Amy Schumer is one of the buzziest comedians working today. Due to an exhausting work schedule, she finds herself in an enviable position, one that few stand-ups can claim: not only is she household name, but she’s branching out – along with a hit sketch show, she’s also got a $100 million film under her belt, and has become one of the most influential comedians. Unfortunately, this bright-hot fame has its downsides: her politics have been shoved into the public eye after two women were shot and killed during a showing of her movie Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana; she also is a constant target for online haters and trolls, picking apart her politics, her looks, and her intelligence; and recently, she’s gotten flak because a writer/friend on her show released a string of sexist tweets regarding rape and victim-blaming. But this kind of up-and-down seems a consistent in Schumer’s life, as she chronicles in hilarious and heartbreaking detail in her first book, Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.
Part memoir-part essay collection, Girl is an intimate look at one of comedy’s brightest and smartest acts. She writes that her book is not a how-to manual or an advice guide, but like Kathy Griffin’s memoir, Official Book Club Selection, Schumer’s book works as evidence that a hard work ethic is the most valuable tool one needs to make it in show business. And Schumer is a hard worker. She writes of paying her dues in clubs before “making it” so to speak, by appearing on a reality show (Last Comic Standing), only to bomb consistently on the show’s tour. But she keeps plugging away, working hard on her craft, creating a strong and distinct comic persona. Girl doesn’t undo that persona, but it adds more layers to it.
The most surprising thing about Girl is how disarming and vulnerable Schumer allows herself to be; for most comics, the microphone is a symbol of power – for female comics, it’s even more potent and subversive because of societal standards of female gentility. On stage, Schumer presents herself as a joyous and witty Wife of Bath for the 2010’s – sexual and liberated. She’s also presented as a lustful life of the party – one who can probably drink even the hardiest party animal under the table. Her willingness to embrace this loud and raucous side of her is what makes her such a powerful comedian – she lays claim to territory that is rightfully her’s, even if prudes find her distasteful and inappropriate. But in Girl, Schumer also allows the more sensitive side of her to shine – one that may not be as loud and dynamic as her stage persona, but one that is equally potent.
Despite the f-bombs and the hilariously lascivious tales, Schumer is a deep thinker and an intellectual. She approaches her comedy from a very smart place, and that translates to her writing, too. Also, she allows herself a larger, wider breadth, to explore introspective and sometimes-darker parts of her story. She’s very upfront about being a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence, and bravely shares these deeply personal stories with her readers. As evident with the recent racist/misogynist online attack of Leslie Jones, women are still reduced and dehumanized – Schumer’s candid approach to her story gives a huge spotlight and megaphone to an issue that is still sorely misrepresented by the media and law enforcement. And just as personal and profound is her grief over the deaths of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, the two women who dies in the screening of Trainwreck. Schumer puts on another guise, that of policy wonk, as she details why our current gun laws are too lax, and lays out the tragic consequences (there’s even a helpful part in the appendix in which Schumer shares the names of those in congress who benefit from the gun lobby).
But these departures from the funny don’t feel inorganic or forced. Instead, they present a complicated, complex, and very interesting woman. One who is devoted to her family and friends. Her family life can be described as difficult and she works out some stuff about her relationships with her mom and dad (who is living with MS). She loves her sister (a writer on Inside Amy Schumer and a very funny lady in her own right) and their relationship looms largely, as it seems to influence a lot of her work. Her writing about her mother is fraught with tension – at times her mom comes off as self-involved and self-destructive, this is especially true in the passage that deals with her mom’s infidelity, one that destroys her family when it comes to pass that Schumer’s mom and her best friend’s dad leave their respective spouses and marry each other. But Schumer is equally honest about her dad, whom she admits to idolizing, but who also had affairs and a string of wives (which resulted in the phenomena of a string of temporary step-siblings, too).
What is so remarkable about Girl is how assured its voice is. This book does not feel like a debut, and in reality it really isn’t, as Amy Schumer has been telling her story for years now. It’s just different now because she’s committed it to paper. What elevates Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo from the library of similar books-by-comedians is that its author has a strong and highly-developed literary voice. One that will make readers laugh out loud, but one that can also bring readers to tears. The book is a fantastic read that brings together all sorts of issues including feminism, rape culture, comedy, gun violence, politics, sexual politics, self-esteem, and family. Like Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, and Kathy Griffin before her, Amy Schumer has masterfully created a literary persona: one that is wise, funny, bruised, and resilient. I can’t wait to read her next book.