Will the real standup comedian known as Amy Schumer please stand up?
After she apologized Monday to one of her Twitter followers for a joke about Hispanic men, it’s difficult to reconcile the “Trainwreck” star with the same woman who struck a more defiant tone just last week in the face of similar criticism about some of her more racially charged humor.
“I am not going to start joking about safe material,” she stated in a lengthy explanation offered via social media on June 28 in the wake of a commentary in the Guardian that took Schumer to task for having a “shockingly large blind spot around race.”
But what a difference a week makes. When criticized on Twitter for a joke in which she observed, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,” she took quite a different tack, apologizing profusely. “I am taking responsibility and hope I haven’t hurt anyone,” she said.
“I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual.” Y'all White feminist comedy fav, Amy Schumer
— I Hate Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones) July 6, 2015
Schumer also made clear that the Hispanic joke was written two years ago, and that she had “evolved as an artist” since then. If a comedian distancing herself from her earlier work citing a personal evolution sounds familiar, it’s because the same sentiment was expressed in March by another Comedy Central personality: Trevor Noah.
The incoming “Daily Show” anchor employed that PR tactic when some of the more off-color jokes he told earlier in his career came back to haunt him shortly after being named to his new post. But judging how quickly the firestorm that engulfed him was extinguished, this conciliatory pose has perhaps been proved effective enough to be borrowed by another comic.
But what’s so regrettable about the “I was young and dumb” excuse is how deeply it runs counter to the prevailing ethos among comedians to have the freedom to be as politically incorrect as they want to be, and not to say they’re sorry when someone’s feelings are inevitably hurt.
That sentiment was at the core of the message Schumer delivered in her first Twitter salvo on the subject, but either she’s changed her mind or is being excruciatingly careful not to fan the kind of flames that can get out of control quite quickly on social media when it comes to comedians and politically incorrect humor.
This is a very delicate time for Schumer, whose career just shifted into overdrive after critics finally caught on to her brilliant Comedy Central series in its third season. Now she’s on the cusp of taking herself to the next level with a starring role in “Trainwreck,” a Judd Apatow movie getting great buzz.
In short, the last thing she needs at this moment is the kind of backlash that could hurt her at the box office. That probably explains her fake apology better than any kind of change of heart.
You could chalk up her about-face as an isolated example to one specific joke, as opposed to her entire body of work. But what’s troubling is the joke in question is illustrative of the very style of humor about which she previously seemed unrepentant.
“I played a dumb white girl character on stage,” she explained regarding her jab at Hispanics. “Once I realized I had more eyes and ears on me and had an influence I stopped telling jokes like that on stage.”
But contrast that with her previous explanation. “I enjoy playing the girl who time to time says the dumbest thing possible,” she said in her explanation the previous week. “You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’ but you are wrong.”
Which is it, Amy??
Schumer has too much at stake at this juncture in her career to stick to her guns and tell her critics the thing they don’t want to hear: The jokes in which she traffics in racial stereotypes are made in the context of a persona she shouldn’t have to disown just because there are people who fail to capture that nuance in her act.
When she mocks male Hispanics as the dumb white girl, Schumer isn’t asking you to laugh at male Hispanics; she’s asking you to laugh at the dumb-white-girl perception of male Hispanics. It’s a stereotype nested within another stereotype.
It would truly be a shame if Schumer is sincerely distancing herself from the humor that put her on the map in the first place. Schumer has come too far in the world of comedy to start backing down now.