Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The new Amy Schumer Special

When I watch a stand-up comedian’s special on Netflix or Hulu or C-Span I always think to myself: What if this is twenty years from now and the person watching has no idea who this comedian is? Would they still find the material funny? Would they still laugh?

Obviously, comic sensibilities change over time and each generation has its own new voices and comedians so some material won’t hold up.

But when you watch these specials you always have to bear in mind that the audience is filled with adoring fans who are primed to laugh at anything the comedian says. It’s the live equivalent of the laugh machine in sitcoms.  So the laughs you hear are not necessarily earned. 

I suspect a Millennial today would hear a Steve Martin album from the ‘70s and scratch his head. When Steve goes “Excuuuuuse Meeee” and the audience is in hysterics, the Millennial is probably saying, “What is so funny?”

So when I watch comedy specials I view them in two ways – how will this hold up, and is the material funny for this moment in time?

And that brings me to Amy Schumer. First off, I used to be a big fan of Amy Schumer. Loved her Comedy Central show, loved her stand up. But I found her last Netflix special to be painfully bad. Lazy, unfunny, jokes for shock value only. Almost like she was winging it. 

So when I saw there was a new Amy Schumer Netflix special, "Growing," I was not all excited to watch it. But recently I had some time to kill and figured, what the hell? Maybe I’ll like her again. Maybe all the criticism she took for the last special registered and she really put together and polished A material for this go-round.

Nope.

Just more of the same weak material as the last special. “Okay, I almost just shit on myself.” “And if I did would I just kick it into the audience? Would you guys be cool with it?” Then there were vomit jokes, pregnancy jokes that Joan Rivers might have told in 1959, slut jokes, getting wasted jokes, husband jokes, etc. Very few genuine laughs although you’d never know it from the orgasmic audience.

When the Millennial says “What’s so funny about ‘excuuuuuse meeee?;” I can say Steve Martin had a unique persona and was really poking fun at comedians and he was riding the zeitgeist. At the time, he WAS funny. What do you say to someone twenty years from now about this Amy Schumer special? Well, she sort of had this slutty persona and at one time the act was very fresh.” “But the jokes are kind of on-the-nose, aren’t they? ‘The only time a man should drop to one knee is if he’s in the NFL or eating my pussy.” And what do you say to that? “Well, she used to be better. She used to have more spin on her jokes. She used to deal with subject matter rarely heard before. “

I do think if that same Millennial had seen her very first special she’d get it; she’d laugh along with everyone else.

I always wonder if I'm just out of touch (since I usually am), but I checked Rotten Tomatoes.  Critics liked it but only 21% of the audience liked it.  I guess in this case, I'm not alone.  

Look, there are some comedians who, for my money, are just not funny. They’re annoying, their material sucks, their delivery sucks. They could get new writers, they could hone new material but it wouldn’t matter. But that’s not Amy Schumer. And when I watch other specials, like John Mullaney’s and see the care and effort that went into each and every joke, it pisses me off that Amy seems to half-ass it. She’s better than her recent special. It’s one thing to no longer be funny after twenty years; it’s another to no longer be funny after twenty months.

57 comments :

E. Yarber said...

Steve Martin himself countered the fading of his stand-up persona with his melancholy autobiography looking back on that time. He'd lost the companionship he felt writing for television with kindred spirits like Bob Einstein, and the audiences grew too large for him to be able to take the entire group out of the club and engage them in spontaneous stunts on the street. By the end, he was playing arena dates he had committed to a year or two earlier, isolated except for the support of his road crew and looking for a new avenue of expression he eventually found making movies with Carl Reiner.

By comparison, the Amy Schumer material sounds like the work of someone surrounded by gushing toadies and loving it. “Okay, I almost just shit on myself.” “And if I did would I just kick it into the audience? Would you guys be cool with it?” There you have a direct expression of someone who recognizes that they can literally crap on their fans and still be adored. No connection to the viewer, no desire to express anything to them, just pure narcissism.

FFS said...

“But recently I had some time to kill ...” You’ve got to be kidding. When was it ... 3 a.m.?

McAlvie said...

