Comedian-auteur Amy Schumer, creator of the Comedy Central sketch program Inside Amy Schumer, is both hero and anti-hero. Where female comics are still trying to prove that women can be funny and continue to struggle to make it in a traditional boys’ club, Schumer has earned admirable success and power. Her explicit and assertive take on sex and alcohol consumption, for instance, challenges “good girl” expectations and tacitly asks the question, “Why can’t a female comic act and talk like a male comic?” To that point, she was recently instrumental in charging Comedy Central with a double standard that led to removing the ban of a previously censored word, marking a breakthrough in gender equality.
At the same time – and ultimately toward the same goal – many of the characters she creates and portrays are two-dimensional, politically incorrect narcissists who assist Schumer in delivering hilarity paired with social commentary, as comedians have been doing for centuries. Her strategy, quickly bringing to mind fellow comic Sarah Silverman, is to make us laugh at both her bold humor and as a reaction to uncomfortable self-recognition. We can appreciate Schumer the auteur for her keen observations, choices and honesty as the performer cleverly displays a host of unsavory “isms.”
While the protagonist of “Urban Fitters” is not one of Schumer’s most depraved or egregiously self-centered, the sketch depicts her relentless prodding at first world irritants. Her inability to identify an employee as “black” to the black cashier is meant to betray a lack of maturity and consciousness, and this instance of racial discomfort is unfortunately familiar to many of us from one perspective or another. Her extreme actions – bribing the cashier to stop pressing her and rashly running out of the store – lift the scenario from vérité to comedy so the viewer is somewhat absolved (“well, I would never do that!”). The sketch finishes with the succeeding customer comfortably identifying “the Asian over there” as the employee who had helped her, and the cashier appreciates the direct response. In a deconstruction that any comedian would be loath to explicate, the message is: get over your fearful and vain self-consciousness that hinders honest feelings and communication about race. But such is the status quo.