The strongest installment of the recently ended breakout third season of "Inside Amy Schumer" barely featured Amy Schumer.
The episode-long spot-on parody of "12 Angry Men" didn't focus on the fate of an accused murderer, but rather on whether Schumer is physically attractive enough to have her own TV show (the jury's charge wasn't put quite that delicately). The gutsy black-and-white-shot departure offered a bright, living color tableau of Schumer’s comedy approach: mocking ugly stereotypes to get laughs and make a pro-feminist point.
Schumer, as of late, has inspired accolades (Glamour UK named her its Trailblazer of the Year, spurring a bawdy acceptance speech last month) and controversy (recent articles calling her out on some of her racially charged humor). Either way, Schumer has succeeded in getting people talking about her, even when she isn't in the room.
Her star clearly is breaking through – so much so that she reportedly turned down a chance to replace Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show." She's headed out on a comedy tour with Aziz Ansari and has an HBO special on tap.
But the full verdict isn't in on Amy Schumer: Her romantic comedy "Trainwreck" opens Friday, presenting a test of whether a wide audience will accept her as a big-screen leading lady.
The "12 Angry Men" episode came during a season in which Schumer's sharpest sketches focused on women's looks, their self-image and how they're perceived in a pop culture that too often overvalues youth and thinness. Case in point: Schumer's brilliant bit in which Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette solemnly help Julia Louis-Dreyfus mark the end of her run as a figure of Hollywood-sanctioned physical desirability (the life passage was summed up in an unprintable phrase). Louis-Dreyfus was cast off in a boat, a la a Viking funeral.
The much-discussed segment represented another triumph of Schumer's comedy-of-escalation style, as with last year's "I'm so bad!" skit in which lunching women shared increasingly absurd dietary – and behavioral – lapses ("I was cyberbullying my niece on Instagram the other day and I literally ate 15 mini-muffins – I'm so bad!"). The ladies eventually ate their waiter after he asked whether they would like dessert. This season brought a similar offering in which brilliant women on a panel at a science conference needlessly apologize ad nauseam, until one gets horrifically scalded with coffee, spurring an “I’m sorry” chorus.
Some believe Schumer should be apologizing – particularly over a past misfire of a stand-up joke about Latino men. A recent article in The Guardian suggested she has a “shockingly large blind spot around race,” and a Washington Post piece likened her to Donald Trump.
Schumer initially defended herself, and later offered a mea culpa of sorts, noting she sometimes assumes a “dumb white girl” persona in her stand-up act, essentially making herself the butt of the joke. That's a tricky business, and, as everyone from "All in the Family" producer Norman Lear to "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane can attest, backlash is an occupational hazard.
Schumer would be the first to admit she's not a perfect comedian – or feminist. As she noted in a recent Glamour interview (conducted by her sister and writing partner Kim Caramele), "I have no interest in trying to be the perfect feminist, but I do believe feminists are in good hands with me."
Schumer’s work ultimately will speak for itself. Fans will be listening – and watching – as she takes top billing in "Trainwreck," co-starring Bill Hader and LeBron James, under direction of Judd Apatow. Check out a preview above as we await the next stop on Amy Schumer express.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.