(Amy Schumer) (Photo: Comedy Central)

More than ever, “Brave” shows Inside Amy Schumer looking at mediated experiences and fractured identity: life as a performance, a vicarious thrill, or an experience for others to bask in. But it’s also about looking past external differences to connect.

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In a familiar scene, Schumer’s character dons her male partner’s shirt “to feel closer to you.” Her adoption of his mannerisms escalates, painting a weirder, more specific picture of what co-opting a partner’s traits might actually look like. She puts on his socks and his ballcap. She watches his favorite team. She shovels down creatine “so we weigh the same.” She masturbates to his image… like, a lot. She hacks her hair short like his, glues his stubble to her face, and lights her farts. She eats his trash spaghetti “so I poop what you poop and I think what you think.”

“I think that I am forgetting how to be me, but I don’t care!” trills the poppy female singer. Some of the visual language—Schumer wearing patchy stubble and hair chopped short, with a pickle tucked in the gusset of her borrowed boxer briefs—at first feels like an unintended joke at the expense of women who aren’t conventionally, overtly feminine. But it’s aimed at the notion that it’s natural—even desirable—for women to be absorbed by their (presumed male) partners identities… so long as they stay sufficiently feminine while they do it. In that context, her boyfriend’s enthusiastic embrace of her, stubble and all, is both a sweet stinger and a cynical confirmation that what he really wants to see in his lover is himself, reflected.

There’s a great split second in “Brave” where that reflection is made literal. When Schumer’s character has trouble navigating the sexist dynamics keeping her work from getting noticed, a co-worker (Love’s Claudia O’Doherty) shows off her Guyggles. “They’re like Google Glass, but they show you the kind of woman the guy in front of you needs you to be.” (With her typical verve, O’Doherty outlines the options: flirty victim, spunky kid sister, nurturing mother—but flirty!, wounded skank, stepMILF, sexy sex kitten, flirty sex kitten, flirty friend of Mom, manic pixie, or Amy Adams.) Guyggle-assisted insight lets O’Doherty flatter a condescending colleague into a looking at Schumer’s proposal—and booping her on the nose. As he wallows in her compliments, he gazes into her big red lenses, seeing only himself reflected there.

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Inside Amy Schumer often delivers an offhandedly white vision of women’s lives, but the button on this sketch is a potent exception. A colleague announces cupcakes in the break room, and all eyes turn toward her as the show imagines what Guyggles might reveal to an African-American woman. She’s immediately bombarded by data, from “Joshy had a black girlfriend once and thinks he’s a hero” to “Quotes his favorite Chris Rock bit verbatim. Yes, that one” and “100% racist” and “Okay, he’s worse.”

“Brave” both skewers the tacit assumption that women should reflect men’s desires and perpetuates it. “Has this ever happened to you?” asks Schumer as spokesperson for a service desperately trying to find a demographic of nanny their target customer (or, more realistically, the husband of their targeted customer) won’t fuck. “Of course it has. And it’s your fault! What were you thinking? Hiring a nanny who’s hotter and younger than you is like hiring a wolf to… uh… I don’t know.” But a barside chat with Jim Norton and Robert Kelly asking “Why do men fuck their nannies?” phrases it as certainty, and also focuses with uncomfortable, if hilarious, detail on what men (at least, these men) want in women—and what they emphatically don’t.

“Has this ever happened to you?” is a question Inside Amy Schumer asks often, but with less immediacy these days. Schumer’s success means that she shares fewer experiences with her viewers than ever before. “Brave” tries to bridge that gap even as it toys with it. Schumer’s “Amy Goes Deep“ interview with Sara Wolff focuses less on Wolf’s accomplishments as a board member of the National Down Syndrome Society and advocate for the (successful) ABLE Act of 2014 and more on forging a connection between the two women. As they lean in to talk about their sisters, their conspiratorial air is palpable.

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One sketch imagines NFL players as invested in—and critical of—everyday people as everyday people are in their fantasy league players. Over beers, Vernon Davis, Michael Strahan, Tommy Bohanon, and Greg Olsen throw around starters’ stats—“He carried five bags of groceries to his Tercel on one trip. One trip!”—and fumbles with equal intensity. When ordinary guy Dennis Huggins (Jim Norton again) wanders into their bar, they crowd around, flooding him in praise. It’s a sharp idea, and though it relies on comedic performances from non-comedians, they acquit themselves reasonably well. In particular, Olsen’s table-slapping outrage over a forgotten gift card and Davis’ “WHAT THE FUCK, WERZBOWSKI?! Every week with this LinkedIn?” are beautifully delivered.

Schumer sees a different side of awards ceremonies than most of her audience, but we all see the discrepancies that inform the opening awards ceremony where the Best Actress nominees presented by Steve Buscemi are relegated to phoning in their performances. As The Time Traveler’s Wife’s Husband’s wife, Julianne Moore pleads, “Our baby is due tomorrow. You need to come back from the past… for his future.” Doughty outback wife Maggie Gyllenhaal cradles twin infants while encouraging her husband, “Do what you have to do. Then come back to me” in The Wallaby Whisperer. “I’m your wife, damn it!” cries Jennifer Hudson, eyes blazing with pride, in The Phone Rings Eternal. In Canadian Sniper, Laura Linney wails, “Mark? Mark? Mark, I can’t hear you because the snipering!”

When Amy Winsbury (Schumer) wins for The Clumsy Coalminer, she has only seconds to thank her team of hairstylists and the writers—“Without you, we wouldn’t be able to answer the phone. Thank you, heroes!”—before Buscemi starts rolling his eyes and making weary gestures, and before she’s cut off entirely.

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The episode’s title, “Brave,” comes from stand-up segments describing another perk—and peculiarity—of fame: her photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz. Says Schumer, “This is the word you don’t want to people to use after a photo of you where you’re nude goes viral: brave.” When the audience moans in sympathy, she soothes them: “You guys, don’t feel bad for me. You know I’m, like, very rich now, right?” In the season premiere, Schumer’s fame and prominence got in the way of the comedy as she improvised lazy bits about a star improvising lazy bits. In “Brave,” her fame helps fuel the writing, whether she’s landing a joke by reminding an audience of her stardom or showcasing a coterie of Oscar-winning actors spoofing the swanky, privileged version marginalization they face in their own lives. And through it all, she’s finding a way to connect with her audience, to stay close even across the gap that fame creates.

Stray observations

  • “I went to your job/And gave a presentation/They told me to tell you/That we should take a long vacation!”
  • Ryan plopping down on the floor to read Schumer’s proposal that very second made me laugh so hard, I could hear my neighbors stop and worry through our shared wall.
  • Schumer, putting on Guyggles: “Wow, they hurt.” O’Doherty: “Yeah, a lot!”

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