Amy Schumer's "SNL" genius: Tonight's challenge, topping herself

Amy Schumer hosts SNL this weekend, but it will be hard for the show to compete with "Inside Amy Schumer"

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 10, 2015 3:59PM (EDT)

It's been Amy Schumer's year — a critically acclaimed comedy show, an Emmy, and a hit movie that helped debunk the myth that no one wants to watch comedies with female leads — so of course she's hosting "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. Considering that she's the host and star of her own sketch comedy show, this one has a good chance to be a stronger episode than those that have to work around people who aren't comedy actors, or even actors at all.

Of course, the real question is whether or not "Saturday Night Live" can or will even bother to come close to some of the searing satire that Schumer brings to her own show, "Inside Amy Schumer." Like most sketch comedy shows, "Inside Amy Schumer" is hit-or-miss, but when it hits, most frequently on the topic of gender relations, it's often some of the funniest and most insightful stuff on TV.

Also now one of the most innovative. The stand-out episode of the season was an episode-long sketch that parodied the '60s-era drama "12 Angry Men," except instead of debating whether a defendant is guilty, the men were debating whether Amy was hot enough to be on basic cable. It really shouldn't have worked, between the outdated reference and the fact that most sketches are too long at 5 minutes. But somehow it came together to be one of the most memorable moments in Comedy Central's history, up there with the best "Chappelle Show" episodes and some early "South Park."

It worked for the reason that a lot of Schumer's best comedy bits about gender and sexism work, because Schumer really gets, and is totally unafraid of targeting, the culture of toxic masculinity. Watching the "12 Angry Men" episode, it quickly becomes apparent that the ostensible topic — Schumer's looks — isn't really the point of it at all. Instead, Schumer is targeting the way that men talk about women's bodies as a way to bolster their own egos and try to impress other men. Deigning a woman "hot or not" has little to do with actual sexual attraction and everything to do with trying to make other men think of you as studly and powerful, powerful enough to wave away a woman's body as if you're a king on a throne, declining gifts from your simpering supplicants.

But what makes the sketch really next level is that it when it turns, it does so in a humanizing, though still hilarious way. One by one, the men start to crack, admitting in turn that they don't actually think that Amy is some kind of hideous troll. And while none of them end up coming across as some kind of prince, it cleverly revealed the core of vulnerability and fear that often lays behind this kind of masculine bravado. Months before the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag took off on Twitter, Schumer had created the masterpiece on the theme.

Many of her best sketches send up male entitlement in just this way. "Football Town Nights," a parody of "Friday Night Lights" with Josh Charles as the football coach, perfectly nailed the way that so many men, usually seen overwhelming the comment sections on any online article on rape, try to find some kind of exception to the don't-have-sex-without-consent rule. "Last F*ckable Day" zeroed in on way that male-run Hollywood wants to put women out to sea for daring to age in the same way men are allowed to do.

My personal favorite, however, might be "Hello M'Lady," an ad for a fake smartphone app to help women manage those self-proclaimed "nice guys" that linger around, hoping that if they do you enough favors, you'll end up feeling guilty and repay the debt by reluctantly starting a relationship with them. Clever for noticing how often this happens, genius for showing that such guys aren't nice at all, but have an overwhelming sense of entitlement that leads them to think they are owed a relationship with a woman just because they put in some time, regardless of what she actually wants for herself. Bonus points because the sketch drew a number of angry comments from men who saw themselves in the sketch and were defensive about it, and angry at women for not wanting to play their game.

Not that Schumer reserves her mockery only for men and their delusions. She teases women all the time on her show. She especially takes pleasure in sending up women that are, for lack of a better term, basic: Unimaginative and incurious, obnoxious and privileged, hungry for male attention and callous to the feelings of others. She does this by playing a character, who is usually named "Amy", that exhibits all these traits and who does things like uses the occasion of a bridesmaid's toast to remind everyone that she's had sex with the groom before. (This character is on full display in the promos for "Saturday Night Live," where Schumer pretends to forget Vanessa Bayer's name.)

Playing a character with the same name as yourself to explore some of your ugliest urges and desires is hardly unknown in comedy, of course. Louis CK does it on "Louie" and Larry David mastered the form on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But Amy's spin on the form is a specifically feminine one, exploring the specific ways the urge to be a boor manifests itself in women, who aren't allowed the same cultural room for open aggression as men. Hopefully, the writing staff at "Saturday Night Live" will channel a little of the sharp insight of "Inside Amy Schumer" about gender and culture. But even if they don't, it'll still be worth turning in to see this rising star return to the live comedy format where she cut her teeth.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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