Brow Beat

Inside Amy Schumer’s New Season Is the One Thing You’d Never Expect From Amy Schumer: Politically Correct

Amy Schumer as “the world’s most interesting woman in the world.”

Macall Polay/Comedy Central

Things have changed for Amy Schumer since Inside Amy Schumer premiered in 2013. Then, Schumer was a relative unknown outside the stand-up comedy world, and her distinctively feminist brand of comedy, which specializes in skewering the wide array of messed-up contemporary gender dynamics, felt revolutionary. Now, Schumer is a bankable movie star who graces magazine covers and vacations with Jennifer Lawrence. Schumer’s relatively new status as a bona fide celebrity shows up in the new season of Inside Amy Schumer (airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central) in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Now, in addition to the comedy stalwarts who’ve guested on Inside Amy Schumer since beginning, A-listers like Julianne Moore, Laura Linney, and Lin-Manuel Miranda show up in guest spots. The snippets of Schumer’s stand-up act that appear between sketches include anecdotes like the time Schumer got photographed nude by Annie Leibovitz—not the kind of observational comedy most people will be able to relate to.

Schumer is, of course, hyperaware of her newfound prestige—and the scrutiny she faces as a modern feminist icon. As a result, the first three episodes of Season 4 of Inside Amy Schumer contain plenty of self-abasement (which has always been a staple of Schumer’s comedy) and also a new ingredient: self-restraint.* Schumer is as brazen and politically conscious as ever, but this season feels less personal and less urgent than last season (which featured the brutally hilarious “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” and “Last Fuckable Day”), and more formulaic—sometimes even bordering on lazy.

Season 4 opened with a gender-bending spoof of Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world,” the joke being that the traits and accomplishments that seem interesting in a man seem eccentric or even crazy in a woman. It’s classic Schumer—taking an observation from Gender Studies 101 and making it entertaining—but it’s a one-note bit that goes on too long. Similarly, a sketch in which oblivious male congressmen step in for Amy’s gynecologist in an extension of their campaign against women’s reproductive freedom is cartoonish and on the nose. (Schumer was much better on this topic in a fake birth-control pill commercial last season: “Ask your doctor if birth control is right for you. Then ask your boss if birth control is right for you. Ask your boss to ask his priest …”) And a series of commercials for a nanny service that provides nannies that your husband won’t have an affair with (it promises matronly women who “even in their heyday were fours”) contains plenty of zingy one-liners and gags but relies on a tired trope to make its point.

Schumer’s best comedy has always been weird rather than didactic. (Or primarily weird and secondarily didactic.) Happily, this season features a healthy dose of weirdness, too, like a fake commercial for a yogurt called Yo-Puss that, when eaten in enormous quantities, makes a woman’s vagina taste like nothing. “A woman’s intimate area is a rancid playground of flavor-causing enzymes and white gravel,” a narrator sweetly intones. “But Yo-Puss deadens those cells, removing the unpleasant and unfair taste permanently.” A fake music video in a comparably idiosyncratic vein has a coquettish Schumer putting on her boyfriend’s clothes to feel closer to him while he’s away, and then taking steps like “shov[ing] handfuls of creatine down my throat so we weigh the same” to completely remake herself in his image.

The beginning of the new season is full of moments that seem to point to Schumer’s burgeoning concern about her own image. One sketch about a pair of goggles that help women in the workplace see “the kind of woman the guy in front of you needs you to be”—“flirty victim, spunky kid sister, nurturing mother but flirty, wounded skank, step-MILF, sexy sex kitten, flirty sex kitten, flirty friend of mom, manic pixie, or Amy Adams”—ends with a pasted-in, heavy-handed joke in which a black woman puts on the goggles and discovers such a minefield of male hangups around her that the glasses explode. It’s a twist that seems explicitly designed to stave off accusations that Inside Amy Schumer is more interested in white women’s experiences than those of women of color. And an end-of-episode “Amy Goes Deep” interview with Sara Wolff, a advocate for people with disabilities who herself has Down syndrome, is a huge pivot from Schumer’s usual no-holds-barred approach to interrogating strangers. Compared to her usual shtick, Schumer seems tentative and even patronizing as she asks Wolff about her life and her interests, afraid to say anything that might come across as bullying or minimizing. This wasn’t necessarily the wrong approach—imagine the outcry if Schumer made an off-color joke about disabilities while interviewing a woman with disabilities—but it represents a concern with political correctness that we’ve never seen before on Inside Amy Schumer.

Of course, political correctness isn’t incompatible with humor, and nothing about the first few episodes of this season suggests that Inside Amy Schumer is no longer worth watching. It was inevitable that Inside Amy Schumer would eventually come to feel less edgy than it has over the past few years, especially as Schumer turns her attention to film projects. Sitcoms like Broad City and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have caught up to Inside Amy Schumer in pushing the boundaries of what young women can say, do, and look like on the air. If some of Schumer’s new sketches seem facile or less than fresh, it’s at least in part because viewers have their pick of laugh-out-loud, pointed feminist comedy on TV these days, much of which might not exist if not for Schumer’s success. But as long as her self-described “overexposure” doesn’t dissuade Schumer from making strange, twisted comedy, I’ll keep tuning in.

Correction, April 28, 2016: This post originally misstated that the sketches described appeared in the first two episodes of Season 4. Some of the sketches described appear in the third episode of the season.