While I do think Steve Martin has decent comedic acting chops, I never did get his stand up act, and I was there for his heyday. It's partly a generational thing - although I was a teen back then, I'd been raised on old school comedy - and I think that's possibly the problem with Shumer's show. Her original audience has grown up just enough to not find crudeness edgy and funny. Maybe she's trying to appeal to the audience a little younger yet?

The sad thing is that we know that good comedy reaches beyond a single generation, which means much of today's comedy can't really be defined as good.

Andrew said...

I have to admit, “excuuuuuse meeee?” still makes me laugh. There's something about his delivery that just works for me. And I wish I had the courage to actually say that to deserving people in my own life, people who annoy me. But I doubt I'd be able to keep a straight face, so it would have no impact.

Tim W. said...

First off, I have not seen her new special, but one reason for her low audience score maybe that there are a lot of white men who hate her for reasons that have nothing to do with her comedy. And I mean HATE. It’s odd, quite frankly.

Rob Dames said...

I agree. Turned it off half-way through. Then I watched Ricky Gervais's special HUMANITY. Dark but brilliantly funny.

Glenn said...

I've never found Amy funny. She's really crude and gross, and her delivery is too flat. I also never liked gross out comedy, even when it was Andrew Dice Clay talking about women's private parts for two hours.

Craig Gustafson said...

I think Steve Martin *had* to get out of stand up. In addition to the spontaneity problem with giant crowds (mentioned above), listen to his second and third albums. Nobody is laughing. They're *cheering* every joke. There was no longer any way for him to gauge what was funny, because he got neither laughs nor crickets. Just cheers.

Stubblejumpers Cafe said...

I haven't found Schumer funny for ... a very long time. The so-called jokes seem intended to shock, and they don't. Not me, anyway; I just find them tasteless ... blah ... boring. Yet I "see" audiences seeming to appreciate her shtick, and I wonder why they do. Your take on it makes me realize I'm not alone. -Kate

Robert S said...

I'd love to read your take on Ellen Degeneris' Netflix show.

TodBrowning said...

Steve Martin has been touring lately with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. An interviewer asked him a rather pointed question about how it feels to play in small clubs that hold under 100 people, when in the past he would appear in 20,000 seat stadiums.
Steve replied: "I think you mean stadia."

Scott Cooley said...

I’m from LI, Amy’s home turf, and watched her career grow. And she WAS funny and worked the clubs hard. “Inside Amy Schumer” had some truly inspired moments. But that first movie killed her - it was not funny, WAY too long (the usual “If Judd Apatow shoots it, it must be genius” trope) and still enormously lucrative to her. She became a brand and went on autopilot. That last special I was looking forward to and shut it off halfway through because not only was it not funny, it was lazy. Amy, her Vagina and their Greatest Hits at MSG.

Nikki Glaser is riding Amy’s coattails and is lazier still.

Ken mentioned John Mulaney - and that’s perfect. His career and fame are clearly rising. He could take his persona out to do big theaters and make a fortune. But you can see him honing every word and beat in his show.

Maria Bamford will never be as popular as any of the above names, but still has talent to spare and is getting funnier with age.

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

Amy Schumer is still a thing? Why!?!!

stonedog said...

I am in line with Ken in that Amy's first several years of standup was terrific. But since she became a 'movie star', that definitely had an impact on the quality of her comedy. It takes months and months of pitching and refining jokes in front of club crowds to pull together an hour's material, and I don't get a sense that she does this. Anthony Jeselnik works on his hour for a whole three years before doing a special and then starting over. She's having a child - maybe it would be best to take a year or two off, build up some new life experiences, and then develop material that can be worth the wait.

Steven said...

I've never been a fan of Schumer's. I'd heard good things about Ali Wong's Netflix special a few years ago called Baby Cobra. I knew Wong from her role on American Housewife but knew nothing about her standup. Like Schumer here, Wong did that special pregnant and it sounds like she covered some of the same terrain.

But whereas Schumer appears to be content with phoning it in when performing standup, Wong performs with an energy, pace and comedic timing that can only be present if the material has been meticulously written and performed for months.

Wong's second special on Netflix is called Hard Knock Wife, and it's just as good. Once again she performed while pregnant and just owns the stage, delivering quality material.

In other words, check out Ali Wong's comedy specials if you're looking for Amy Schumer style humor performed by someone who still cares about their stand up career.

