Schumer’s persona as a stand-up comedian certainly bleeds into her sketch show, both in its frequent cutaways to her solo act and its tendency towards self-parody in the form of clips like “Publicity Stunt” (Amy tries “pity-fucking a prom loser” to make up for a PR disaster involving a naked PETA shoot, a dog, and some peanut butter) and last week’s “Therapist” (Amy complains she has too much money to a woman whose parents just died). But Schumer’s stand-up both predates her Comedy Central series and operates in a different register from it, making the backlash against the former by those who know Schumer from the latter almost inevitable.
Like all comedians, Schumer plays a character onstage, and she assumes her audience knows it. Sometimes, “It’s just an act!” sounds like a built-in escape valve, allowing an entertainer to take credit for the jokes that land and pawn off the ones that don’t on a persona that doesn’t represent their real views. Mostly, however, stand-up characters are a way for comedians to craft a consistent point of view that they can use as a platform and their audience can recognize. Doug Benson is a stoner; Anthony Jeselnik is a clever asshole who speaks in one-line insults; Louis CK used to be an absurdist, and now he’s a perceptive everyman.
Amy Schumer, or rather “Amy Schumer,” happens to be ignorant, insensitive, ditzy – and, most of the time, the intended target of Amy-Schumer-sans-quotation-marks’ comedy. It’s the ethos behind some of her best cracks, and why Thériault’s objections to jokes like, “I finally slept with my high school crush… but now he expects me to go to his graduation!” don’t land. And when it fails, Schumer stops making fun of the clueless and simply becomes one of them.
All of which is fine! No comedian has a perfect track record, particularly when that track record is acquired through catering to an audience with its fair share of comedy club patrons who have a very different set of standards than the average Comedy Central viewer, as any nationally touring stand-up must. But it does call attention to the difference in Schumer’s output when she’s writing for an audience that skews younger and more progressive, more likely to find a sketch through a morning-after Jezebel pickup than catch a set at the local Laugh Hole.
It also means that the same people who propel this photo set of Schumer proclaiming, “People always think because I’m a white female female I don’t deal with racism. And I don’t!” to 220,000 Tumblr notes and counting will eventually have to reckon with the second half of that joke: “I saw that movie Jungle Fever and I get it. I love black and white movies!” Schumer delivered that line during her set in Women Who Kill, a four-comedian special that was released in 2013, just a month before the series premiere of Inside Amy Schumer (and is available in full on YouTube).
The line is gross, in the tradition of Schumer’s weakest standup, and definitely wouldn’t fly with her newer, larger audience — nor should it. But it’s worth acknowledging as the flip side of what makes Schumer’s persona work, and as Schumer herself put it, a sign that she’s evolved along with her increased exposure.