I’ve been on something of a stand-up binge on Netflix lately. With precious free time to do more than eat and occasionally wash my armpits (if I’m feeling fancy), I’ve been neglecting a lot of the little things in life, such as live comedy shows.
In the past, the likes of Dylan Moran and Russell Brand would be my go-to comedians, even if I had watched every routine of theirs to the point of them just not being funny anymore. There are only so many times you can watch Brand fantasise about licking out Queen Elizabeth. With a library of specials to bring me back around, I delved into what Netflix had to offer.
Over the next two weeks, I watched shows from the likes of Katherine Ryan, Trevor Noah, Mike Birbiglia, and Neal Brennan – each of them hit it out of the park. Ryan’s fake mean girl shtick wears after a while, but she switched it up enough to keep the laughs coming, especially when she reminisces about the time the whole of the Philippines hated her for a joke taken out of context. Noah’s timely discussion of immigration and tales of Scotland meant that is was a varied set with many memorable moments. Birbiglia’s, at times, docile demeanour and heckling of an out of touch audience member struck a chord, and that’s without mentioning the dumb puns he and his wife have for things. It was Brennan’s set, however, that was the best of the lot: an innovative, emotionally investing routine that utilised three different mics for three different tones.
So when it came time to watch Amy Schumer’s Leather Special, it was like going from The Improv to my local pub, cigarette stains and all.
Apart from Trainwreck, the comedy movie Schumer penned and starred in, I wasn’t at all familiar with her work. I knew she was known for being crude and rubbing people up the wrong way, so going into the show, I expected sex jokes by the dozen. And that’s just about all there was.
From the first few minutes to the last, Schumer reels them off like an even more exhausting version of Leisure Suit Larry. Stories about waking up and being eaten out by some random guy, her vagina being ISIS, and the best placement for semen might be funny when told in a better rhythm; Schumer’s brand of stand-up is disjointed, often lacking the right timing, pacing, or even a punchline. It’s just saying crass things for the sake of saying crass things.
What makes a lot of modern comedy great is a narrative, a spine that connects all the jokes in a meaningful and interesting way, something the four acts mentioned earlier seemed to perfect. There’s nothing to latch onto with the Leather Special, just a series of frank and brash gags that wear out their welcome. Schumer starts off promisingly, talking about the media’s twisting of her naked Instagram selfie into almost an insult: “she’s so brave“. There are other glimpses of material like this, but it feels squandered in the mire of fart jokes and going “knuckle-deep into my asshole”.
Public reception hasn’t been warm to the Leather Special, leading to several publications pointing the finger at the Alt-Right or misogynistic corners of the web for effectively spamming the Netflix ratings with low-star reviews. Schumer herself went along with it, eager to blame the anonymous online boogeymen in an Instagram post.
“I am so proud of my special and grateful to all the people spreading love on line about it. I am the first female comic who is selling out arenas all over the world and so grateful for that. I am embarrassed for the “journalists” who report on trolls activities as if it’s news. It’s indicative of administration right now. Anyone who reported that “viewers aren’t happy” with my special, it would have been cool if you did a moment of research before posting. The alt right organized trolls attack everything I do. Read the @splitsider article. They organize to get my ratings down. Meeting in sub Reddit rooms. They tried on my book and movies and tv show And I want to thank them. It makes me feel so powerful and dangerous and brave. It reminds me what I’m saying is effective and bring more interest to my work and their obsession with me keeps me going. I am only alarmed by the people printing their organized trolling as “news” this is what the current administration wants. So this post has nothing against the trolls. I thank you trolls so much. It fills me with hope and power to see you all furiously posting so as always accuse me of whatever lies you want. Call me a whale. Call me a thief and I will continue to rise and fight and lead. I know who I am. I am strong and beautiful and will use my voice my whole time on this earth. Journalists do better it’s embarrassing. Trolls see you on the next one!”
It’s hard to deny that at least some of the negative backlash can be attributed to those who are simply out to get her, but a sweeping statement that denounces any negativity as the work of trolls is opportunistic at best, dangerous at worst. The Alt-Right, who get zero love from me, have become too easy to blame for everything – any sort of mass reproval will be tenuously linked to the dingy pits of internet culture for a click here, an outraged share there.
A lot of the time, the media just doesn’t get it right – they take one look and think they know everything. People may be more aware of PewDiePie’s recent fallout with the mainstream press, but it was 2016’s public shaming of James Rolfe’s refusal to watch the new Ghostbusters that troubles the most. He had to be a misogynist right-winger for boycotting the movie, just in the same way that you have to idolise Hitler to not like Amy Schumer’s stand-up.
Since the election, more and more publications are taking hard stances on reporting either from the left or the right, as if it’s that black or white. Potshots are taken with every incendiary and disproportionate headline; conservative media’s almost constant scapegoating and witch hunting balanced by much of the same from the liberal side. It’s a war to see who can shout the loudest and it doesn’t seem to be getting any less hysterical or divisive.
In my opinion, Amy Schumer’s Leather Special is nothing special, but if you enjoyed it, good for you. If you didn’t enjoy it, good for you, too. Comedy is subjective, so to paint any critic as one of them is as stupid as it is to “hate not having cum on my tits”.