In March, Amy Schumer released “Growing,” a pregnancy-themed Netflix special. In April, Schumer’s ex-boyfriend, Anthony Jeselnik, debuted a Netflix special of his own. “Fire in the Maternity Ward,” is what he decided to call it.
Jeselnik and Schumer broke up years ago. Both landed their own Comedy Central shows before Schumer’s career soared to new heights with “Trainwreck” in 2015. Publicly, there hasn’t been much bad blood—and there may not be any privately either. But it’s also possible that Jeselnik’s latest special engages in some subtle trolling of his ex.
Schumer’s special is largely about her pregnancy. Jeselnik’s ends on a 15-minute abortion joke. In “Growing,” Schumer, who gave birth to a son last Sunday, jokes about telling her husband she wants an abortion. Thankfully, she says, he wasn’t on board. “What if he’d been like, ‘Cool. I’ll warm up the car!” quips Schumer.
That’s exactly what Jeselnik does in “Fire in the Maternity Ward,” recounting the true story of a time he drove his friend to terminate her pregnancy. (The baby was not his.) Back in 2011, it was Schumer who was making the jokes about driving friends to get abortions.
There’s an obvious contrast here, with one half of the erstwhile couple joking about pregnancy while the other jokes about terminating one— and a month apart, at that (Jeselnik’s special was filmed in November, just before Schumer’s, although both had been touring in 2018). Whether that was intentional, I have no idea. But it’s glaring.
Perhaps even more glaring is Jeselnik’s sharp critique of a trend Schumer is known for embracing: stand-up with earnest political interludes. “Alright, guys, listen, jokes are all well and good. I’d like to take a couple of minutes right now and talk about something that is important to me,” he says mid-set, ostensibly transitioning into a serious monologue. With a nod to Hannah Gadsby, he notes, “I think that stand-up comedy doesn’t always have to be funny.”
Of course, it’s all just classic Jeselnikian misdirection. But it’s hard to ignore how his mockery seems to capture Schumer’s attitude, particularly after “The Leather Special.”
“I will preface this by saying there’s a lot of people right now who say that stand-up comedians should just stick to comedy, and not talk about anything else,” Jeselnik says. “I disagree.”
“I think that stand-up comedy doesn’t always have to be funny,” he continues. “Stand-up comedy doesn’t always have to be entertaining. Sometimes, it’s about speaking truth to power. Sometimes, it’s about pointing out wrongs in the world, even though it might not be popular. So please, indulge me.”
Again, it’s all a build-up for Jeselnik. But for Schumer and a host of other comedians, there’s not always a punchline. She may be “Growing,” but none of it is as funny—or even as useful—as Jeselnik’s blazing maternity ward.
All of this could just be happenstance: the timing, the theming, the critique of a general trend. I really don’t know. But if it was intentional, Jeselnik just pulled off a pretty spectacular troll.