I know that I always start articles all “go watch this then come back”. And I also know that sometimes there’s just not time. I do it too. Sometimes I just read the article about the thing instead of watching the thing.
But if you don’t watch this episode of Amy Schumer, you will have missed out on a seminal moment in entertainment. And in feminism.
The episode is a shot-for-shot recreation of the beginning of 12 Angry Men. We learn Amy is on trial, but we don’t hear until later what she’s on trial for: assuming she’s hot enough to be on TV, a charge which is quickly conflated and used synonymously with ‘thinks she’s f*ckable’.
What follows is 12 men, almost all white, debating Amy’s fate. They discuss whether or not she’s hot enough to be on TV, whether she gives them a ‘reasonable chub’, and is compared to other not-necessarily-traditional TV crushes the men might have had, like on one of the ‘not hot’ ones on Facts Of Life. The biggest indictment is that she has the audacity to put herself on television when she’s “not a 10 (out of 10)!”
What makes this so special is that there is absolutely nobody holding back. Amy is called ‘John C. Reilly’ and her ‘Cabbage Patch’ features are discussed. Any insult that you can think of to lob at her, or think that men might criticize her with, is in this 20-minute sketch. That is, anything bad you can say – which is only about her appearance – has been broadcast on television and sanctioned by Amy herself. Are you kidding me? She has just taken the teeth out of any barb slung at her forever. Because people don’t insult her comedy, she’s funny as hell. They don’t insult her language skills or her business acumen. It is always about her face.
When people want to cut a woman down, they go for her appearance. Instead of hiding from it or ignoring it, Amy Schumer put all the things she knows you’re thinking right out in public. She challenges the most base thought: “A woman who looks like Amy Schumer has no right to put herself in the public eye!”
It also works because all the actors (Paul Giamatti and Vincent Kartheiser and Jeff Goldblum among them) play their outrage and disgust to the hilt. They embrace and take seriously the idea that a woman’s fate is in their hands, because the only opinions that matter about women belong to men. They point out that if Amy is allowed to think she can be on TV, other women who look like her will start to ‘crop up’.
This isn’t crazy. Every Hollywood boardroom has had non-comedic discussions like this. Every actor friend I have who’s been up for a television role has been scrutinized by a roomful of men like this. And yeah, yeah, it’s just Hollywood – but Hollywood determines who the rest of the world is allowed to see and look up to and emulate. Hell, I bet the heads of your company are all men who sit around a boardroom table just like this.
Amy Schumer is saying anything you can say before you do. Now that she’s done it, what argument do you have? This is a reminder for all of us. If they say their worst, and you’re still standing, how powerful are they really? Can you laugh in the face of “Muppet Tits”? (I hope so. That term is hysterical.)
One last thing – don’t just watch this by yourself, or email it to your sister. Watch it in public, with men and women together, if that’s anything your work will allow (there is an extended sequence of outraged dildo-waving). Because the revolution requires men and women together, talking about it at the same time.