How Amy Schumer Fast-Tracked Her Own Backlash
Last week GQ released its photo spread with Amy Schumer, who’s on this month’s cover. I’ve already railed about what irks me in these photos. It’s Schumer being “Funny Girl” and “Sex Stuff Girl” because that’s the brand she’s developed, but it’s also nothing more than that. GQ reduced her to what we already know of her, added nothing, and then presented that image to us in a way they knew was unavoidable. Not only were the photos were everywhere (online, in supermarket checkouts…) but by their very nature— hypersexualized parodies of characters owned by an ultra-litigious company— GQ and Schumer KNEW they would get talked about. A lot. And that’s the double-edged sword of heavy publicity.
Four months ago, when Trainwreck premiered at the SXSW film festival, Schumer wasn’t unknown, but she hadn’t exploded. She’d done two seasons of Inside Amy Schumer, but hadn’t done the Friday Night Lights rape parody, “Last F*ckable Day”, or the 12 Angry Men episode that were (arguably, I suppose, if you’re okay being wrong) the best things that the show has done. But for her fans, which now included the majority of critics who saw that premiere of Trainwreck, we knew she was going to explode and we couldn’t wait. So we talked her up, we covered her show more (partly because this season was better, partly because we were taking more notice, and partly because Comedy Central was promoting her more), and while that sort of over-exposure may have been a little tiring on its own, it was compounded by something even bigger. Suddenly Schumer wasn’t just a comedian. She was everything. She was the poster child for young, edgy comedy everywhere. She was declared a feminist icon, the go-to spokeswoman for all of modern feminism.. GQ declared on their website just in the last week that “Amy Schumer is the funniest woman in the galaxy” and “Amy Schumer is changing the face of comedy.” This is the image we were handed— or, more accurately, had shoved in our faces over the last few months, and many of the people reading and hearing these things had never actually heard Schumer speak a single word. Many more had seen a sketch or two that had been posted online, or, worst of all, maybe they’d caught some of her uncharacteristically lackluster MTV Movie Award hosting gig. But pretty much without fail, every time I’ve written about the woman, there have been a handful of commenters who say they don’t know who she is, they’ve never seen her, and they don’t get why everyone is going crazy over her.
And that is the ever-maddening point. In trying to make this woman everything, we’ve destroyed her before she had a chance to even begin. Amy Schumer did this interview with GQ back in May, at which point she was started to be everywhere, but we weren’t collectively tired of her yet. (Well, maybe a tiny bit. She’d just done that David Letterman/vagina thing that felt very overplayed by the 10th time we read about it, though I would still guess most of us who complained never actually watched the clip.) And this is what Schumer had to say about her inevitable backlash that always comes from this kind of oversaturation:
I truly feel I’m getting a lot of attention right now and it’s just a ticking time bomb. Like, I wonder what the thing is going to be that will make people want to burn me at the stake. There’s no way to control it. I think it will be really arbitrary and a misunderstanding. But yeah, I’m really enjoying the love right now…. I think I’ve got another couple months.When asked if she really thinks that will happen, she replies “It’s a certainty, yeah.”
That’s how it is. Because I’m not going to shut up. And I think people only want women to speak for so long. They build you up, and then they’re just ready to tear you down. Like Hillary—when it’s really go time for her, I’ll definitely be active, and that’ll make people hate me. I know inevitably I’ll get more political, just as an adult with changing interests, which is good—no one wants to hear me talk about who I fucked or whatever for another twenty years. And I hope I’m wrong, but I just think there’s this “Don’t disappoint me in any way.” If you say one joke that offends, it feels like, “Oh, wait, I thought you were my everything, and now you’re dead to me.”I think she f*cking nailed it there. This kind of backlash is always inevitable when we build celebrities up so high, they can’t exist in that space. They have to fall. The difference with Schumer is that we built her pedestal before she’d had a chance to build its foundation. People heard they were supposed to love her before they knew why, before she had enough material or history or experience to back up the reputation we forced onto her. So sure, maybe you just don’t like her comedy, her writing, her whatever. But for every person that just isn’t a fan, there seem to be ten who aren’t a fan of her image, or just feel tired of hearing about her. If you look at the comments on Pajiba’s Trainwreck review, the shift in reaction from its first publication date in April, to its reposting in July is noticeable: from excitement for a movie we hadn’t seen to exhausted frustration and skepticism about a movie we hadn’t seen. And we can’t ignore her biggest controversy, how she has lately had the descriptor “racist” thrown at her. Which you may actually think is true, and her use of race in her stand-up is an interesting, difficult discussion that should be had— but that argument is largely coming from (AND WAS EVEN STARTED BY) people who are not familiar with Schumer beyond what they read in headlines.
And through all of this, I know I’m making Schumer out to be some sort of victim in her own career, which is crazy. This is that double-edged sword I mentioned earlier. When her fans and the media (and her fans IN the media— of which I do count myself, I accept a scrap of the blame) built her up, she didn’t shy away. She saw what was happening, as she said to GQ, and she didn’t lie low. She got louder. And what was she supposed to do? She had a movie coming out that she was definitely contractually obligated to promote like crazy. But she was also having a huge boom, and she should be allowed to enjoy that if she wants to. Would we be tired of her if she hadn’t been on our TVs and internets and billboards and city buses the last few months? No. But would her movie, a controversial female-led romcom have been the #2 movie in the country this weekend if she hadn’t? Also almost certainly no. What should she have done differently? Hell if I know. I just miss the days when we liked Amy Schumer because she was funny, instead of hating her because over the span of a few months she didn’t turn out to be the messiah of feminism, comedy, and a better life for all.
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