Anonymous said...

Looking at "audience score" on Rotten Tomatoes for anything FEMALE driven is a waste of time. The site is notorious for flogging female lead projects (Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel). I watched Amy's special. I laughed at some parts, I didn't laugh at other parts. Additionally, it's probably best to remember that 95%+ of Amy's audience have never heard Joan River's stand-up material.

Gary said...

When Steve Martin became a phenomenon in the 1970's, it was because he was doing something hilarious and unique. He was the first comedian to satirize show business itself. He was playing a lounge lizard comic who would do anything for a laugh, but had no idea how bad he was. The audiences at the time, brought up on traditional comedians from the Ed Sullivan era, could not believe how different Martin's comedy was. It took the country by storm for a while, but eventually there was nowhere else to go with that concept. As Steve himself said, "You can only be new once."

Michael said...

Ken, your and my hero, The Vin, once was asked what made a good broadcaster and he said it was what Olivier said made a good actor: the humility to prepare and the confidence to bring it off. Vin said, "I'm loaded with the humility to prepare."

From what you say, Ms. Schumer lacks that. So do a lot of other comics, and broadcasters of all sorts. Vin also said he lived in fear of making a horse's ass of himself. That's a valuable commodity.

Andrew said...

"It takes months and months of pitching and refining jokes in front of club crowds to pull together an hour's material, and I don't get a sense that she does this."

One movie that really demonstrates this is Comedian (the Seinfeld film from 2002). I watched it without really knowing anything about it. I assumed that it was basically a two hour compilation of Seinfeld routines. I was surprised to find out that it was really a documentary about stand-up comedy. While it was certainly funny at times, what stood out to me was that being a comedian was incredibly hard work. Even a successful comedian like Seinfeld (post-series) had to practice his lines, hone his delivery, and discover what worked in front of difficult crowds. Sometimes he bombed, and he would learn from it. It looked excruciating. I had much more appreciation for comedians after watching it.

Janet Ybarra said...

THE JERK was considered one of the great comedy movies of its time.

KB said...

"She used to deal with subject matter rarely heard before."

She also has a history of telling jokes that *have* been heard before. By other comedians.

Unrelated: the captcha on your blog always is a pain in the ass.

Jon B. said...

One should no longer cite Rotten Tomatoes scores as anything meaningful. Maybe they were once useful in most situations, but now they are significantly and maliciously distorted for some types of projects. Posting the scores in those cases only perpetuates the malevolence.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I'd rather watch her uncle Chuck do stand-up.

I no longer enjoy much stand-up. I prefer British panel shows where comedians work off one another on politics and other subjects (QI, MOCK THE WEEK, WOULD I LIE TO YOU?, etc.). Larry Miller -- does he even do comedy any more? -- used to do narrative monologues that were very funny, like "The Five Levels of Drinking" and one about skiing for the first time. Maybe it's my shrinking attention span, but a series of random observations gets tiresome and I find myself checking to see how much time is left.

Pizzagod said...

When I saw John's monologue on SNL I was pretty impressed. It wasn't lazy in the least, nobody was really belittled, the humor was sharp, but not mean spirited. Getting into comics and comedians, think about something like Woody Allen's routine on the moose at the Halloween party or Bill Cosby's Chicken Heart (yeah, two great people, but still I thought they were craftsmen). Today? Like you said-"I almost shit on myself" Ha Ha.

Mark said...

Amy is a joke stealing thief and her jokes suck. She never was funny.

There used to a meme that her trolls used to post on her twitter, but she now has started deleting them.

It was like this...
Spider bites a hand and the person becomes Spiderman.
Pig bites a hand and then that person becomes Amy Schumer 😂😂😂😂


PS : This reCAPTCHA is long and painful. Please have a look at this issue.

Andy Rose said...

@Gary: Steve Martin had some hilariously unique routines, at least one of which (The Great Flydini) he performed exactly once for Johnny Carson and then retired it. But I think you're giving him a bit too much credit as the first meta comic. There were plenty of other contemporaries and predecessors of Martin who satirized clueless performing, including Carl Ballantine and Art Metrano.

