Nussbaum: Bad Jokes or Mean Internet Trolls? Amy Schumer Loses Either Way


It is finally sunny in Los Angeles again.

After three months of nasty skies and near non-stop rain, the sun is out in force now; the bees have returned, and the smog has begun to thicken. The liquid amber trees have started to bloom in earnest.

And yet, even on a day like today — and even after my doctor advised me to sit out on the balcony shirtless, with 40 ounces of Red Stripe and a pack of cigarettes and the Allman Brothers cranked up on the stereo — my focus drifts just a few hundred yards northeast, to the heart of Hollywood, where trouble began brewing anew this week.

Comedian Amy Schumer — perhaps best known for her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, and for the film Trainwreck — has accused “alt-right” Internet trolls of a coordinated plot to trash her latest Netflix stand-up special with brutal, one-star reviews.

“They organize to get my ratings down,” Schumer lamented in an Instagram post this week. “Meeting in sub Reddit rooms. They tried on my book and movies and tv show.”

Ah yes. Those pesky goddamned Internet trolls again.

Whether the work of trolls, or just unhappy fans, the result is that Schumer’s Leather Special now boasts an unfortunate average rating of one star on the streaming service (though it won’t matter for much longer, because Netflix just announced it would replace the five-star system with a thumbs-up system; the timing appears to be a coincidence).

“I thank you trolls so much,” Schumer added in her Instagram post. “It fills me with hope and power to see you all furiously posting so as always accuse me of whatever lies you want. Call me a whale. Call me a thief and I will continue to rise and fight and lead. I know who I am. I am strong and beautiful and will use my voice my whole time on this earth.”

Well, yes. That’s fine. Any great American would never tell Schumer she isn’t entitled to use her voice whenever and in whatever manner she likes.

But Schumer has gotten herself into a bit of a pickle here.

Let us assume, for argument’s sake, that Schumer is right: an army of “alt-right trolls” conspired on Reddit and 4chan boards to deliberately tank the ratings of her special. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who rated the special one star actually saw it, at the very least.

If Schumer is right, that would simply confirm something that conservatives have been shouting from the rooftops for years and that Hollywood somehow still doesn’t understand: that insulting the values and political beliefs of your target market simply isn’t good business.

At a show in New York City in October, Schumer addressed an incident that occurred the previous night at a show in Tampa, in which a large number of people in the audience (reports estimated 200) walked out on her after she began mocking then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In response, she proceeded to mock the frustrated audience members too.

“Dearest Tampa,” she read aloud from an open letter on the stage in Madison Square Garden. “I’m sorry you didn’t want me, a comedian who talks about what she believes in, to mention the biggest thing going on in our country right now.”

“After the show, I want you to know that I will go straight to a rehab facility that will teach me how to make all people happy. Both the rich, entitled white people who are gonna vote for [Trump] and the very poor people who’ve been tricked into it,” she continued.

Schumer’s response then, as with her response now, completely misses the point.

Comedians, actors, singers and other celebrities can say whatever they want, whenever they want. God Bless America. No one is stopping them. But to then act surprised or become angry or accusatory when some of the things they’ve said insult or offend the values of the millions of people who make up their ticket-buying audience isn’t just disingenuous; it’s downright pathetic.

If Amy Schumer wants to call everyone who voted for Trump “weak,” “misinformed” Ku Klux Klan members, she shouldn’t be surprised that a few of those disgruntled Trump voters would flip her the bird in the form of a one-star review on her Netflix special.

But let’s say she’s wrong about these trolls. Let us assume — again, for argument’s sake — that there was no coordinated effort by pissed-off conservatives to tank her ratings.

Maybe her jokes just suck. Or have gotten stale. It’s not outside the realm of possibility, is it? Mainstream critics didn’t like it; I didn’t either.

When Schumer responded to the negative reviews on her Instagram account, I decided I had to check out the special for myself, to see what all the fuss was about. It’s really just the same old Schumer shtick: lots and lots of jokes about how bad her vagina smells and about how men find her unattractive. There’s also a small bit about gun control.

Is it inconceivable that people have simply tired of the schtick?

After a good faith try at the Leather Special — and as something of a control test — I popped on Trevor Noah’s new Netflix special, Afraid of the Dark. I wanted to see whether my political bias might have clouded my judgement of Schumer’s work, and whether I might be able to laugh at another outspoken liberal’s comedy set.

Surprise, surprise. Noah’s set was both funny and insightful, and he is a talented impressionist to boot. Noah’s special was simply funny. If you’re going to insult roughly half of the American ticket-buying public with your unsolicited political opinions, you better be hysterically funny to the other half who agree with you.

So, either way, Amy Schumer loses here. Either her politics have finally caught up with her, or she simply produced a bad stand-up comedy special.

She’s got no one to blame but herself.


Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum


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