Review: With New Stand-Up Special ‘Growing’, Amy Schumer Tries to Fix the Amy Schumer Problem
In the opening joke of her latest Netflix special, Amy Schumer talks about her old habit of referencing how much she’d get ‘f*cked up’ in whatever city she was performing in, but now those days are long gone because she’s married and pregnant. It’s a pretty succinct summary of Growing as a whole: How does the comedian whose bawdy party girl persona made her famous balance that crudeness with the undeniable comfort of domesticity?
It became very uncool very quickly to like Amy Schumer, especially over the past couple of years as her brand of stand-up aged poorly and her post-Trainwreck movie work proved underwhelming. That fiery promise from her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, which mixed gasp-inducing raunch with piercing socio-political insight and pop culture parody, didn’t seem to manifest in any of her other projects. Where was the no-holds-barred broad who took on college rape scandals with the most on-point Friday Night Lights parody ever, or the powerhouse who made Twelve Angry Men into a hysterical indictment of beauty standards directed at women? It’s not impossible to balance gross-out shocks with piercing social commentary, but outside of her show, Schumer seems to have stumbled more than she’s succeeded (remember I Feel Pretty?). As I once wrote, Amy Schumer has a bit of an Amy Schumer problem.
Growing is Schumer’s attempt to fix that problem, and it kind of succeeds. She’s several months pregnant at the time of filming and making plenty of quips about how many people think she’s further along than she is. Schumer’s candidness about how much her pregnancy has sucked still feels raw and relatable even as cultural conversations about it have gained a few shades of realness over the past few years. Schumer is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as acute morning sickness, which has left her vomiting and nauseous almost every day for the past several months (she recently canceled the remainder of her tour due to the severity of her symptoms). She’s tired and queasy, her belly button’s looking weird these days, and she has no idea if she wants to have sex with her husband or not. Schumer’s had no trouble defining herself in the past, and Growing feels like a natural extension of that.
As expected, her newfound domesticity forms a major part of the special’s arc. She adores her husband (who comes out of this hour sounding amazing, by the way) and is excited about motherhood but won’t shy away from how awful and terrifying the experience has been for her so far. In many ways, pregnancy is the perfect way for her to explore her favourite taboos. Schumer’s always been great with a sex joke, but combining that with having a small human growing inside you has given her some of her sharpest material in ages. You get the feeling that these major changes to her life have been revitalizing not just personally but professionally. One of the most memorable moments of the special comes when Schumer talks about going to DC to protest the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court, an incident for which she was arrested. She talks about toxic masculinity and how those messages ingrained from childhood manifest in the most abhorrent ways through to adulthood, moments that feel especially prescient in terms of Schumer’s own evolution. She has something to say and she’s more enthused than ever to say it now that she has a child on the way.
That’s not to say that Schumer has dropped her crude jokes altogether. There are plenty of them here and some land with a real punch. Schumer’s oft-underrated gift for slapstick gets many moments to shine here, as well as some hilarious elastic expressions that would have killed in the silent era. However, this is where we see the push and pull of Schumer’s evolution the most. Comparing her difficult pregnancy to the seemingly effortless and endlessly graceful one experienced by Meghan Markle plays a lot funnier and more honestly before she drops the most hackneyed ‘yaas Queen’ joke ever. Later on in the show, while talking about silently begging her doctor to pretend sex during pregnancy is a bad idea, she makes maybe the worst millennials jokes I’ve heard in years, and the clanger of a bad joke only rings louder when everything around it is so tightly put together.
Inevitably, Growing will be compared to the Netflix specials of Ali Wong, who broke into the mainstream with raunchy close-to-the-bone humour made all the more radical by her being so heavily pregnant as she performed it. It’s a parallel that doesn’t really work (and only further highlights how stupidly rare it is to see pregnant women in stand-up just getting on with their lives). Ali Wong was making an announcement with her stand-up, a declaration of her arrival, whereas Schumer is building on previous foundations. Both specials do make certain moments land with a more effective punch if only because the image of a very pregnant woman saying them is still something of a pop culture rarity.
I don’t blame Schumer for wanting to fine-tune her comedy image, nor do I think it’s wrong of her to not want to entirely discard the persona that made her famous. There are plenty of ‘party girl all grown up’ narratives out there and way too many of them are patronizing as all hell, so kudos to Schumer for not wishing to play into those ideas. But growing up was a good move (and even saying that about a rich woman in her 30s feels condescending). She’s dropped the racist crap that seemed to fuel so much of her wannabe frat girl image, and narrowing her focus to married life has given her more interesting boundaries to work within.
Amy Schumer: Growing is available to watch now on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix
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