When Amy Schumer decided to call her first hour-long stand-up comedy special Mostly Sex Stuff, she wasn't being ironic or cute. There is Truth in Advertising, as the majority of the hour actually is devoted to material about male and female anatomy, relationships and sex. No one can say they weren't warned.
The special represents a leap forward for Schumer from the released of her debut album, Cutting, last year. On that record, the comedian fell back once too many on old Sarah Silverman-style tricks -- setting up a joke and then taking it to a dark, inappropriate place (AIDS or rape is a common punchline) but getting away with it by adopting a "Did I say something bad? I'm just a cute girl!" persona on stage. It was a good album, and demonstrated Schumer to be a gifted joke writer, but grew somewhat repetitive once we knew where every joke was going to turn. But with Sex Stuff, Schumer has (mostly) shed that approach to stand-up in favor of longer-form observational material and personal stories. It's a big jump to make in only a year's time (and suggests that Cutting didn't necessarily represent everything Schumer had to offer at the time), and the change suits her. There's much less ironic distance between her and the audience now, and the dark-punchline jokes like the ones she used to focus on so much ("You know what the worst part of being a female comic is? It's the rape.") are just peppered throughout the hour, almost as palette cleansers between the longer setups. That rhythm works well.
Mostly Sex Stuff may seem similarly repetitive to some because of its sameness of topic, but that's a repetition of subject matter, not style. It gives the special a kind of "concept" or thesis approach, as though this is going to be Schumer's "sex" hour on a future specials will focus on other single topics (there's no way of knowing if this is the case -- and it more than likely isn't -- but it's fun to extrapolate). What makes the special work so well is that Schumer's focus is on honesty, not shock value. There is a difference. She's not trying to get away with using as many anatomical terms as possible or be gross for grossness' sake. She's just being frank about sex, and we're not always used to female comics speaking that. When so many do, they are accused to going "too far" or trying to be "one of the guys" by speaking about sex in the way that men do. Schumer's not doing that. Hers is very much a female perspective, and the honesty of it (like when she talks about her first encounter with an uncircumcised penis, or the approach she takes to get her sexual partners to use protection) is a big part of what makes it so funny. If the audience is shocked by how blunt she's being, that's just a happy side effect.
Amy Schumer has had a big year, and her star is only continuing to rise. After releasing Cutting, she made a pair of high profile appearances on both the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen and the Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne, for which she rightfully received great reviews (both sets were highlights of their respective roasts). She's landed movie roles, including a small part in this year's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. She currently has a series deal with Comedy Central for a show that will kick off in late 2012 or early 2013. She needs to be smart about the direction her career takes, as other high profile female comics have been in her exact position within the last few years and quickly torpedoed their goodwill with some questionable choices and bland TV projects. A special like Mostly Sex Stuff goes a long way towards establishing Schumer as a comic voice worth paying attention to, as it demonstrates that she's able to construct material that's longer and better-developed than the brilliant one-liners and insults she wrote on the roasts. For newcomers, it's a great introduction. For those of us that have been following her career since her time on Last Comic Standing, it's a terrific glimpse at just how far she's come as a comic.
- Comedy Central Premiere Date: 8/18/12