There is a scene in Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants where Amy Poehler, new to Saturday Night Live, is practicing an especially vulgar joke, when Jimmy Fallon playfully asks, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
According to Fey, Poehler “went black in the eyes for a second” and turns on Jimmy. “I don’t fucking care if you like it,” Poehler spits.
“With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place,” Fey writes. “Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”
Like the other blonde, ferocious Amy, Amy Schumer does not fucking care if you like it, and her comedy is better for it. With “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” she turns her show into a prolonged evisceration of double standards and patriarchal arrogance that’s also consistently and furiously funny.
The ambitious, form-breaking episode’s name and premise come from the 1957 film 12 Angry Men. Devoting almost an entire episode of a sketch show to a single sketch is a bold move, especially since the sketch is enhanced by prior knowledge of 12 Angry Men. Sidney Lumet’s critically beloved celebration of empathy isn’t obscure, but it’s an older film adapted from a teleplay, and it requires more patience from an audience accustomed to the zippy pace and more current pop culture references of a typical Inside Amy Schumer episode. It’s a risk that pays off: This is a comic takedown of male rage and the male gaze, tempered by dildo jokes and garnished with perfectly roiled performances.
Shot in black and white and taking place almost entirely in a claustrophobic, sweaty jury pen, 12 Angry Men is a tense meditation on empathy that both exposes and forgives the foibles of men. “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” follows the general plot and replicates the aesthetic and character beats of the original film, except instead of a group of tired jurors congregating to decide whether a teenager should be sentenced to death for homicide, the rumpled citizens have gathered to determine whether Schumer is hot enough to be on TV.
Unlike most of Inside Amy, Schumer is barely present on screen in the episode, appearing only at the beginning and end of the deliberations, and then in a brief on-the-street wrap-up after the main sketch is finished. (She was busy behind the scenes, co-directing.) Instead, Schumer stacks the cast of angry men that includes Paul Giamatti, Jeff Goldblum, Vincent Kartheiser, Chris Gethard, Kumail Nanjiani, and John Hawkes, and one of the pleasures of watching the episode is how beautiful it looks: Cinematographer Jonathan Formanski captures the stuffy texture of Boris Kaufman’s striking film.
The 19-minute sketch hews closely to its source material, with each actor riffing off the behavior and mannerisms of the characters in the original film. The men are cloistered in a room as they decide the fate of the accused, debating whether Schumer is attractive enough to give “reasonable chub.” The deliberation is, of course, relentlessly ridiculous, and the dialog bounces between obscene and old-fashioned as the jurors’ antipathy towards Schumer’s looks dissolves into despair about their own insecurities and frustrations.
Jeff Goldblum is beautifully exasperated as the foreman, and John Hawkes plays Juror 8, the Henry Fonda role of the man in doubt, who urges the others to reconsider their guilty votes. “I just want to talk,” Hawkes says, echoing Fonda’s hesitant juror. As in the original film, he simply wants to hear everyone’s reasoning before damning someone. And as in the original film, that reasoning falls apart under scrutiny.
“12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” recalls the opening sketch to last season’s premiere, “Would You Bang Her,” where Schumer’s looks are assessed by a dude focus group to decide whether she’s hot enough to be on television. It’s also a direct clap back to more recent accusations that she doesn’t fit the physical mold of a usual romantic-comedy protagonist as the hype cycle gears up for Trainwreck, her upcoming first starring movie role.
It is difficult to be funny. It is harder to be funny and deliver insightful social commentary. Doing both while flouting expectations, paying homage to a classic film, and directly addressing critics is a feat, and this episode is unassailable.
- Dennis Quaid is back, this time as the weary judge. Here’s hoping he fills all Schumer’s roles for exasperated, weathered men this season.
- Funniest throwaway line of the night: Juror 7 nonchalantly explains that the Blake Shelton/Adam Levine concert tour is “called the Garbage Dick tour.”