I'm not sure if this is a problem with Schumer because I haven't seen this special, but I groan at successful comedians who turn their whole act into a commentary about their own celebrity. Richard Pryor could be very funny, but I think Live on the Sunset Strip is very overrated. Same with Dave Chappelle's current act.

But if you want to talk about success making a comedian lazy, Patient Zero has to be Janeane Garofalo. There was an HBO special she did in 1995 -- arguably the hottest year of her career -- where she literally had her jokes laid out on a piece of paper in front of her, occasionally looking over and asking the audience things like, "Okay... Mentos, did I do that one yet?"

Tony.T said...

Steve Martin's movies are almost all dreadful.

Frank Beans said...

I'll echo what some others have said in the comments here: Stand-up comedy has a short career shelf-life in general. There are some who can re-invent themselves and keep it going for a long time(George Carlin), but those are the exceptions. Most need to figure out how to get cast in memorable TV or film roles that highlight their talents (Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy) or develop themselves as writer/directors (Woody Allen).

To pontificate even further, stand-up comedy is immediate and direct, and almost always topical, at least in modern times. It doesn't usually hold up for very long, like the clown at the bar who was cracking everyone up the night before, and the next day is just a hungover, annoying jerkoff. Cruel but true.



Frank Beans said...

@ Tony T

I agree that Steve Martin's acting career is somewhat patchy, but watch the 1984 film ALL OF ME, one of the warmest, wittiest, funniest movies of all time. Martin does his role extreme justice.

Pat Reeder said...

I am fed up with the lame excuse cited above that if recent Amy Schumer projects get bad reviews, it's because sexist white men inexplicably hate her. I am one of those eeeeeeevil straight white men, and I used to love Amy Schumer. I have her early albums and loved her TV series. But I'm also a professional comedy writer, and I can tell when a comic is lazily vamping and relying on cheap sexual and scatological references to get easy shock laughs. I think you'd have to go back to Harry Langdon (a really white-faced male) to find a comedian whose quality of work dropped so far so fast. If you can't see the alarming drop in quality of Amy's work, you're not "woke," you're unconscious.

I remember years ago reading an interview with the cast of "SCTV" where John Candy said you learn in improv that "f**k" is a magic word that you can always fall back on get a laugh if you're desperate for anything to say. But if you use it too often, you're telling the audience and your fellow comics that you are lazy or just don't have anything creative to contribute. What I'm getting from Amy these days is that she can no longer be bothered to think up (or even steal) anything fresh or genuinely funny, so we get this lazy garbage instead. And BTW, I can name several male comedians I could say the same thing about.

sanford said...

Tony, you didn't like Planes, Trains and Automobiles? I think there are very few comedians who are older would make millinials laugh. I would have to go back and look at your blog about Laurel and Hardy. I wonder how many 20 and 30 year olds would think they are funny. Granted they aren't standups. I would like to know the demographic of say Lewis Black's audience for example or Craig Ferguson. I think both are funny.

Tom Galloway said...

Minor correction; The Steep Canyon Rangers are not "Steve Martin's band". They were an existing band that he sometimes plays with (and because no one's an idiot, he gets name billing with the band when he does). The SCR still tour and record on their own without Martin.

As a side note, they got together because the SCR are from the small (5,000 pop.) Western North Carolina town I was born and grew up in. Martin's then girlfriend, now wife, has connections to the area, and he met some of the band when he and she were visiting. More details, and how they work together, at https://wncmagazine.com/feature/steve_martin_steep_canyon_rangers

This also means there's a not insignificant chance that one Xmas when I'm there visiting family, I'll run into Steve Martin. Should that happen, I expect to lose all of my considerable poise when dealing with well-known folk and stutter out something about how growing up there in the mid-70s, I would *never* have expected him to be there. 40-mile away Asheville may now be hip, but it sure wasn't back then, let alone Brevard itself.

E. Yarber said...

There's a sliding scale here. I agree that the criticism of Schumer isn't specifically about her as a woman, yet that possibility has to be considered (before being discarded) within the context of recent knee-jerk backlashes against women as everything from Ghostbusters to Captain Marvels in the troll age.

Still, the decline of Harry Langdon was certainly a "woke" moment in the 1920s, since LONG PANTS collapsed because of an endless unfunny sequence in which Harry tries to kill his girlfriend.

