No one ever says “women aren’t funny” anymore. That old argument is just too dumb to say out loud. But somehow, it’s still okay to imply that women don’t love comedy as much as men. At least, that’s the subtle implication behind a particular strain of writing about Amy Schumer’s fantastic, proudly feminist sketch comedy show, Inside Amy Schumer—in which TV writers point out, again and again, that her show attracts a male audience, as if that should still be surprising or even necessary in 2015. Why do we still need a funny woman to “cross over” with dudes? And why is 50 percent of the population still considered a niche audience in the first place?
This whole conversation reminds me of something Chris Rock once said about Kevin Hart and building a base with black comedy fans: “You should always be able to count on your people, and then it grows from there,” he said. “If someone’s people don’t love them, that’s a problem. No one crosses over without a base. But if we’re going to just be honest and count dollars and seats and not look at skin color, Kevin Hart is the biggest comedian in the world. If Kevin Hart is playing 40,000 seats a night, and Jon Stewart is playing 3,000… why does Kevin Hart have to cross over?”
I know what you’re going to say: Amy Schumer isn’t playing to 40,000-seat stadiums yet. But she’s building the base she needs to get there. One of my favorite things about Inside Amy Schumer is that the writers don’t seem to care if they’re appealing to guys. “I’ve definitely been in rooms where you feel like writing things that have too much quote-unquote ‘female subject matter’ is not necessarily going to be welcome,” the show’s writer Jessi Klein recently told Cosmopolitan. “It’s seen as, ‘Oh, this is too narrow,’ or ‘Guys won’t enjoy this.’ Obviously on our show we don’t feel that way.” The sketches are broad enough that anyone can laugh, but the finer points of her comedy require a certain insider perspective about what it’s like to be a woman.
Season 3 offers many great examples of this. A music video spoof of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” finds a boy band telling Amy that she’s prettier without makeup, only to find that after she washes it off, they want her to put it back on again. (“Just a little mascara and you’ll look more female!” one young man croons.) The joke isn’t just that guys are lying to themselves about loving the natural look. It’s also a nod to a secret that all women know: “the natural look” actually requires a lot of work. Like previous seasons, which poked fun at how women can’t accept compliments or eat dessert in packs, season 3 also shows how women can be complicit in conforming to the unfair standards society sets for them. In one on-the-street segment, Schumer talks to passersby about strip clubs. “Did you ever have a boyfriend where you pretended to be cool with something when you weren’t?” she asks one woman. The answer: “Like, every single one.”
One of my favorite sketches actually focuses on a woman (played by Schumer) who is totally down for going to a strip club with her male coworkers, to the point where she ends up enabling them to kill a stripper. On one level, it’s a great critique of “false consciousness,” wherein you support the interests of someone who’s getting ahead by treating you terribly. But when it ends with a strange PSA about the wage gap between men and women—Schumer shouts out NotCoolWithIt.com, which redirects to a real-life pay equality web site—it becomes a much deeper critique.
When guys hang out together outside of work, a certain cronyism develops that can help speed along a promotion. Some guys avoid inviting women to those outings by choosing a hangout spot that they assume women wouldn’t enjoy. That leaves one choice: You either go to the strip club with them, or you accept that you’ll earn 70 cents to their dollar. The sketch offers an extreme example of this, but comes from a real place. Just look at that ski trip that Ellen Pao’s coworkers excluded her from, resulting in a famous lawsuit about discrimination in the workplace.
Inside Amy Schumer is an antidote to cronyism. Like Louie or Curb Your Enthusiasm, it often features cameos by other famous comedians: Kumail Nanjiani and Nick DiPaolo, among others, pop up in a spoof of 12 Angry Men, debating whether Schumer is “bangable.” But the show tends to highlight female comedians, celebrating Schumer’s predecessors, introducing her heirs, and focusing on what they all have in common. The season premiere’s magical “Last F—able Day” sketch, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette, was the perfect rejection of the “myth of not enough” that Fey talks about in Bossypants: the idea that there aren’t enough parts for women in comedy out there, so there’s all in competition with one another. If ever there was an “I don’t shine if you don’t shine” moment for women in comedy, this was it.
Maybe I’m making Inside Amy Schumer seem humorless. It’s not. Plenty of sketches are just silly and fun, including one about “the official Amy Schumer doll,” which looks and acts like a smutty, hungover Cabbage Patch Kid, and an over-the-top hip-hop video, starring Method Man and Amber Rose, that reminds us how weird it is that butts are considered sexy, even though they’re the place “where my poop comes out.” But it’s just as funny when it’s more political, and I don’t think the writers should apologize for appealing to their base.
Recently, in the New York Times, the critic Mike Hale complained that too many of Schumer’s new sketches “have a didactic, lecturing quality at the expense of the wild, smutty humor that made the show necessary viewing.” For me, that’s one of many reasons why Inside Amy Schumer needs to exist.Yes, her wilder side is funny. But why limit Schumer to one form of comedy? Why does she have to be smutty to be funny? I can’t imagine that a woman would say that.