A few minutes into “Fame,” Amy Schumer gets two longtime colleagues to confirm her view that “I have always been exactly how I am right now.” That might well be true, but the sentiment is undermined by the half-dozen guest-starring luminaries in this episode alone—pop singers, Oscar nominees, gossip mongers, they all show up for Inside Amy Schumer—and by the show’s relentless emphasis on her celebrity.

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The episode’s opening segment pokes fun both at the fans who hound Amy Schumer and at cultural critics who ask whether success has dulled her incisive wit. (Hi, Amy!) Just trying to get a cup of coffee, Amy’s beset by demanding strangers who feel their ability to recognize her (or not: “You’re Fat Amy from that singing movie!”) entitles them to a selfie, a video, a squeeze of her boob, a wad of her cash, a bite of her flesh. Her polite acquiescence is never enough. Even as the crowd rips her apart and consumes her, a gossip rag asks whether success has gone to her head—and her various disembodied parts.

There is actually a solution to this fixation on her celebrity, or at least to the conversation about its effect on her comedy: The show could stop revolving around her fame. When Inside Amy Schumer, true to its name, focuses on Amy Schumer’s experiences or preoccupations, whether those are sex, gun laws, reproductive rights, or her skyrocketing fame, critical analysis will focus on them, too. There’s no stopping the rapacious fans, but critical discussion about fame changing her work is a part of a cycle, and the power to change that conversation lies in her writers’ room.

(Josh Charles) (Photo: Comedy Central)

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That raises the twinned question of whether Inside Amy Schumer wants to stop mining this rich vein of comedy… and whether it can. “Fame” features just a few sketches not explicitly centered around her fame, and they aren’t all successful. Josh Charles’ turn as a bad-boy chef is promising, but the premise peters out without a real punchline or resolution. Charles’ grubby steaminess, Schumer’s intensity, and Kyle Dunnigan’s understatement (as the date she ignores) keep the bit going, but it lacks the focus and the visceral punch of the rest of the show—the parts that harp on her celebrity.

Inside Amy Schumer’s thematic insistence on her fame doesn’t mean the real Schumer is preoccupied with grabbing the spotlight. As always, one of the show’s strengths—and its star’s—is knowing when to give the biggest spots or the funniest lines to guests. Greta Lee shines as the presumptuous selfie-taker and boob-grabber, mimicking Schumer’s “ow!” with casual insolence. The barista, played by Aparna Nancherla, escalates her demands with hilarious, understated audacity.

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Inside Amy Schumer

In the Katfish sketch (my second-favorite catfishing comedy in recent memory), guest star Jake Gyllenhaal takes center stage, endearingly chewing the scenery (and swinging around a remarkably tolerant ferret), while Paul W. Downs and Inside Amy Schumer regular Kevin Kane steal the scene as the dismissive, contemptuous hosts to Amy’s fame-hungry guest. “A Pretty Decent Proposal” gives Schumer a showcase for her matter-of-fact bawdiness, but she shares the limelight (and the punchlines) with and Sam Rockwell as Schumer’s husband, who’s tempted by the stingy offer, and to a lesser extent with Harvey Keitel as the urbane older man who propositions her. But, like the cutting coffeehouse sketch and the broad, absurd zeppelin sketch, these successful segments revolve around a hunger for fame and fortune.

At Jake Gyllenhaal’s door, Amy’s Katfish character pouts, “I am who I said I am!” There’s some universal truth to that: You are who you decide to be. If you want to be relatable, stop insisting you’re relatable while doing segments about your Annie Leibovitz photo shoot and your ability to call in a Tony- and Pulitzer-winning composer on spec. If jokes about the inaccessibility of that lifestyle become central to your persona, accept that they will also be central to critiques of your work. As a free-form sketch comedy show, Inside Amy Schumer is whatever it chooses to be. And right now, it chooses to make hay from the conversation around Schumer’s fame.

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Stray observations

  • “Amy Goes Deep” features Schumer’s lifelong friend Jess, who gives us a glimpse into what friendship with a suddenly famous person might be like: cocktails with Jennifer Lawrence, sharing a buffet with Natalie Dormer, asking Bill Hader for spontaneous performances.
  • Jess also reviews movies. Her review of The Night Before: “I fell asleep.”
  • Selena Gomez sings Amy’s “Down To Earth” theme song: “She’s got a chef for her dog/She bought a convent in Prague/She owns three precogs/This girl is just like you.”
  • “There are a lot of misconceptions about min-dins, but believe you me, they are the sweetest, most loving pet that you can pay to have genetically re-engineered.”
  • “Down To Earth” Amy’s lifestyle site, engorge.biz, redirects to a “Down To Earth” page on Comedy Central with (unclickable) links to trending articles like The Dos And Don’ts of Luxury Zeppelin Decor. I love a good redirect joke.

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