AVOIDING A TRAINWRECK
What Hillary Can Learn From Amy Schumer
The confident, approachable, and self-deprecating Schumer could be a better model for Hillary than you’d think.
In her new interview with GQ magazine, Amy Schumer said that she’s a fan of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She also shared that the feeling is mutual, noting that at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards Clinton told Schumer she related to one of Schumer’s jokes. The joke in question? “I said that in L.A. my arms register as legs, and she really liked that. She was like, ‘I can relate,’” Schumer recalled.
But Schumer and Clinton actually have more in common than their sense of humor about the absurd physical expectations society places on women, particularly women in their chosen professions. For starters, they are both feminists whose political leanings have guided their work. But it is the differences in their approaches—and how they are perceived by the public—that may tell us more about Hillary’s chances for winning the White House in 2016 than yet another poll. (Although we will get to the latest polls in a second.)
When people think of Hillary Clinton, a lot of words come to mind. Polarizing is one of them. But even her detractors will acknowledge she’s also smart, resilient, and tough. They’ve thrown the kitchen sink at her over the years and she’s still standing.
However, even her admirers would acknowledge she’s not what voters would call accessible. There’s always a bit of a wall there. (Having that kitchen sink thrown at her may have something to do with that.) And even more damaging is the perception that she is not authentic. A growing number of voters find her dishonest, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.
Smart + inaccessible + inauthentic does not usually equal someone who can easily win a presidential race. Just look at Al Gore and Mitt Romney.
Add to that equation the fact that she’s a woman and the climb is even tougher because, as unfair as it is, we all know women are judged by different standards. It is never enough to just be smart or talented or tough; we’re also supposed to be attractive and likable at the same time. (Before anyone starts typing an angry tweet or comment dismissing the notion that women candidates are judged differently, ask yourself honestly what would happen if a female candidate stopped wearing makeup on the campaign trail and wore the same suit every day, something Clinton recently touched upon.)
This is what makes Schumer’s ascent both fascinating and potentially instructive for Clinton, someone who Schumer has said she plans to campaign for.
Standup comedy is not exactly known for being an easy place for women and very few female standup comics have truly cracked the boys club to become household names. Even fewer have managed to earn serious respect within the uber-male, uber-macho comic community. But Schumer’s done it. She’s managed to become a breakout star with as many male fans as female ones, and she’s done it without compromising her feminist zeal. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind Schumer was both smart and a feminist the first time I read one of her jokes. But I also realized the reason she would be a huge success is because:
A) Even her comments about feminist issues, like women’s body image, were ones men could laugh at.
B) Even when a joke didn’t really land, you could tell Schumer told it because she thought it was funny—not because she spent hours calculating where that joke would land her career-wise.
C) She would tell you the truth about how she saw things—even if it were supremely uncomfortable for all involved, including her, the subject, or the audience.
D) You can genuinely tell she has a sense of humor about it all—including some of the unfair nonsense she knows she will have to put up with that a male comedian won’t.
Part of Clinton’s problem is that she struggles with all of the above. Having met her more than once I know she has a great laugh—but I doubt many Americans believe she has a great sense of humor, and that comes across.
There’s this sense that the weariness of the last two decades on the national stage has robbed her of her sense of enthusiasm for the process altogether, and possibly stoked a resentment for it. I can’t say I blame her. Unlike Hillary, I have a tough time hiding my disdain for stupidity, prying questions, and people I don’t like. These are among the many reasons I would never run for office.
But Clinton is running, so that means she’s going to have to find a way to see the humor in it all. From the stupid comments some commentator (likely male) will probably make about her appearance down the road, to the stupid question someone will ask her in a debate that he would never ask a man. Schumer has been incredibly blunt about how trying it can be to be a woman in a man’s world, but men are too busy laughing with her to resent her for calling out the patriarchy.
A big part of Schumer’s effectiveness is that whatever she says, it’s clear she says it because she either really believes it or really believes it is funny. Consider this: When Schumer faced her first round of negative publicity, specifically the criticism she faced for making racially insensitive jokes in the past, she did what few are willing to do in the age of Twitter outrage: she defended herself. That further enraged some people, but it also impressed others, me being one of them.
Though she eventually came around to saying she had evolved past the jokes in question, whether you liked them or not, they reinforced a fundamental perception about her: If she thinks it’s funny she’ll say it out loud. You may not always love a person like that, but you also know you can trust her.
This week a thirty-something, white, female pro-choice friend mentioned to me she finds Clinton untrustworthy. She doesn’t dislike her. But just doesn’t trust her. When I pressed her on why, she mentioned the private email server, but fundamentally it wasn’t about that. You either believe someone will tell you the truth, and show you who they really are, or you don’t.
In her GQ interview Schumer said, “I love being in my own skin” and professed she wants others to feel comfortable in theirs.
For Clinton to win the presidency she’s going to have to show Americans that she’s not only smart, resilient, and tough, but comfortable in her own skin.