And while everyone may be sick of me mentioning Steve Martin's memoirs, he writes of his origins as a comic magician and gives credit to Carl Ballantine as the ideal of that form, which naturally extended to his later meta persona.

I may be prejudiced toward Martin because of a story I can't tell because it would be flattering toward me, but I do think he has been serious about his work throughout his career.

E. Yarber said...

Joe Miller is probably the first historical example of a comedian who was no longer found funny. That was in 1739, and to be fair to Joe, he'd already been dead since the year before, which certainly has to screw up your delivery.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I'm 100 percent on board with Pat Reeder about the whole "white men" excuse, and as soon as I saw the title of this blog entry, I knew someone would make it to explain the disdain for Schumer's comedy that a lot of people have. You actually can dislike her comedy, or the Ghostbusters remake, or Lena Dunham, and not be a sexist racist pig. Disliking her comedy can boil down to something as simple as not finding "hey people, vaginas, amiright?" particularly hilarious. Same as disliking the Ghostbusters remake can stem from not liking lazy writing and bad acting, rather than being a tool of the patriarchy.

Comedians like Schumer do demonstrate true equality, though, because she proves that women can suck as much as men when it comes to comedy.

Barry Traylor said...

I am one of those people that has never found her to be all that funny. Perhaps it is just me.

scottmc said...

Ken; were you a d.j.when 'Delilah' was a hit for Tom Jones? My daughter is 14 and I try to play for her songs from when I was her age. She likes the Turtles(especially the byplay between the lead singer and the heavy set guy)and the 4 Seasons(some of their songs show up on the soundtracks of some of the movies she watches.) When we heard 'Delilah' she couldn't believe it. I looked at my copy of 'The Me Generation...by Me' and it seems you started working in radio right around the time that song was released.Did you ever play the song, what was your reaction to it?

PolyWogg said...

Not sure that RT is a good source for evaluating the enjoyability of a stand-up special. Note, for example, that Nanette had 100% critic approval but only 65% of users.

P.

Donald from Chicago said...

in honor of your former radio days here is an INSTANT REQUEST: On the Gilbert Gottfried ACP Facebook page, someone posed this question. I thought I would bring it to the source--(and one of the podcast's best guests):

In MASH, how does the character of Ho-Jon (played by the same actor) go from being sent to the USA by the camp in the pilot episode to being back in episode 10 as the thief stealing things from the camp to help get his family from North Korea?

There is nothing in the episodes between to explain his return. Is there a back story explaining it that ended up on the cutting room floor? Or is this one of those times writers brazenly though no one would notice or question it?

PolyWogg said...

Sideways Friday question -- Big Bang Theory just passed 275 episodes, surpassing Cheers for multi-camera record. Any thoughts?

P.

Tim B. said...

I'll have to admit that I am not a fan of stand-up in general; or perhaps alternately get bored in about five minutes. (I suppose a lot of what I have seen is scatological or complaints or "what is the deal with paper clips?", all of which I have better things to do than listen to.) Bob Newhart's phone calls? Great stuff. Bill Cosby's Noah sequence? Also great, although I'm not sure I'll be able to listen to it again.

I don't recall that I ever did see Steve Martin's stand-up, but at least two of his movie performances are great - "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "Roxanne". Hardly a disappointing second career. IMDB is pointing out quite a few other movies that I should see.

therealshell said...

Awaiting E.Yarber's inevitable comeback comment.

TodBrowning said...

@Tom Galloway. Thanks for the correction.

Pat Reeder said...

To Scottmc:

If your daughter likes Flo & Eddie from the Turtles, they have lots of great records that they made as a duo. Also, you have to show her this Martin Mull TV special where they were guest stars. I love their term for the popularity of folk music: the "great folk scare" of the 1960s.

https://youtu.be/Mfu-1BLNQXw

Bradley said...

I agree with you on pretty much everything, but yikes, the last couple weeks of blogs have a strong whiff of "Get Off My Lawn!" to them. It's your blog, and I adore it (A LOT!), but maybe some time off might be in order. The entries are getting crankier by the day. (This is not specific to this post...just a general comment.) In other news, a Friday question for you: Do you watch true crime on TV, such as Dateline NBC Murder Mysteries, and how much do you think dramatic writing influences the storytelling?

