Some may find it easy to label Amy Schumer a one-trick pony: as the title of her special suggests, she talks about sex, and she doesn’t talk about much else. By virtue of being a woman and rooting her act in the realm of our most primitive emotions and behavior, Schumer is, to some, purely out for shock value. To make such a sweeping assertion, though, is not only an insult to Schumer’s remarkable cunning and perception, but it also casts a dark cloud over any comedian who bases his or her act around one pronounced subject.
Filmed at the Fillmore in San Francisco, Mostly Sex Stuff is an edited-down 41 minutes about, well, mostly sex stuff. Schumer makes no apologies and she doesn’t beat around the bush. Throughout her set, she discusses off-color subjects like waxing her vagina, the horror she experiences upon viewing an uncircumcised penis and her unique method for combatting pregnancy (Hint: for Schumer, it’s Plan A). All the while, she leaves her audience in stitches.
Yet it is at this juncture that the essence of Schumer’s persona and material comes under scrutiny. The central question is why is the audience laughing? Are they laughing because Schumer is funny, crafting well-written bits with good timing and a nuanced delivery? Or are they laughing because they’re shocked into it? Is Schumer, a woman—one who, even today, is not as normally expected (or afforded the chance) to make dick and fart jokes—throwing such subversive, unexpected material at her audience that they are literally shocked into laughter?
A good measuring stick to use upon contemplating this dynamic is whether the audience would laugh if, for example, Louis C.K. were making jokes of this ilk. The answer is undoubtedly yes, all things being equal. Moreover, would the audience laugh if George Carlin were going on an epic rant? Or if Jim Gaffigan were singing the virtues of fast food? Or if Marc Maron were overanalyzing a look a guy gave him? All these comedians have (had) a niche. So the question changes; has Schumer found her happy zone, wherein she can tease out humor with her own personal slant, or does she use jokes about anal sex in the same way an unpolished comedian might use the word “fuck” as a crutch? One’s answer is probably indicative of the openness of his or her worldview.
In this way, for one to speak ill of Schumer’s narrow focus is pretty tantamount to sexism. After all, it seems that every female comedian with a dirty mouth comes under fire sooner or later—Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman and Whitney Cummings instantly come to mind. This is a common complaint against female comedians, yet most students of comedy can call bullshit on this fallacy fairly quickly.
This is not to say, however, that Schumer is immune to criticism. Too often she reels off throwaway lines that, while certainly funny, are not even remotely close to the quality of her longer jokes. “Once you go black,” Schumer advises mid-bit, “your parents don’t talk to you anymore.” Jokes like these are cute and surely worthy of laughter, but they exist in their own little vacuum with no real substance behind them. These lines come off on occasion as unnecessary or contrived, whereas her more natural, organic material is so free-flowing and expertly delivered that it casts these lesser jokes in a comparatively inferior light as a result. Schumer would do well to pare down some of these asides and steer away from feeling compelled to use them to chop up and punctuate her bits. Her material is so strong, and her voice so worthy of attention, that all they do is detract from an otherwise exceptional performance.
This criticism aside, Mostly Sex Stuff is, by any stretch, an accomplishment. What separates Schumer from many comedians (male and female) is that she, without question, puts herself on the line. Every dirty word and foul thought she espouses can be traced back to her singular mind—a testament to her willingness to spill her guts. Schumer is more than comfortable humiliating herself for our pleasure. This is not without purpose, though; Schumer’s not talking about her vagina for the hell of it. It’s on her mind, she deems it worthy of discussion, and if she can do so with biting humor, then that’s good enough.
Coupled with her 2011 album, Cutting, Mostly Sex Stuff undoubtedly proves one thing: Schumer has balls. And hers are as big as any male comedian’s out there. What more could a comedy fan ask for?