If you have to get sick of seeing someone’s face on TV, make it Amy Schumer’s. Why? Well, firstly because being sick of seeing Schumer’s face seems to be part of her schtick. Every sketch on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer is preceded and followed by a close-up of Schumer’s face quick-scanning the streets of New York before the camera CSI zooms into her eye. Her face is the lifeblood of every sketch, and even the (mandatory) Twelve Angry Men parody episode in which she did not feature begins with her face dominating the screen. It’s also because Amy Schumer’s face is interesting to watch. Eschewing the hyperreal expressionism of her peers (not that there’s anything wrong with that – Key & Peele are as cartoonish as they come), Schumer’s face is a flickering deadpan, oscillating between irony and approval of the characters she plays and those she interviews.
Which is good news because Amy Schumer is everywhere. In fact, it would be perfectly possible to watch nothing but Amy Schumer on TV these days. There’s her weekly Comedy Central show which seemingly plays throughout the night (uncensored) on the network, her guest appearances on every late-night talk show around, her work on The Bachelorette (which ABC executives want to expand into a regular thing), and trailer-length promos for her upcoming movie vehicle Trainwreck in the ad breaks. We’ve seen this kind of momentary ubiquity before, of course, but rarely with a performer of such substance. That may be because Schumer is able to do provocative and powerful material while making it sound like a bunch of harmless Seinfeldisms. She even makes light of the issue-based thrust of her comedy, passing off most sketches as a PSA-gone-wrong, while underlining just how culturally urgent her intervention into modern life is.
Last night, Schumer confronted the alleged crimes of Bill Cosby. The heavily corroborated sexual assault allegations against the veteran comic seem fair game for comedians now and indeed it may be easier for a white female comic to talk about this topic than, say, the black male one who broke the story. It was the level of discussion that was remarkable. Refusing to debate the existence of the crimes (for, as she points out, there is no debate to speak of, despite all legal disclaimers), the court-based sketch was instead a more sophisticated exploration of how nostalgia and cultural comfort food (both real and symbolic, since this was the man who advertised Jell-O pudding pops) interfere with our sense of justice and gender equality. This is really what we struggle to reconcile, not crime and perpetrator. But this isn’t the first time Schumer has put her finger on the problem.
She coolly and pleasantly took on perceptions of women ageing with Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette celebrating Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘last fuckable day’ as decided by the media. She did an almost Sesame Street-esque scatological number on pop culture’s fetish for women’s sticky-out asses with a hip-hop music video set to the rhyme ‘milk, milk, lemonade, round the corner fudge is made’. Schumer was there to pinpoint the pathetic paradoxes of middle-class women pole dancing while condescending to women who work as strippers as well as female employees being obliged to be ‘cool with’ whatever their male counterparts want to do while being paid half the salary. Bravely she slayed a sacred cow of American comedy, the borderline-rapist late-night talk show host, and perversely she’s seemed to increase her appearances on these kinds of programmes as a result. She’s so popular that even her targets want to be seen with her.
It would be too easy to say that Amy Schumer’s success is down to the sugar-coating she puts on her social criticism, but it’s hard to deny that her self-aware baby-face mannerisms (see, the face again!) makes what she does much more palatable. But it’s not the cutesy-girl disguise that comedians like Sarah Silverman have used to deflect attention from their obscenity and controversy. It’s more direct than that, like having a conversation with someone who seems perfectly nice and you realise hours late they completely destroyed you. That’s what translates into mainstream entertainment so well. On The Bachelorette, she exposed the egregious insecurities of a male contestant without ever saying a cross word to him. She’s also not afraid of plumbing the lowest depths of entertainment, like dirty jokes and toilet humour, to get what she wants. The time of overkill will come, so enjoy her just killing it.