Coram_Loci said...

Schumer, Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel — if identity politics can be used for you then identity politics can be used against you. It's a tool: A tool that every Jan 20th we are reminded to discard.

Johnny Walker said...

Ken said the CRITIC score on Rotten Tomatoes, not the audience one. (And even if it was the audience score, Rotten Tomatoes itself has no bias as they are merely an aggregator.)

Johnny Walker said...

To enjoy Steve Martin’s stand up now, it really helps to have some context. He hit big because late 70’s standup was so political. Everyone was so angry and earnest. They were good, but people got fatigued with it.

Steve Martin came out with an arrow through his head and it was a massive breath of fresh air: Funny for the sake of funny! Someone prepared to make a fool of himself! He let all the tension out of the standup scene just when people desperately needed it. That’s why he hit SO big.

I love Steve Martin, and think he’s great, but having some context really helps for new viewers.

MikeN said...

>Rotten Tomatoes itself has no bias as they are merely an aggregator.

Is that why they canceled the entire function of rating your excitement level to see a movie? Had nothing to do with protecting Disney from bad publicity ahead of Captain Marvel's release?

Scottmc said...

To Pat Reeder: Thank you so much for the Flo and Eddie information. After watching the Martin Mull program my daughter searched'Flo and Eddie performance'and several videos came up. She loved them! Thanks again.

Douglas Trapasso said...


@ Johnny Walker - Given your comment, do you think there's a space now in the comedy spectrum for someone whose material/delivery is completely detached from the political template right now?

Will Maybury said...

I'm a millennial (on the young edge too: 24.) I grew up with Steve Martin's Wild & Crazy Guy CD, but as a kid pretty much half the jokes flew over my head ("excuuuuuuse me" and the titular "wild & crazy guy," along with a dozen other out-of-nowhere laugh lines) and the routine was so disjointed and hard to follow with just audio. I now admit that maybe half of my enjoyment was laughing out of... I guess a sense that I should be, and a general love of silliness. However, his first release, Let's Get Small, where he's still proving himself, I think that still holds up, other than some dicey-hot material that wouldn't fly today. The routines are just as absurd, even crossing over into the more abstract realms where the joke is on jokes, but there's much more coherency, it's on a throughline.

Filippo said...

I can't help but intervene saying that Aristotle said the difference between comedy and drama relies in the level of the characters involved and therefore the language they use. Therefore the subjects they choose to talk about.
Shakespeare stuck to this view rigorously.

Acoording to this view, scatological material, genital material, vulgar material is supposed to be funny.

If I have to say anything on the matter, I would say if it doesn't work it's a matter of delivery. I.e. if the deliverer plays himself as intelligent and sophisticated his scatological stuff won't work.

Aristotle view explains why there can't be too much sophistication in comedy. You have to be a low-ass person in order to deliver low-ass stuff.

About sophistication in comedy... Larry David is scatological when he teaches a teenage girl how to use a tampon. But he is sophisticated when drops a fifty at a funeral in order to create confusion and get away. This is how far sophistication can go in comedy in my opinion.

mike said...

There's a scene in the Simpsons where Bart & Lisa hear an Alvin and the Chipmunks record, look at each other, and shrug. And that made me think: what WAS so funny about speeded-up voices, anyway?

Joseph Pujol said...

Maria Bamford will never be as popular as any of the above names, but still has talent to spare and is getting funnier with age.


She certainly didn't spare any of it when she wrote what may be the worst article in the history of MAD Magazine, "Stink Lines Through Art History." It features photos of Bamford making faces and farting on different paintings, while talking about how bad her farts smell. The article's entire premise is that "nearly every important piece of art that has ever existed used to have big ol' nasty stink lines! Also, I've got a little gas."

If I have made the article sound interesting in any conceivable way, even as a car crash failure, I have failed.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I read that Elvis Presley was a big fan of Steve Martin.

slgc said...

My husband and I just watched Growing. I will agree with you that it's not as well crafted as the stuff that John Mulaney and Iliza Schlesinger are currently doing. However, we both really laughed a lot. Even though this isn't her best work we still enjoyed it.