Stand-up comic, writer and actress Amy Schumer is the hottest comedian of the day. She has been steadily growing in popularity, and breaking ground for female comedians. Her hit Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer scored huge ratings, winning a Peabody Award and Critic's Choice Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Prior to her show, Schumer rose to fame through stand-up comedy, most notably her piece "Mostly Sex Stuff," and appearances on Last Comic Standing.
Schumer's new movie Trainwreck doesn't open until July 17th, but has already received plenty of positive reviews, and is poised to be another check in the win column for the New York-based comedian. However, as Schumer steadily becomes more popular, as with most celebrities of the day, she's has come under close scrutiny by the public eye.
Recently, critics have accused Schumer of racial insensitivity, most notably in her stand-up repertoire. In a compilation published by The Washington Post, Schumer's race jokes paint her commentary as harsh, and perhaps inappropriate coming from a white woman in such a context.
These accusations drew significant attention, and after initially defending her old jokes and explaining that they were part of an "irreverent idiot" act, Schumer changed tactics and apologized. In a different tweet, she explained how previously in her standup act, she played a "dumb white girl persona," yet once she realized she had attained a larger audience and, she altered her satire accordingly.
— Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) July 6, 2015
But, for some, this was not enough. Washington Post critics Stacey Patton and David J Leonard published an article explaining that Schumer's racists jokes should not be so easily forgotten. Patton and Leonard then compared Schumer to Donald Trump, and even worse, to mass-murderer Dylann Roof. Schumer’s supporters swiftly responded to the comparison, calling it ludicrous to equate a comedian with a terrorist.
Schumer has built her brand upon feminism and self-deprecation, and not necessarily race. In her show, she's made important commentaries issues like sexual assault in the military, male-orientated sex and the absurdity of sex tips within women's magazines.
Although her past stand-up repertoire has included race jokes, her show Inside Amy Schumer marks a significant change in career and mantra. Schumer's sketches actively work to expose prejudice and hypocrisy, primarily placing ignorant white women at the as the butt of these jokes. In her sketch "Urban Fitters," Schumer parodies a white woman awkwardly attempting to describe an African-American sales associate, all the while avoiding the word "black."
Schumer explicitly stated in a CBS interview how her intent is to mock "white women in their 20s and 30s" because, as her sister and co-writer Kim Caramele explains, "they're just the worst". Pointing out the sketch "The Universe," Caremele elaborates that white women exhibit "ways of not having to take responsibility for what happens to them and around them." Schumer explains that when these female fans approach her and claim that Schumer "gets them," she finds it comical. "No, you're who I'm doing a parody of," says Schumer.
However, there are comics who, unlike Schumer, build their comedic reputations upon primarily racist, homophobic, sexist and even rape-based comedy. Jeff Dunham's not so funny puppetry act has resulted in many Islamophobic jokes and resulting backlash. Gallagher's act features homophobic and racist remarks, which he attempted to defend in a 2011 interview with Marc Maron, before leaving the interview. In 2006, Seinfeld's Michael Richards yelled racist expletives during a stand-up act in a heated rant directed against an African-American audience member. And in 2012, Daniel Tosh was heavily criticized when he responded to a disruptive female audience member by asking, 'Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?"
All of these comics have had many questionable moments with words. However, Schumer's past remarks do not level with these in the slightest. Schumer took responsibility, changed her material, and pursued other goals in her comedy. She engaged with her critics and ceased to defend her past actions. Instead, Schumer recognized the larger role she plays, and has made tasteful and necessary comedy since.
It's important to remember that stand-up comics are playing a constructed role on stage. Amy Schumer's past material does not necessarily represent her thoughts and beliefs, and her show Inside Amy Schumer further supports this notion with satire revolving around feminist agendas and exposing hypocrisy. Schumer recognized the offensive nature of her past comments, and engaged in a dialogue about how words affect action and should be examined with care.
While we should separated Schumer's past jokes from her true persona, and take her apology at face value, it's still imperative that the world continues to keep celebrities and public voices accountable for their words. When celebrities speak, fortunately or unfortunately, people listen. It is crucial to keep such people responsible, especially as they attain larger audiences, and become the hottest comedian of the day.