(Amy Schumer, Kyle Dunnigan) (Photo: Macall Polay/Comedy Central)

The Chris Hardwick stand-in hosting Chip Chat describes the star Inside Amy Schumer as “clickbait sensation Amy Schumer,” and he’s not wrong. Schumer’s recent prominence, her outspoken humor, and her more recent embrace of explicitly political agendas are all on display in “Welcome To The Gun Show.” What makes her persona more than an attention-monger is her incisive wit, her detailed observation, and her boldness, which is easily mistaken for fearlessness.

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Schumer isn’t fearless. “Welcome To The Gun Show” puts her fears on wry display even as it defies them. On Chip Chat, Twitter’s (fictional) VP Of Communications proudly introduces the social media site’s newest feature no one asked for, which will sit prominently next to the retweet and like buttons. “Whether it’s thumbs up or LOL,” says veep Cathy O’Doherty (Karen Chamberlain), “people enjoy having a shortcut for something they frequently communicate,” and even before she continues, the sketch’s gist is clear. The newest feature is the I’m Going To Rape And Kill You button.

Cathy O’Doherty (Karen Chamberlain) introduces the I’m Going To Rape And Kill You button. (Photo: Comedy Central)

Every beat plays out exactly—I mean exactly—as I imagined it from that moment, and that inevitability only makes it funnier. But even more than the spot-on observations about the abuse women (and, a sketch-closing teaser for an upcoming feature acknowledges, non-white users) face online, the pitch-perfect tone makes this bit. It’s notable that Schumer appears here only as a Twitter avatar. Chamberlain, previously seen on IAS as Bill Cosby’s prosecutor, steals the show with her polished affability and focus on technological improvements at the cost of, well, everything else. She only reconsiders the feature after she receives an I’m Going To Rape And Kill You notification herself—from her host. “But I’m not really going to rape and kill you! Or am I?” he says, laughing.

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“Chip Chat” pokes fun at the vulnerability that comes with Schumer’s high profile, but “Welcome To The Gun Show” keeps perspective, tacitly acknowledging that relentless anonymous insults and threats don’t compare to trauma. In a stand-up segment, Schumer tells the crowd she’s sympathetic to people who dismiss celebrities’ political opinions; she became vocal about gun safety only after families of those injured and killed in the mass shooting at a showing of Trainwreck asked her to. “And what are you going to do?” she asks rhetorically, “be like, ‘No, I don’t don’t want to annoy people on Reddit’?”

That’s the spur for “Welcome To The Gun Show”’s titular opening segment. In a bright, shiny studio, two perky home-shopping hosts (Schumer and series writer and regular Kyle Dunnigan) gush over their newest offer, “just your regular run-of-the-mill, meat-and-potatoes handgun.” It’s a no-brainer, Schumer’s character announces, and the audience agrees; the network sells 27 before she completes the introduction. “These make perfect stocking stuffers for as young as… it doesn’t matter!” she exults. “Perfect for everyone,” says the chyron, and thanks to the gun-show exemption from background checks, they mean everyone: children, felons, whoever.

Again, it’s the tone as much as the jokes or bleak reality (fact-checked by Everytown For Gun Safety, whose Chief Strategy Officer, Brina Milikowsky, is this episode’s barside interviewee) that makes this work so well. It could have been painfully didactic, but Schumer and Dunnigan nail the hosts’ bright, bubbly spirit and the smiling certainty that masks an imagined persecution. As Schumer’s character warns, shootings incite conversations about gun violence, “which means the government could be coming for your guns soon, which they never have but always might!”

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Season four’s first two episodes screened for critics (season premiere “The World’s Most Interesting Woman In The World” and next week’s “Brave”) play awkwardly on Schumer’s fame. But in “Welcome To The Gun Show,” Schumer and the writers’ room wield her fame nimbly and with biting self-deprecation. In this episode, Schumer shares the limelight gracefully, using her fame to spotlight a cause she believes in (one that a shooter made personal for her) and ceding the smartest, most scathing role to a a recurring player.

Even the guest casting works. As funeral director Don Cheadle (nope, not that Don Cheadle), Liam Neeson elicits an immediate laugh that only grows when he reveals his business—and no doubt personal—philosophy. “I don’t bury cowards” is not just a slogan; it’s the name of his business. “Why did he die?” Cheadle demands of the bereaved daughter and wife of a drowning victim. “Why didn’t he just fashion a makeshift flotation device with his pants?”

David Spade is reserved as the Game Of Thrones director quietly disgusted with Schumer, who fails to read her script and therefore doesn’t realize her recurring role as Queen Labia of the house Majora requires her to sit astride a horse. Schumer’s repeated descriptions of horses as “tall monsters” and “hairy dinosaurs” is even funnier in contrast to her steed’s docility.

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Last week’s “The World’s Most Interesting Woman In The World” was slack, its sharpest details only pointing out the lax writing and timing. “Welcome To The Gun Show” isn’t the funniest episode of the series, but it’s tighter, more focused, and smarter throughout, and it balances laughing at others with laughing at (and with) Schumer herself. The gun show and Twitter sketches make trenchant points, but not at the expense of the humor; the Game Of Thrones sketch makes its laughs mostly at Schumer’s expense, not at GOT. “Welcome To The Gun Show” isn’t fearless. It’s bold. It’s smart. And it faces fear head-on.

Stray observations

  • Milikowsky emphasizes Everytown For Gun Safety’s desire not to “take all your guns away” but to keep them out of the hands of “terrorists and rapists.” But the home-shopping gun show sketch’s inclusion of a heavily accented “suspected terrorist on the no-fly list” is both gratuitous and off-putting, as are the repeated jokes about Dunnigan’s character being closeted.
  • “Did you know that over 127% of tweets directed at women refer to raping and/or killing them?” “I never really thought about it, but it’s what I would guess.”
  • I snorted laughter at O’Doherty following her profile of the I’m Going To Rape And Kill You button’s targeted user with the cheerful afterthought, “But also everyone!”
  • “The Russians got him.” “Then why is he burnt to a cowardly crisp?”
  • That list of U.S. Congressmen and Senators “whose influence can be purchased for much cheaper than you think”: Tory Gardner, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, Dean Heller, Steve Daines, Tom Cotton, Bill Cassidy, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, David Vitter, Pat Roberts, Rob Portman, Ken Buck, Kelly Ayotte, James M. Inhofe, Joni Ernst, John Thune, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, James Lankford, John Barrasso, Jody B. Hice, Deb Fischer, Mike Lee, Richard Burr, Thom Tillis, Shelley Moore Capito, Thad Cochran, Kevin McCarthy, Alexander X. Mooney, Ken Calvert, Mike Coffman, Martha McSally, Michael B. Enzi, Michael K. Simpson, Tim Scott, Roy Blunt, Ron Johnson, Edward R. Royce, Mia B. Love, Stevan Pearce, Sanford Bishop, Thomas Massie, Markwayne Millin, Edward R. Royce, Heidi Heitkamp, Dan Benishek, John Kline, David G. Valadoa, Sean P. Duffy, Tim Walberg, Scott R. Tipton, Jerry Moran, Ben Sasse, Richard C. Shelby, John Hoeven, James E. Risch, David Perdue, Mike Rounds, Roger F. Wicker, John Boozman, Chuck Grassley, Daniel Sullivan, Johnny Isakson.

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