“Growing,” as it’s used by Amy Schumer in the title of her new Netflix special, is not meant to be entirely ironic. Like her eponymous character in “Trainwreck,” Schumer stumbled suddenly into love and marriage, further accelerating the shift in her comedy that was already underway. Very pregnant, the special finds her in the process of “growing” physically—but also in the process of growing from the dirtbag persona that fueled her rise to success. The second journey isn’t unfolding quite as well as the first.
“Growing,” of course, also plays on Schumer’s sense of arrested development. She’s protesting Brett Kavanaugh, but stuffing snacks into her mouth before getting arrested. The special’s identity, then, is half-joking and half-serious. Unlike Hannah Gadsby, who literally divided “Nanette” along those lines, Schumer isn’t giving up on comedy at all. That’s exactly why her earnest political interludes induce cringes. Schumer’s claim to the moral high ground is dubious, which was initially the entire basis of her comedy—and it still lingers.
The comedienne’s dirtbag persona, a schtick that launched her to fame, was promiscuous and narcissistic and raunchy and racist. Like Sarah Silverman, Schumer used that persona to satirize ignorance. It was often very funny. Unfortunately she’s since found her purpose in using comedy as a platform for politics, but through party-line lectures rather than smart satire.
Nobody can do both. Evolving from a dirtbag libertine to a dirtbag wife doesn’t make you a more credible moralizer. Warmed over fourth-wave bluster about “Lindsey Mammo-Graham” doesn’t land after you’ve spent an hour using your own irresponsibility and broken moral compass as a punchline. For all her growth, the underpinning of Schumer’s jokes about wanting the cars of happily pregnant women to “Chappaquiddick into a lake” or going to a protest because D.C. “has the best cocaine” is still that she’s a bad person. Now she’s just a bad person who also wants us to believe in the moral superiority of her politics. She slips in and out of her persona like a bathrobe.
To be fair, the special is spotted with several interesting bits, much like “Inside Amy Schumer” produced some memorable sketches. In a 2011 set on Conan, Schumer, then in her early 30s, joked about asking “What are you going to do?!” of friends “living normal adult lives” who happily announced their pregnancies to her. “I’ll drive you!” she joked about reacting. In “Growing,” Schumer jokes about pretending she wanted an abortion to her husband. “He went, ‘Really?'” she says. “I was like, ‘No! What?’ I’m going to announce it on Instagram, and then I’m going to be like, ‘Actually, forget it. I don’t like it. I’m tired. I don’t like it.'”
“Thank God that was his response, you know?” says Schumer. “What if he’d been like, ‘Cool. I’ll warm up the car!”
“Growing” provides some genuinely funny moments. But its better function is making clear what has seemed increasingly to be the problem with Schumer’s comedy for years now: an identity crisis. She wants to be a woke comedian, to deliver punchlines with purpose, but her persona was built on ignorance and questionable morals. If she’s growing into the moral high ground, she’ll have to grow out of the persona that made her famous. So far, there’s little evidence to suggest she’s figured out how to do that, or even identified that it needs to be done.