'Inside Amy Schumer''s Censored Gun Sketch Carves out New Territory

The Jon Benjamin-starring gun violence skit posits an evolving sense of what comedy can be.

Inside Amy Schumer garners a lot of attention because of the topical specificity of sketches, as much as the ribaldry. Her most attention-grabbing work provides satirical takes on the dark ideological underpinnings of a fiercely patriarchal America.

Many of these are perfectly suited for viral internet syndication: Not only are they funny, but they speak to outraged social media users’ talking points. A huge portion Amy Schumer fans consume her work via online excerpts, especially when she hits on a particularly news-worthy topic. In the show’s recent episode, “Welcome to the Gun Show,” Schumer parodied this by having a character refer to hear as “clickbait sensation Amy Schumer.”

It makes Schumer’s show a ready-made critical darling, due to the fact that its absurdity probes deeper, and with sharper focus, than most other extant or recent sketch comedy shows. Where a comedy like Keanu from former Comedy Central sketch duo Key and Peele is criticized for a lack of substance, its structural subversion, and considered parodies of racial coding somehow overlooked. Schumer is praised for aiming at clear targets, and uncompromisingly so.

Schumer delivered sketch comedy for a bleak, social-media-driven time: when debates on hot-button issues and international tragedies spread like wildfire through hashtags, think pieces and their voracious, usually troubling comments sections. Its timeliness and unflinching worldview is its deadliest weapon. The show is usually good — sometimes brilliant.

The recent, H.-Jon-Benjamin-starring sketch, censored by Comedy Central but recently posted on their website, falls into the latter category.

The offending sequence carves out new ground for Schumer, and because, in its despair and disorder, it seems to speak to the feeling of living in the current international moment better than more by-the-book comedy. Benjamin’s portrait of a personal injury lawyer grieving his dead twin brother and reminding viewers that the law can do nothing for them if they have lost a loved one due to gun violence, conjures up ghosts, a gargoylish images of the perpetrator of a school shooting, and a paralyzed victim of a shooting in her workplace.

On paper, and in its realization, the Schumer skit is too horrifying to elicit normal laughter. Nor does it seem like that was its intended purpose, which is no doubt why the network deemed it out of place. But it’s hard to believe that this isn’t the direction more comedy is going these days: that is, beyond it. The sketch does more than just mock the surface-level issues associated with gun control and proponents, as the segments included in the aired episode did. Like something out of the actual, textbook Theater of the Absurd, it deals with elemental human emotion in a darkly ironic, disjunctive manner. Benjamin’s character is “haunted by his uselessness” — just a “lawyer with an office and phone,” an empty shell.

The object of the comedy here? How outrageous it is that we should be forced to feel this kind of grief when a solution to the problem is so clearly in front of us. It is comedy about mourning, translated ironically into the sterile form of a local, low-budget TV ad; it’s about the feeling of existence emptied of meaning. Comedic practice, over time, traditionally evolves to meet the demands of its time period, so it seems strange that, in the era of Trump, Nigel Farage, and bi- or tri-weekly mass shootings or bombings around the world, that the norm in comedic cynicality has not already reached Schumer and Benjamin’s level.

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