Not all that long into Amy Schumer‘s first HBO stand-up special, Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo, the Trainwreck writer and star admits to not being all that aware of the news of the world. She knows certain names, like ISIS, but she doesn’t purport to have any detailed knowledge, insight, or even interest in such matters. She’s a classically personal comedian, one whose material primarily comes from her own life, a tonnage of experiences, intimate confessions, and observations filtered through her distinct, gleefully raunchy perspective, not unlike Louis C.K. and Tig Notaro. This is a not exactly direct way of saying that Schumer is the kind of comedian who will tell her audience about how her used underwear looks like a snot rag, or explains why she might allow a newly homeless stranger to go down on her.
She’s also the kind of comedian who is more than aware of her reputation, which is clear when she discusses being labeled a “sex comedian” in the press. It’s an understandable stamp to be put on the famously foul-mouthed Schumer, but it also misses the bigger point of why Schumer has garnered so much attention, and why Inside Amy Schumer — and for that matter, the quite excellent Trainwreck — have become so popular. There is, of course, the fact that Schumer is openly discussing the taboo nuances of being a sexually active woman who openly enjoys having sex, as well as her frank, uproarious way of discussing the psychology of body image issues. Beyond that, however, Schumer does an astounding job of expressing the same kind of intimacy with the body and bodily functions that male comedians so often lazily bring up, whether in the realms of fart jokes or masturbation. What she talks about in Live at the Apollo may take the form of self-criticizing and self-awareness, like when she talks about her sex life, her career, or exercising, but the crux of her viewpoint is the battle between the constructs of society and the furious madness of the inner self.
The big laughs in Live at the Apollo arrive late, when the comedian talks about sex-act nicknames and society’s attitude towards ejaculates, which is where she comes closer to touching onto bigger, universal matters and ideas. In these moments, she comes closer to the social critiques of George Carlin or Chris Rock, who directed Live at the Apollo and has been an open fan and supporter of Schumer for some time now. When she talks about the lack of sex-act nicknames for acts that benefit women specifically, she’s talking about being included in the conversation, about having the same quasi-embarrassing juvenilia that men have enjoyed and, in some cases, profited hugely from for so long.
Schumer is clearly passionate about this subject matter but her real coup in Live at the Apollo (like with Inside Amy Schumer and Trainwreck) is not making her case as a victim nor earnestly pointing fingers, but rather giving clear, personal examples of the world she and so many other women live in, and showing how very different these experiences are from people with penises. If Live at the Apollo doesn’t have quite the number of guffaws that Inside Amy Schumer so often produces, it nevertheless remains a deliriously enjoyable and refreshing take on a rite of passage for most major comedians, one that shows growth and a challenging wit in the enormously talented comedian. Not for nothing does Live at the Apollo also present a young, successful woman simply attempting to convey what it’s like to be female without the delicateness and sense of shame that has so often been forced onto the subject.
★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television