You know you’ve heard it said: Women aren’t as funny as men — or worse, women aren’t funny at all. I know I have. If you haven’t, listen to the now infamous rant by comedian Jerry Lewis about how women shouldn’t perform comedy or read the essay by the late Christopher Hitchens, who goes as far as to make an intellectual argument with biological underpinnings to explain why women aren’t funny. Among many of my male friends, this is unquestioned gospel. Here’s the problem: It's simply not true, and as much as any female comic working today, Amy Schumer proves it.
Schumer traces her descent from a long line of uproarious female comics including Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller, reshaping what is deemed “feminine,” and dishing out some first-rate gross-out humor. Schumer’s humor can be as deeply felt as Louis C.K.’s, but it also dispels the notion that women can’t take bathroom jokes. Sure, some of her material might resonate more deeply if you’ve personally faced the myriad affronts to human dignity experienced by women in our society, but the underlying truths are universal: bodies are weird and human beings will jump through almost any hoop to be accepted.
Schumer began performing stand-up following her college graduation in 2003 and spent two years studying acting at the William Esper studio in Manhattan. She garnered much praise for her performance as a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer in the off-Broadway play Keeping Abreast, and was a finalist in the 2007 season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. In addition to multiple guest appearances on shows like HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Girls, Schumer has produced two highly successful comedy specials, including 2012’s Mostly Sex Stuff, in which she relentlessly bombards the audience with self-deprecating tales of sexual misadventure and uncomfortable truths about the limitations of human willpower.
One of her best bits describes last call at a New York City bar, a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which all the men have become lecherous zombies, pacing around in pursuit of their prey. Naturally, she goes home with one. However, Schumer is an equal opportunity satirist. Take the following devastating takedown of Cosmo magazine’s never-ending list of sex tips, for instance:
Consistent in Schumer’s jokes about pubic hair and impotency — and throughout the sketches that make up her brilliant Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer — is a deep sense of empathy. Like many comics, she has dealt with extremely painful life situations that inform her material. Her father suffers from multiple sclerosis and her friend and writing partner, Tig Notaro, has just finally gone into remission from breast cancer.
In his essay on why women are supposedly unfunny, Christopher Hitchens suggests that they’ve never had any reason to be. He suggests that the best female comics merely imitate the aggressive humor of males. To watch Amy Schumer perform is to see a woman who is keenly aware of the workings of our society. Her material can be intelligent observational humor, or she can tell a juvenile potty joke, because, sometimes, no matter who you are, they’re funny. According to Hitchens, we men are the ones who need to reel off joke after joke to make up for our lack of attractiveness. Women have no need to entertain us, because, well, they’ve already got our attention. Maybe I’m the exception, Christopher, but I’m going for the girl with the good sense of humor every time.