She is, as the title of her special suggests, pregnant with her first child, and has suffered throughout her pregnancy from a condition called hyperemesis, which causes severe nausea. (During her standup set, she likens it to having food poisoning every day.)
Her last film was torpedoed before it was even released over anger with the messaging in its trailer that, it turns out, was misplaced. There have been allegations that she plagiarized jokes, which she denied.
She is a concerned citizen of the world we live in right now, but more than that, a Concerned Celebrity, throwing her influence into the anti-gun and #MeToo movements, even landing in jail at a protest.
It is a lot. It also seems to be a turning point.
When Amy Schumer is at the top of her game, which she is here, it is her ability to distill and make meaning out of the chaos—in her career, her personal life, and the world around her—that makes her comedy so sharp and resonant. Growing is 60-minute proof of that.
Weathering a storm seems to have, by necessity, become Schumer’s specialty. That’s true whether it’s criticism of her work or a complicated pregnancy.
When there is controversy surrounding her, she doesn’t do the PR-mandated thing of pretending it isn’t happening. She acknowledges it when asked about it in the press, validates it, and says her piece. You may “not like her,” whatever that flippant criticism is supposed to mean, but she respects her critics and respects the press and the jobs they have to do—something that also shows a respect for her craft.
She denied accusations that she stole jokes, but also conceded in a recent interview with The New York Times that if she had been presented with the evidence against her she would have thought she was a thief, too. The Times also reports that, when she asked comedian John Mulaney for notes on Growing, she asked for a keen eye towards any similarities there may have been to Ali Wong’s Netflix special, which the comedian also performed while pregnant.
And then there’s the cruelty of celebrity in 2019: forcing polarizing famous people to account for the fact that, in some corners, they’re hated. It’s that aforementioned “don’t like her” dismissal, offered up as a reflex at the mere mention of her name. It reflects the kind of blanket hyperbole with which we respond to and classify pop culture today. That kind of pummeling must be something remarkable to deal with, something Schumer has spoken to The Daily Beast about before.
“It’s not a super-uplifting story, but at a certain point you get truly desensitized to it,” she said while promoting I Feel Pretty. “I couldn’t read something mean about my physical appearance and feel it if I tried. I think that is from a good amount of desensitization, but also from really learning the lesson that [my character] learns in the movie, of like, your experience of me has nothing to do with what I look like or who I am. It doesn’t even feel personal at this point.”
Listing all of these things right now almost seems like a pile-on, though arguably necessary because Schumer is one of the few comedians so big, and whose voice and messaging are so specifically parsed and dissected, that the baggage is married to how people process her comedy. The counter to all that, though, is that Schumer very clearly has—and deserves—a lot of fans. You see and certainly hear them in Growing, howling at Schumer’s jokes. And rightfully so. They are very funny.
Schumer’s comedy has always explored—and challenged—the ways in which we’re conditioned to think about women, and the ways in which we refuse to evolve past those (often sexist) norms. So when she arrives on stage visibly pregnant and lifts her dress to reveal the two Band-Aids she put over her belly button because it’s gotten so misshapen, there’s no point in bracing for how that perspective is going to tackle motherhood—you’re already on the ride.
The notion that this set represents a more “mature” or “grown-up” Schumer is so on-the-nose we cringe to even insinuate it. (Ya think? She is about to welcome a child into the world. Of course that changes how one thinks about it.) Much like Ali Wong’s revolutionary (and hilarious) Baby Cobra special, Schumer discusses her pregnancy with refreshing frankness: “If you had a good pregnancy, if you’re someone who enjoyed being pregnant, I hope your car flips over.”
The comparisons to Wong’s special are warranted—it is somehow, in the year 2019, still transgressive for a pregnant woman to perform standup comedy on TV—but reductive. It’s not as if every special in which a straight male comedian talks about getting baked is put up next to each other and compared.
And to that end, Growing is not all pregnancy humor. She talks about her husband, and makes a great joke about antiquated proposal traditions. “I think there are two reasons to get down on one knee if you’re a guy: if you’re a player in the NFL, and to eat my pussy.”
She finds clever joke pathways into the #MeToo discussion. Girls are meant to feel embarrassed when they get their first periods, but for boys at that age, the most embarrassing thing is an unwanted erection. “But then they grow up and show it to everyone!” she says. “Maybe that’s what we should do.”
It should come as no surprise that Schumer wades into Congress legislating over women’s bodies. “I want to call up Mitch McConnell and be like, ‘GURL! My discharge is brown, babygirl. What do I do?’”
Schumer’s comedy seems to have evolved from jokes that are metaphorically giving the middle finger to the world to ones reflecting a comedian and woman exasperated by it.
But as always, undeniable in her humor is a certain kind of activism. She’s doing that again now, both through jokes and the real kind: Schumer went to D.C. to get arrested in protest of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. When tragedy struck a screening of her movie Trainwreck, she spearheaded an anti-gun movement. In Growing, she delivers a PSA to men about how to properly enter women during sex.
The public has a lot to say about Amy Schumer. Growing is more than worth talking about.
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