Accepting the Trailblazer Award at the Glamour UK Women of the Year event last week, Amy Schumer brazenly proclaimed in her speech, “I’m probably like 160 pounds right now, and I can catch a dick whenever I want.” She shrugged as the audience laughed. “It’s not a problem.”
Her language—crude, bro-ish, self-congratulatory—is most of all, completely true. With the successful, Peabody-winning sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, Inside Amy Schumer, and a much buzzed-about Judd Apatow movie, Trainwreck, opening on July 17, Schumer seems pretty irresistible right now. Who wouldn’t want to be caught by her?
Well, plenty of people actually. Forums exist on Reddit and elsewhere devoted to how unattractive Schumer is and how she doesn’t belong on TV—childish criticisms she directly responded to this season on her show with the brilliant skit, “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer.” A group of 12 noteworthy actors and comedians—including Paul Giamatti and Jeff Goldblum—play out scenes from the movie 12 Angry Men, as they attempt to decide whether Schumer is hot enough to be on TV and if she gives them “reasonable chub.”
Schumer has always played with the fact that as a female comedian she’s bound to be objectified—it’s a part of her punch lines as much as it is a part of her success. In a 2012 interview with Howard Stern, she admitted that she wore a sexy dress and heels to do a comedy special because she figured it would convince people to watch her: “People see a female comedian, and they’re just like, ‘Yawn, what else is on?’ But they see a chick that’s kind of interesting to look at and you see some skin, and at least you’ll stay tuned and listen to what she has to say.”
In a lot of ways, Schumer’s openness about her sexuality and her casual willingness to play to what men want makes her seem like the perfect “cool girl,” as defined by another famous Amy. True, she isn’t a size 2, and she certainly doesn’t “smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let [her] men do whatever they want” (unless she’s playing a character), yet Schumer comes about as close to this male fantasy as is possible when you don’t look like, say, Kate Upton. She is crass, she is sexual (and proud of it), and she often talks about hanging out after hours in comedy clubs with the guys, cracking jokes and taking shots. She is, in other words, a lot like a man—with the added benefit that she’s a woman.
She parodies men’s desire to essentially date themselves in the skit “A Girl Who Can Hang,” in which guys sit around a bar ogling Schumer as she devours a hamburger with her mouth open. The guys start talking about how hot they find it when chicks act like dudes, and describe girls they’ve met who exhibit masculine traits (one guy talks about a girl who has “a little bit of stubble,” another “a very prominent dick”) until suddenly one of the guys asks, “Should we just fuck each other?”
Schumer gets the whole “bro” culture, and she is kind of a bro herself. But she’s a bro who feels, who cares, who hurts, and who has the ability to look at the bigger picture. She’s bursting with emotions that occasionally, when you least expect it, slip out—not angrily, but sadly.
Just take her skit “Sexting” from Inside Amy Schumer’s first season. In it, a guy tries to sext her, asking her questions like, “Whaddya want me to do to you?” to which we see her respond “hold me” with a sad emoji face and, “Tell me I’m safe in my apartment.” She’s looking to express her emotions, but is self-aware enough to know that she probably shouldn’t. This makes her much more enjoyable to watch than Lena Dunham’s Hannah on Girls, who feels everything, verbalizes everything, and commands us to acknowledge those feelings constantly. Schumer feels everything too, but she tries to cover up her vulnerabilities and pretend she doesn’t. That withholding seems a lot truer, and thus, a lot funnier.
Schumer has discussed in interviews how she turned to comedy to make her family laugh after her father was diagnosed with MS. Rather than simply cover up her insecurities with humor, Schumer has cleverly made her tendency for doing that the crux of the joke. It’s not funny that Schumer buys her coworker a lap dance in a pathetic attempt to curry favor with him in the skit, “Cool With It”; what’s funny is that she thought she could even try.
Though her humor is often described as feminist because she highlights many of the injustices that modern-day women face, much of it also applies to men’s behavior and their inability to connect to their feelings. She’s a “cool girl” in the sense that she can hang with the guys, but also because she understands the pretense so many men use to cover up their insecurities.
John Saward, in a beautiful essay from Vice last year titled, “This American Bro: A Portrait of the Worst Guy Ever,” performs an ethological study on the slobbering men who barge their way around Penn Station on St. Patrick’s Day reeking of cheap beer. Most of the piece is devoted to all the things the bro consumes or destroys, but toward the end, he grants the “worst guy ever” one single, fleeting second of vulnerability. “He is never calling her back, he is texting his friends that he never called her back, he has moments of solitude when he wishes desperately that he had called her back, and then he is doing 75 pushups because NO REGRETS.”
It is in the moment when he “wishes desperately that he had called her back” that Amy Schumer thrives. She is the hedonistic glutton who also regrets her behavior and who pretends to be “cool with it,” but who knows on some level she might not be. Schumer is allowed both to “catch a dick” and to cry when a guy treats her badly; for her, there’s no contradiction between the two. She can be belittled and pathetic and weak, but she emerges from that stronger and funnier than before.
When Schumer lets us inside her, we’re not just getting the sex, we’re getting all of it: all of the fear, all of the self-loathing, and all of the insecurities that, try as she might, she can never really get rid of. Schumer brings us to the darkest, saddest parts of her psyche, and she takes us there laughing all the way.