As Schumer takes in the situation, her face appears to deflate—the triumphal joy replaced by panicked recognition. Her sister, Kim, who came up with the sketch, said, “That moment where Amy, who has actually let herself feel good for a sec, realizes that this is who she is to people . . . it’s crushing. I’m laughing now, thinking about her face.” Schumer’s character is horrified and humiliated but ultimately accedes to the demands of the men in the room. “I think Amy is particularly skilled at demonstrating how women are expected to just roll with the punches,” Kim said. In Schumer’s comedy, her complicity in her own degradation is often the crowning absurdity, the last laugh.
Dumpy the Frumpy Meerkat conjures the terror most women feel at some point that they are irredeemably hideous. It also summons the vitriol with which Schumer’s appearance has been attacked on the Internet. Her response has been sometimes defiant—“I say if I’m beautiful,” she wrote in her book, “you will not determine my story”—and sometimes self-lacerating, in a way that’s funnier but not necessarily less brutal than the trolls online. In “The Leather Special,” Schumer talks about seeing a paparazzi shot of herself paddleboarding: “I was, like, ‘Oh, my God—Alfred Hitchcock is alive and loves water sports!’ ” She describes herself in the same routine as a “Thanksgiving-parade float of Tonya Harding.” Her current set includes a joke comparing her body to the quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s.
“Loving yourself physically—I said all that when I was, like, twentysomething,” Schumer told me. “I got a little ahead of myself. It was easy to say I was hot then, because . . . I was.” At forty-one, Schumer said, “I vacillate between feeling really beautiful and special and just that I look like a monster.”
Schumer has always considered herself a feminist. (In her senior thesis at Towson University, she wrote about the male gaze in “Madame Bovary.”) In recent years, she has become—like much of Hollywood, corporate America, and the Democratic Party—increasingly outspoken on other issues of social and racial justice. Amid her C-section jokes, she notes that Black women in America are three times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or in childbirth. She frequently mentions her position of privilege. “I get it—white women are the worst,” she recently said on LeBron James’s podcast “Uninterrupted.” “I hate myself. Trust me.” Depending on your point of view, this is either a welcome emphasis on the structural inequities inherent in American life or a grating form of virtue signalling from a member of the élite.
But, even as detractors fault Schumer for excessive enlightenment, another camp has condemned her for insensitivity. Schumer co-hosted this year’s Oscars, at which, of course, Will Smith smacked Chris Rock. (“Did I miss anything?” she asked, when she came back on camera afterward.) Rock is one of Schumer’s closest friends, and the director of her special “Live at the Apollo”; when she posted on Instagram that she was “triggered and traumatized” by the incident, she was pilloried as a Karen. A few years earlier, the Internet had erupted with objections when Schumer and the cast of “Snatched”—Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, and Joan Cusack—made a video imitating Beyoncé’s “Formation.” In 2015, Schumer was accused in the Washington Post of perpetuating a “worldview that justifies a broken immigration system, mass incarceration, divestment from inner city communities, that rationalizes inequality and buttresses persistent segregation and violence,” because of jokes like “Nothing works a hundred per cent of the time, except Mexicans.”
Arguably, Schumer was making fun of an exploitative system. But it’s a joke that she would never tell today. “It’s horrible,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It’s totally racially insensitive and lazy.” Moments later, she added, “Like white people.”
Schumer, who calls herself a “lightning tower for male rage,” has a way of affronting people with both a sin and its opposite. She has been attacked as insufficiently beautiful to be in entertainment, and also as too thin to make fun of her own appearance. “I know,” she said. “I really annoy people.”
At its sharpest, Schumer’s social commentary takes bracing, unexpected turns. A few days after the massacre in Uvalde, I saw her do a set at the Fat Black Pussycat, in Greenwich Village, where she frequently performs when she’s not travelling. “You know what you never hear after a mass shooting?” she asked the fifty or so people who had gathered in the dank, airless space on a weekday afternoon. “Was it a guy or a girl?”
“I think she walks a line between subversive and mass appeal in a way that a lot of people can’t,” Schumer’s friend Bridget Everett, a comic and cabaret performer who stars in the HBO series “Somebody Somewhere,” said. “I’m friends with a lot of people who are downtown performance artists who don’t really have mainstream appeal. She’s able to do her thing and still play arenas.” On one hand, jokes about what women endure—in childbirth, at work, in bed—are fundamentally feminist. On the other, observational humor about the compromises of marriage is a mainstay of the most conventional comedy, from “I Love Lucy” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” For every weird joke Schumer tells—“Does anybody else have trouble remembering what kind of cancer their grandparents died from?”—there is another that could fit comfortably on any sitcom about domesticity: “We have found that the best day of the week to have sex is tomorrow.”
