The XX Factor

Amy Schumer Has a Tormented Relationship With Criticism

Amy Schumer at the Governors Awards in Hollywood on Nov. 14.

Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Last weekend, Amy Schumer released a video promotion for her untitled movie project with Goldie Hawn. In it, the two actresses lip-synch to Beyoncé’s “Formation,” grinding in the forest in a dirt-smeared dress and an “¡Hola!” T-shirt, mimicking the dance moves from a music video about police brutality and racial oppression.

The video also includes appearances from Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, co-stars in the movie Schumer describes thus: “[Hawn] plays my mom. My character is supposed to go on this trip to South America with a boyfriend. But he breaks up with her. And it’s a nonrefundable ticket and she doesn’t want to drink alone.” Hawn had this to add: “We are on quite a romp together, the two of us—in the jungle! It’s just going to be a blast!” See if you can glean any of those plot points from the video itself:

There’s no obvious joke or satirical value to the clip, leading black Twitter and many other observers to wonder: Why, why, why would Schumer, who’s caught years of flak for her wrong-headed approach to issues of race and cultural appropriation, choose this song, a song that references a “Negro nose” and countless nods to black America, for a promo video without a point?

The easy answer is that the controversy has made far more people watch a comedian’s noncomedic video than would have watched Schumer and Hawn lip-synch to, say, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” If we’re being extraordinarily generous, we might wonder if Schumer has botched what she hoped would be a meta anti-racist statement, a parody from the point of view of the “dumb white girl character” she’s said she sometimes plays onstage. Or maybe she’s just willfully ignorant about race politics.

Either way, her response to the sustained criticism of her video has been little more than a shrug. “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation,” Schumer wrote on Instagram, quoting “Formation,” beneath a photo of herself in her underwear. “Thanks for the exclusive release Tidal! We had so much fun making this tribute. All love and women inspiring each other. #strongertogether

This is uncharacteristic restraint from Schumer, who’s often relied on social media to post protracted defenses when people have insulted her or criticized her work. Last year, after a few rounds of race-related controversy about her TV show and a Guardian piece that called attention to her jokes about Latinos, Schumer tweeted a long response:

I enjoy playing the girl who time to time says the dumbest thing possible and playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which is what makes it so fun for comics. You can call it a “blind spot for racism” or “lazy” but you are wrong. It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it. Even if you personally did not. … I ask you to resist the urge to pick me apart. Trust me, I am not racist. I am a devout feminist and lover of all people. … So move on to the next person who is more deserving of your scrutiny and not the girl in your corner.

She later apologized for real, but this initial defense touched on all the greatest hits of white people responding poorly to accusations of racism. She flat-out tells concerned people of color that they’re wrong. She claims her jokes are self-evidently funny because people (mostly white people, one assumes) laugh at them. She suggests that she’s unworthy of criticism because there are real racists out there, who are presumably burning crosses and building border walls. And then there’s the “Trust me, I am not racist,” which smacks of the Trumpian “nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

Schumer, it seems, doesn’t know how to take criticism. It makes a lot of sense when you look at one of her career’s first big boosts: a performance at Comedy Central’s 2011 roast of Charlie Sheen. “I truly am sorry, no joke, for the loss of your friend Ryan Dunn,” she told fellow roaster Steve-O of his Jackass co-star who’d recently died in a car crash. “I know you must have been thinking, ‘It could have been me,’ and I know we were all thinking, ‘Why wasn’t it?’ ” In the days that followed, Steve-O called her a “silly little whore” and a “no-name slut”; his fans on Twitter threatened to kill her. Schumer took it in stride. “I did ask that his fans stop with the threats of ending my life, but I did not apologize for telling that joke,” she said at the time. “I absolutely, from the bottom of my heart, continue to not give a shit about this.”

In situations like these, it behooves a comedian to have a thick hide. Schumer’s joke was certainly no more tasteless that what usually comes out of these roasts, and she was right to let the criticism roll off her back. Some argued that she got disproportionate hate for the Ryan Dunn joke because she’s a woman; Seth MacFarlane made a joke about Amy Winehouse’s death at the same roast, and no one came after him with death threats. Similarly, her response to Donald Trump fans who walked out of a recent Florida show was wonderfully dismissive: “Dearest Tampa—I’m sorry you didn’t want me, a comedian who talks about what she believes in, to mention the biggest thing going on in our country right now,” she read in an open letter, promising to go to rehab to learn to please “both the rich, entitled, white people who are gonna vote for [Trump] and the very poor people who’ve been tricked into it.”

But Schumer’s thick hide too often functions as a callous, making her unwilling to learn from or even accept smart criticism of her work from people who have legitimate issues with it. She’s made a habit of blocking Twitter users who ask her why she’s worked with the sexist jerk Kurt Metzger and who tell her when her remarks on race are off. It’s 100 percent her right to preserve her mental health by curating her social media experience to be whatever she wants, but it’s not a great way to get her audience to “trust” that she’s not racist.

On the other end of the social media hubbub spectrum, Schumer has made enormous to-dos out of minor perceived slights. When Glamour named her one of a few “women who inspire us” in its “Chic at Any Size” issue, Schumer insisted on Instagram that she was not “plus size” and didn’t deserve to be lumped in with all the other women—Melissa McCarthy, Ashley Graham, Adele—in the issue. When a man in South Carolina tried to take her photo in public against her will, she took his picture and posted it to Instagram. “I asked him to stop and he said ‘no it’s America and we paid for you,’” she wrote. “Yes legally you are allowed to take a picture of me. But I was asking you to stop and saying no. I will not take picture with people anymore and it’s because of this dude in Greenville.”

The man felt the need to defend himself and his entire town from accusations of harassment coming from Schumer fans around the world. “I think [Schumer has] tried to paint some kind of picture of me that I am an aggressive guy and that I came up to her,” he told a local news network. “If you see my video, you can tell that she wasn’t scared. … At the end of the day, I feel as though I did what every other fan would have done if they would have seen one of their celebrities.” Did he take Schumer’s concerns seriously, listen to what her supporters were saying, and think about how his actions affected a famous woman just trying to live her life? Probably not. Like the comedian he affronted, he has a lot to learn about the value of criticism.