Amy Schumer and the role of satire

Amy Schumer, comedian and actor, hosted Saturday Night Live last weekend.  Ordinarily, this fact would have elicited a yawn from me, since given the choice between SNL and watching a cat regurgitate a hairball, I’d ask to watch something by Monty Python.  Actually, I’ll take the Pythons over much of the bumbling idiocy that Hollywood regards as comedy these days.  Schumer has taken it upon herself to stand for gun control after a shooting incident at a showing of the film, Trainwreck, in which she starred, and she used her appearance Saturday as an opportunity to advocate.

When she joined the cause of gun control last July, my response was, “Amy who?”  Her family name is one I know well, since her cousin (I come from a small family, so don’t ask me what degree or measure of removal), Chuck Schumer, is the senator from New York who is among Congress’s constant advocates for new restrictions on gun rights.  But Amy Schumer’s brand of humor—at least what I’ve heard about it in the months since July—doesn’t appeal to me.

All right, is it clear that I’m not a fan?  I’m sure she isn’t troubled by that fact.  To be clear, her political positions have nothing to do with this.  I still like a lot of Liam Neeson’s work, despite his stance on gun control.  All this full disclosure is to admit that a skit on SNL wasn’t likely to work for me.

And what is this skit?  Go here to see.  It’s a fake commercial, filled with soft piano music and emotional language, supposedly celebrating the presence of guns in our lives.  Schumer herself is given a Glock by her husband/partner/one-night-stand as a birthday/anniversary/payment-for-services-rendered gift.  A pregnant woman about to deliver a baby brings a rifle with her to the hospital, while a couple in young love and a jogger fire off rounds into the air.  All of them wave the muzzles of their guns around with their fingers planted on the triggers.

Yes, it’s satire.  I get that.  George Carlin mocked gun owners, but he mocked everyone, and he didn’t need mood music to do it.  And satire has long been a tool of social critics, going back to the ancient Greeks.  Recall the play, Lysistrata, a comedy by Aristophanes in which the women of Athens and Sparta agree not to have sex until their men bring an end to the Peloponnesian War.

But what is satire’s purpose?  After all, the Peloponnesian War didn’t end because of a playwright’s mockery.  Fox News is still on the air, despite Jon Stewart’s repeated attacks, and Americans continue to own guns, even after Jim Carrey attempted to sing.

Ridicule works best when aimed at the powerful.  It’s job is to afflict the comfortable, to remind us that people in positions of authority work for us.  No matter how much pomp and circumstance is associated with high offices, there is never an excuse for those in such exalted stations to turn pompous, and satire has the marvelous effect of deflating them in front of their audiences.  This art form can also turn the spotlight on all of us to remind us that smugness is unbecoming in anyone.  If Schumer’s skit helps us gun owners pay attention to Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules, then she will have done good work.

If, on the other hand, she intends her comedy as a means of supporting politicians who seek to curtail the rights of Americans, if instead of comforting the afflicted, she hopes to limit basic freedoms, then shame on her.  Satire should promote freedom of thought, not endorse conformity.  Comedians have the duty to distribute power among all of us by making fun of people in charge, rather than aiding the greater concentration of power in the hands of those already blessed with so much of it.

Schumer is a celebrity I’ll continue not paying a lot of attention to when it comes to her usual work.  Her brand of comedy doesn’t appeal to me, but if others like it, much good may it do them.  The beauty of freedom is that we all get to decide for ourselves how we wish to be entertained.  But when she steps into the political arena, she gets involved in something I have a great deal of interest in, and I and others on the side of rights will be here to respond.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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