Schumer’s audience is still huge, but the demographics have changed. “There was a wider net at the beginning, when she got labelled a sex comic,” Kevin Kane, her producing partner for the past decade, said. Schumer established herself as a road comic opening for Jim Norton and Dave Attell, whose audiences were typically young, drunk, and male. (Attell remains Schumer’s favorite standup. She named her son Gene Attell Fischer, but then realized, weeks later, that the name sounded dangerously close to “genital fissure.” Gene’s middle name is now David.) “The boys I grew up being friends with are troublemakers,” Schumer said. “Attell—he’s like my dad. A lovable degenerate.”
When Schumer started headlining shows, her audiences tended to be evenly split between men and women. “I was always shocked that guys were watching,” she told me. Her comedy was often driven by outrage at the way men got to assess women’s bodies—but it’s difficult to satirize the objectification of hot women onscreen without showing hot women onscreen. (In Schumer’s sketch “Milk Milk Lemonade,” women rap, “I’m gonna make you scream and shout for the part of my body where poop comes out!” and the camera zooms in on twerking tushes: something for everyone.) As Schumer has aged onstage, the body has remained a major subject, but she now focusses more on the way it disintegrates with motherhood than on the way it’s seen by men. These days, she told me, she is speaking directly to a female audience. “Everything I do—well, not everything, I’m in a mayonnaise commercial, but everything else—is to try and make specifically women feel better.” Or, as she put it during her set at the Montreal comedy festival this July: “Chappelle’s fans are young and spry. My fans don’t get their periods anymore.”
In Schumer’s most recent special, “Growing,” she tells a story about how her sister and her husband went to a paint-your-own-pottery shop while she lay in a hospital bed, getting I.V. fluids after five hours of vomiting. Kim returned with a brightly colored ceramic mermaid. Fischer brought a portrait of his wife that he had painted on a plate, which he presented to her with pride. It looked like a child’s rendering of a blond walrus. (“You know what the sad part is?” Schumer said later. “The more I look at it, the more I’m, like, ‘It’s good.’ ”) The painting, she suggested, was a microcosm of marriage, both the bad news and the good: your spouse gets to see you as you actually are.
Years ago, Schumer told Barbara Walters that she didn’t expect to get married and have kids: “I would love those things, but I don’t really see it for myself.” As a touring comedian, Schumer travelled more than half the year, and it seemed impossible to imagine a husband who would tolerate her absence, let alone a child who could endure it. In her current set, Schumer advises audiences, “You have to find someone who can stand you.”
On the morning Schumer was leaving home to go on the road, she was anxious and a little grim. “I always want to cancel everything,” she said, “and I always try.” Her first stop was in L.A., to film a part in her friend Jerry Seinfeld’s new movie. (She’d attempted to weasel out of it, but he’d persuaded her to come.) After that, her standup tour loomed. “It’s sixty shows!” Schumer said. “A big tour is like forty.”
Fischer handed her a gloppy smoothie. “The thing that weighs on me is being away,” she told him.
“We’ll come with you a lot,” Fischer promised.
“I know. But travelling at this age . . . routine is so good for them,” Schumer said, watching Gene run around the coffee table in a diaper. “I’m anticipating how awful it’s going to be saying goodbye to him, like, the third time I leave to go on the road. When you hear them cry and reach for you, you just want to throw up.”
The previous evening, Gene had fallen asleep on top of her. As Schumer lay on the couch, watching the sun set with her son splayed across her chest, she worried. “There are a limited number of nights where they’ll want to do this,” she said. She had watched Seinfeld’s children go from snuggling with their mother constantly to becoming normal teen-agers who don’t care to be handled. “My mom is always sneaking little touches,” Schumer said. “And I’m, like, ‘Mom, get off. ’ ” She looked bleak. “I’m going to miss sixty-five nights of putting him to bed. I mean, what is that worth? Am I crazy for doing this? But then it’s, like, I have the opportunity to go and make all this money.” It was going to be worth roughly ten million dollars, she said, to complete what she’d named the “Whore Tour.”
When we first met, I had asked Schumer what she loved about standup. “If you have a bunch of ideas that you think are really funny, and you get to be in a room with people who want to listen to what you’re saying . . . it’s like if you have a story you can’t wait to get home to tell your husband,” she’d replied, with palpable pleasure. “When you have a great set, it’s like that: ‘I’m going to get up there, and I have so much to say to these people, and I’m going to make them laugh.’ ” She had described it as an irresistible compulsion to reveal oneself with ever greater specificity and creativity.
I asked her if this tour was really just about money—a lot of money. As Gene sucked on his pacifier in his sleep, Schumer looked at me like I was mentally ill: “You mean, like, is it for the love of comedy?” ♦