Amy Schumer’s fame didn’t have to ruin her cable sketch comedy. But Amy Schumer’s sketches about her own fame might do just that.
At the start of this season, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not a bona fide movie star could still pull off a show that first cultivated its audience with relatable humor about sex, dating, and, of course, vaginas. The first couple of episodes, though, were mostly fine. Then things took a turn for the worse: political sketches that were clearly outside of the show’s strike zone, satire that was more toothless than we’ve come to expect from the Inside Amy writers, and, all along, an increasingly uninteresting reflection on Schumer’s newfound star status.
Fame is like a lengthy dream: if you have it yourself, you might think it’s fascinating but no one else really wants to hear about it. Outside of the show, Schumer’s critique of celebrity culture has been incisive, even necessary. Her rebuke of people who label her “plus-size” and her Instagram indictment of a creepy fan who demanded a picture were both bold moves that called attention to the downsides of being a celebrity, especially a female celebrity. But it’s hard to transmute those kinds of critiques into good sketch comedy, as this uneven season has proved.
Here are Amy Schumer’s season four sketches about her own fame, ranked from really bad to pretty good:
In my life, I have been in close physical proximity to one celebrity and one presidential candidate. Both times, I resisted the urge to ask them for a selfie. I was proud of myself for playing it cool but I don’t necessarily fault those who get the slightest bit overzealous when in the presence of fame. Life is short and entertainment is the only thing that can numb us against our generation’s complete lack of job security, so it’s no surprise that selfies have become our currency. It’s with that in mind that it’s hard for me to laugh at the coffee shop sketch from the “Fame” episode in which Schumer’s fans overstep her boundaries, demanding she take pictures with them and make them birthday videos. I don’t doubt that fans have been rude to her in exactly the ways she depicts and I don’t condone their behavior in the slightest, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch a sketch in which us lowly non-celebs are the butt of the joke.
“Betsy Ross” is not overtly about Schumer’s fame but that is its subject nonetheless. The implicit joke in this overlong Hamilton-inspired sketch is that Amy has become so famous that she can put on a truly terrible historical musical with help from Questlove and Lin-Manuel Miranda, all by leveraging her star power. She summons Miranda because he’s interested in a guest appearance on her show and Questlove provides the drums because she promised to get him Hamilton tickets. And because she’s so famous, the joke goes, no one will tell her it’s an awful musical. This sketch should work. It’s generally charming in a self-effacing way for a celebrity to play an oblivious and untalented version of themselves. But instead, it outstays its welcome, going on for so long that it starts to become as self-indulgent as the ill-advised Betsy Ross hip-hopera feels.
The “Fame” episode spent much of its runtime trying to convince us that Amy Schumer is still the same. She asks fellow comedian Mark Normand if she’s changed at all and he replies that only her “quality of life” has gone up (“You used to go to IHOP and shit”). But it’s hard to tell whether “Down to Earth,” in which Schumer plays a celebrity talk show host who is as out-of-touch with regular people as the vagina-steaming Gwyneth Paltrow, is meant to mock Schumer herself or whether it’s targeted at all those other celebrities who have actually been completely transformed by their fame. There are inspired bits in the sketch—Selena Gomez’s theme song, Amy Schumer’s exotic dinosaur pet, the zeppelin setting, the line “Ms. Schumer is my mother’s pussy’s name”—but otherwise, it’s a confused mess with an unclear target. The zeppelin crashes in the end, and so does the joke.
“Overexposed” was not a sketch—it was a teaser for season four—so it’s telling that it ranks so high on this list. In thirty brief seconds, a doctor diagnoses Amy as “overexposed,” and tells her to get off television, but she vows instead to “keep exposing [herself]” instead. It was a brief but brilliant rejoinder to all of the critics who worried about her post-Trainwreck return to basic cable. And honestly, in an ideal world, she would have just left the topic there and returned to Inside Amy Schumer like nothing had changed. Instead, so much of season four has been focused on the consequences of being overexposed, and it has suffered for doing so.
One gem has come out of Inside Amy’s critique of celebrity culture and that is the TMZ parody featuring Patton Oswalt and Tim Meadows. Clearly informed by Schumer’s own experience with predatory paparazzi assholes, the sketch shows “AMZ” crewmembers asking celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Justin Long inane questions while they’re stuck under a cab and mourning their dead father, respectively. It’s a sketch that the mega-famous Amy Schumer can laugh at because she’s the one dealing with TMZ but it’s one that we can laugh at, too, because we all know that TMZ staffers are literal pond scum molded into human form. This is a solid sketch with a solid premise, a clear target, and a perfectly-timed reference to The Little Mermaid’s Ursula. If only Inside Amy’s other sketches about fame were this good, or there were fewer of them.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.