For female performers, over-sexualized, bawdy acts are held up to an extreme double standard. So when is a raunchy girl compelling and when is she horrible? Here’s how Comedy Central star Amy Schumer makes it work.
How do you solve a problem like Miley? Cyrus, that is, of twerking, tongue-thrusting fame. The Disney Princess recently caused the Internet to collapse into itself with her questionable performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Only now the screams of slut-shaming, culture misappropriation, and unfortunate foam finger abuse are starting to ever-so-slightly fade.
But while some seem to take issue with Mizz-Cyrus-if-you’re-nasty’s hyper-sexualized performance, an equal majority just question her execution. Gawker sums it up, writing “Cyrus’ performance was a pop rendering of clanking teeth, an elbow to the face, bodies that never quite find the right rhythm.”
Even bête noire feminist Camille Paglia emerged to cluck at Cyrus, calling her “clumsy, flat-footed and cringingly unsexy, an effect heightened by her manic grin.”
Oh right, there’s a man in this scandal, too.
Sure, Cyrus’ performance was judged through the lens of society’s expectations of feminine sexuality. Clearly, there’s a harsh double standard at play when co-performer’s Robin Thicke’s own mother said she can’t “unsee” the 20-year-old putting her butt so closely to her married, 36-year-old son.
But it’s also unquestionable that Cyrus’ spastic thrusting, twerking, and tonguing on stage was just weird, unpolished, and off-putting.
For many of us, it’s not that Cyrus did anything so shocking, it’s that she did something so shocking so badly. Own your sexuality, girl, but don’t make us think of thrusting lizard tongues and childish dancing bears while doing it. (And in case you’re just emerging from a week-long coma and missed her performance, you’re welcome.)
But had Miley come out on stage and flawlessly executed her emergence into féminité, she might have had more support from the feminist Olds like me. Trust me, there’s an instinct to support her, uh, flowering into sensuality. But truth be told, I was way too distracting desperately Googling if a tongue can really be that long and fleshy. In the end, blame the tongue. Cyrus used it to try to make a statement, but ended up tripping all over it.
So when does a female performer cross the line and get it right?
Meet Amy Schumer. Writer, star, and executive producer of “Inside Amy Schumer,” the comedienne just helmed her first season on Comedy Central. Schumer’s premiere scored the highest ratings for the network so far this year and was recently renewed for a second season.
To which we say—Brava! Critics and audiences agree, Schumer is f—ing hilarious. (Blank spelling courtesy of me not being Amy Schumer.) It’s not just Comedy Central who thinks so. Universal Pictures just optioned her script with Judd Apatow set to produce.
As Deadline Hollywood writes, “Always on the lookout for actresses with breakout potential for R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow [producer of Bridesmaids and HBO’s Girls] thinks he has found a winner in Amy Schumer.”
“Inside Amy Schumer” is a mix of sketches, stand-up and interviews which showcase topics like dieting, threesomes, sexting, racism, and cancer. Sex is a frequent subject for Schumer, whose 2012 special for Comedy Central was entitled “Mostly Sex Stuff.” She often delves into so many verboten topics that she could cause the spontaneous combustion of a thousand parental advisory boards.
But here’s the deal with Schumer—when she’s crossing lines, she’s taking you with her. As EW succinctly points out, “Lately, too many of the talented funnywomen [Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, et all] who’ve earned their own shows are trying a little too hard to appeal to men, always professing their love of rape jokes and threesomes and Philly cheesesteaks and openmouthed burping.” Which is funny to….openmouthed burping men. Small lap dogs. That baby trapped in a Pack-and-Play?
As Schumer recently told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, she’s always been a sexual girl, and sex is something she talked about with her friends. “I didn’t grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves,” Schumer shares, “So I thought, ‘OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the women’s perspective in a less apologetic, honest way.’”
Judge for yourself. Here’s Schumer doing stand-up. (Warning: This is NSFW.)
And here’s a clip from “Inside Amy Schumer.” (Which you can watch with your trapped baby.)
Even the show’s title, “Inside Amy Schumer” immediately lends itself to a blue connotation, insinuating that the comic isn’t afraid to tread on territory traditionally held by men. But sex in comedy is almost male by default—you’d be hard-pressed to find a comedian who doesn’t address sex in some capacity. In fact, it’s even considered noteworthy when comics operate outside raunchy, as evidenced by successful comedian Jim Gaffigan’s reputation as “clean.”
So for a female performer entering traditionally male ground, she’s facing the age-old issues typical to women in all male-dominated fields. She has to be better than good—she has to be hilarious yet relatable, unapproachable yet attainable. She has to be an Amy Schumer. If she’s going to be sexual, she damn well better entertain.
And if she doesn’t? She’s tasteless, boring, or worst of all, raunchy. Then she’s just Miley Cyrus, whose tongue has to be longer than the average four inches. It has to be.
Photos courtesy of MTV and Comedy Central.
For further reading:
Tina Fey Makes the Screams Go Away
Can a New Outlook on Sex Save the World?