of their voices. They nod and smile and say “Gratitude!” with inflections unmistakably full of smug self-confidence. The sketch turns into a hypocritical spiral of all the procedures and methods they use to maintain gratitude for their natural bodies, but the chief pleasure of it is just in the depiction of these women and their hilarious rhetorical echo chamber.

As a stand-up routine, that idea on its own could so easily feel stale. Women claim to love themselves while also using every laser and cryochamber ever invented in order to wrestle their bodies into social acceptability, but that idea is now well worn. As a sketch, though, there are several voices in the room to sweetly one-up each other, and sketch has clearer boundaries for portraying a character. This doesn’t have to be Schumer talking as herself. This can be more obvious as a character she’s playing. Even if the idea of it is familiar, the depiction can still be fun. There are a few sketches like that in the first two episodes — one about reality television, one about misogyny in corporate culture, and one about Spanx that most clearly crosses over into “Are we as a culture still making Spanx jokes?” territory. (Surely Bridget Jones’s Diary is over 20 years old now??)

What feels most new about this incarnation of Inside Amy Schumer, though, is its bevy of more explicitly political sketches. There’s a run of three straight in a row in the first episode. The first is a send-up of Hallmark Christmas movies, ending in guest star Ellie Kemper suddenly remembering exactly why she left this red-state town in the first place. Next there’s a PSA about abortion access written in the guise of a Colorado state tourism advertisement. Then, the only sketch without Schumer in it: an orientation meeting for a girls’ freshman dormitory, cheerfully outlining all the ways the new students can protect themselves from being assaulted.

I cannot deny that these sketches do at least some of what they’re aiming to do. They don’t feel like pressure-relief valves for the nightmare of living in the current American political system — they are too explicitly angry and message-driven for that — but there is a ringing, resonant feeling to them. Most of Schumer’s sketches imply the existence of the real world. “Gratitude” is about an immediately recognizable phenomenon from contemporary American life. “Flatuda” is a mimicry of inescapable pharmaceutical ads. The Spanx sketch is so tied to a real product that at one point the commercial spokesperson, played by Michael Ian Black, has to clarify that these should not be associated with the actual company. (Which is just absurd. Obviously they’re describing the same experience!)

But the political sketches are not about implication. There’s no exaggerated embellishment; they’re direct, specific, pointed acknowledgments of reality, written with the awareness that reality is now something that Schumer can no longer assume every viewer will agree about. They are bald statements of fact with the thinnest coating of a sketch-comedy shape, and it’s not entirely clear what they’re for. The Colorado tourism ad sketch is barely a joke. Maybe there will be an audience of Inside Amy Schumer viewers for whom sketches about college rape culture and abortion access will feel revelatory. For the most part, they perform the same call-and-response function that Schumer depicts in that “Gratitude” sketch. “Abortion,” one Schumer character might as well be intoning. “Abortion,” a like-minded audience might reply, sad and serious. Call-and-response has a purpose: It is good to feel affirmed, and to point to a set of shared values. But it’s not the most exciting sketch comedy.

Still, for every three sketches about the bleakness of 2022, Inside Amy Schumer does supply at least two total oddballs. The first two episodes both end with songs from Ron Weiner, each focusing on some small, simple idea and performed with cutesy animated backgrounds. (My favorite is the second of the two, which is about how no one needs to buy napkins.) They don’t particularly fit with anything else about Inside Amy Schumer. The tone is a strange companion to Schumer’s high-key anxious intensity, and they feel like throwback comedy songs, which is an odd choice to accompany the series’ otherwise extreme focus on Now. But they’re fun and unexpected, and just weird enough to be a palate cleanser from the other sketches.

When everything else is uncertain, and when comedy about the collapse of American civil liberties is not really cutting it, there are still fart jokes. The best sketch of the new episodes is also the stupidest and most unmotivated by anything dire in the world: “Fart Park,” about a park in New York City where people go to fart. It devolves from there, but that’s the idea. There’s no bigger message, and amid the show’s other sketches, “Fart Park” feels like a safe haven in the darkness. Schumer wants the revival series to reflect all the righteous fury she obviously feels about the state of the country. It would be nice if there were a few more farts to help the medicine go down.

Inside Amy Schumer Returns, and at Least We Still Have Farts