Press Room

The Rise of Trainwreck’s Amy Schumer

September 10, 2015
New Research
Entertainment, Race/Class/Gender

Washington, DC - Wildly popular comedienne Amy Schumer and her breakout performance at the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen is the subject of a new study published in the National Communication Association’s journal Text and Performance Quarterly.

Dustin Bradley Goltz focuses on Schumer’s bold and often controversial interactions with the other roast guests, including boxer Mike Tyson, Star Trek actor William Shatner, comedy heavyweights Jeffrey Ross and Steve-O, host Seth MacFarlane and, of course, Charlie Sheen himself.

Using her characteristically ironic humor, Schumer subverts notions of femininity, challenges ideas of masculinity, and touches upon issues of race and class throughout the four-and-a-half minute set that helped launch her career. In Goltz’s view, Schumer “seized this aggressively masculine event”—and ran away with it.

As Goltz notes: “Her ironic performativity—the interplay of her words, her gestures, and the discursive field that precedes—continually plays with and against sexist expectations of politeness, cuteness, and white feminine modes of accommodation. For Schumer, whose body cites (at times parodic) femininity with each gesture, to criticize Tyson’s and Sheen’s histories of violence toward women accomplishes an intervention that is profoundly distinct from what Ross’s or MacFarlane’s jokes can produce.”

Schumer’s ability to take on the other guests and “hold her own with a subversive and winning smile” was no mean feat. As Goltz observes: “It is notable that Schumer’s set had the most consistent heckling and vocalized resistance/aggression from members of the dais, as the power struggle produced visible and audible tensions, resistance, and efforts for reassertion.”

As part of his analysis of Schumer’s performance, Goltz also discusses the crucial issue of context and audience reaction to jokes. As he notes: “Whether an audience reads offense, subversion, or hope into a joke has as much to do with the specific audience member and the context, as the content of the joke itself.” He draws particular attention to Schumer’s controversial joke about fellow comedian Ryan Dunn, who had passed away a few months before, and whether it had indeed “gone too far.”

This article offers fascinating insight into the nature of comedy, whether we can or should joke about taboo subjects and the particular challenges female comedians face. It also reminds us why Amy Schumer’s star continues to rise in the United States, the United Kingdom, and around the world.

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