By Mark Laherty
Schumer’s fourth stand-up special sees her in her usual mode: crass sex jokes. So, while the success of comedy always comes down to the spectator’s personal taste and what kind of a day you just had, it’s especially the case here. If I write that Schumer is funny, there’s the off-chance that some shmuck is going to accuse me of ‘virtue signalling.’ If I write that she isn’t, I could get lumped in with those same shmucks – and who wants that?
Anyway, this special is alright. Some of the jokes don’t land, others had me giggling to myself, and a few felt like ‘feminist comedy’ Tumblr posts from 2013. The simple idea driving this show and Schumer’s whole repertoire so far is that stand-up comedy is usually about the awkwardness and faux pas of life, but of a very male sort of life. So, Schumer ‘leans in’ (arf!) to her womanliness-itude and cheerfully delivers the grossest sex jokes she can muster. After all, if dudes, comedians or otherwise, can endlessly harp on about their dicks, why can’t she make jokes about her pussy? It’s a neat and effective conceit, one that most of her detractors prove the value of by complaining that she only ever makes jokes about her vagina. Ninja Sex Party never faced such criticism (and rightly so).
She’s pregnant now. This makes up much of the show, reasonably enough. That there is a functionally infinite amount of comedy to be wrought from pregnancy seems obvious and yet there isn’t a huge amount of comedy in any format based around it. I’m sure someone in the comments will be able to give me examples – Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s Should Have Got Off at Sydney Parade jumps to my mind – but there’s no sense in which this is a cliché even though it probably should be by now. Curiously, Schumer undercuts the whole proceedings by announcing within the first ten minutes that she’s only up on stage because of her contract. If she took maternity leave in her second trimester, she’d be sued. So, that hangs over everything thereafter.
Of course, Schumer’s place in the world is specifically that of a fat woman. It would be churlish to expect her to be an advocate for this or that if that’s not what she wants to do but the way in which she mocks herself for this has a curious double effect. It clashes with the rest of her brash, outward persona. Not to do the trite thing of referencing Nanette but there’s this sense in which the comic must make fun of themselves so that the audience will give them permission to speak, a dynamic that’s much more loaded when political power dynamics are tied in with unbreakable knots. The flip-side reveals itself when she lifts her dress and shows off near enough everything. The result is swaggering self-deprecation, a magic trick where she hates and loves herself at the same time.
Later in the show, once the audience is sufficiently won over with actual jokes, Schumer segues into the apocalyptic state of US politics. She talks about her October arrest for protesting the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. Never in this does she let herself appear to be a hero or some figure of virtue; she still plays to the basic idea of herself as a cartoon fat lady shoving snacks in her mouth. But, the weight of the moment is clear, obvious even. That’s the purpose of that section: to briefly get real, lend the special some air of artistic legitimacy or even activism.
It would be easier to swallow this ending if it wasn’t preceded almost immediately by the stock recital of a transphobic joke most of us will have heard before – “if a guy sends you a dick pic, send him a dick pic back.” This blow isn’t softened by her immediate feint, her pretence that it was a different joke. It’s a wink and a nod to the audience followed by a caveat as insurance, something said so that if anyone calls her out on it, she can say that she’s being taken out of context. I can’t claim to read minds, but if Schumer’s intention was to do this one-two combo, it’s a deeply cynical move, one you’d expect from GOP congressmen rather than the cosy liberal comedians who mock them.
If the unambitious politics of this special do hit the mark anywhere, it’s where Schumer talks about her husband’s autism. The widely publicised moment where she says that all his symptoms are all the reasons she fell madly in love with him is a genuine ‘aww’ moment, one that earns its progressive credentials. Any stand-up routine that gets a laugh out of autistic people’s social mishaps that ends up earning praise rather than scorn from advocacy groups is surely a winner, especially since they feel like something that hasn’t been done before.
But, the result of all this is a show that’s solid and respectable but smacks of weary alienation, cranking out sixty minutes of jokes until she can go home and barf.