Amy Schumer’s comedy mixes a keen understanding of gender and expectations with knowing self-deprecation. She takes jokes to its extreme conclusion, she has a knack for pop culture references, and she’s unapologetic about her comedy. The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo is signature Schumer through and through—a hilarious, brutal, and graphic read. Coming in book form is both a strength and weakness; writing lets Schumer be a little more intimate with her audience, going into asides and longer, more thematic material than works for stand-up and sketch comedy. But those are also where Schumer is strongest, and it occasionally feels like some of the material would be better suited to TV, in front of a live audience.
It helps to imagine Schumer reading it aloud, which isn’t hard as her voice is deeply imbued in the book—she understands pretty well how to translate her stories and jokes to the page. Lower Back Tattoo is mostly straight memoir, with some internet-type listicles and very short essays sprinkled in. The opening chapter “An Open Letter To My Vagina” is hilarious, if misleading, as the rest of the book follows a more straight-forward storytelling approach. The material is thick with jokes, landing effortlessly from someone you can easily imagine as your good vulgar friend, filling you in on the mundane and the sordid details of her life.
Schumer’s at her best when telling anecdotes, as in the chapter “My Only One-Night Stand.” Her comedy chops are perfectly suited to meeting a man “every inch of Gaston from Beauty And The Beast” in an airport:
I audibly sighed, and before he walked through the metal detector, he looked at me. All the blood rushed to my vagina, and I smiled at him before immediately remembering I looked like Bruce Vilanch…. I found some blush and ChapStick, and thought, Perfect. That’s all I need to take me from a two to a four.
Other highlights include her diary entries—four in total—from when she was 13, 18, 20, and 22. Schumer annotates these passages with footnotes, allowing her to make jokes about her younger self but also reflect, often very poignantly, on the struggles she faced growing up. Her 13-year-old entry sets up the familial turbulence she weathered, which is explored later in the book and is often quite heartrending. But it’s the 20-year-old Schumer that captures so perfectly the internalized self-hate that so many girls and women face, and that Schumer—not for the first time, and probably not for the last—tackles in smart, sincere fashion. “I want to feel what it’s like to be considered really hot. I hate that that is such a priority to me. But right now it just is,” 20-year-old Schumer writes in her diary. And although she says in the book’s introduction that this is not a book of advice, she does provide some thoughtful wisdom in response to her younger self.
She also gets serious when detailing her relationship with an abusive boyfriend, her father’s MS, and gun control in the U.S. Occasionally she forgoes jokes altogether, like when writing about the victims of the shooting that happened during a Trainwreck screening in Lafayette (it’s enough to induce tears, and not from laughter). But it would be wrong to say the rest of the book isn’t “serious.” There’s nothing fluffy about this memoir, and it’s easy to forgive the annoying parts that don’t quite work (like several “anywhoozle” “No? Just me?” deviations) considering how effortless Schumer makes it to read about topics like sexism in comedy, eating disorders, and unhealthy relationships. The chapter on her abusive boyfriend is especially powerful, coming from such an influential and capable woman. She makes you laugh when she’s talking about it, but like in her stand-up and TV show, some of the most memorable jokes come from the topics she seriously cares about.
“An Exciting Time For Women In Hollywood,” for example, is a chapter devoted to being a woman in a male-dominated space, and her insight into the reception of Trainwreck is both hilarious and astute:
After putting in so much effort to make a good movie, it felt pretty demeaning when they called it a “female comedy.” This meaningless label painted me into a corner and forced me to speak for all females, because I am the actual FEMALE who wrote the FEMALE comedy and then starred as the lead FEMALE in that FEMALE comedy. They don’t ask Seth Rogan to be ALL MEN! They don’t make “men’s comedies.” They don’t ask Ben Stiller,“Hey, Ben, what was your message for all male-kind when you pretended to have diarrhea and chased that ferret in Along Came Polly?”
Blending such insights with her signature vulgarity and openness, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo is fun, thoughtful, and very funny, just like the rest of her output. And like her other material, Schumer is revealing and vulnerable, but it’s her willingness to be unapologetically herself that makes the book such a wonderful and engaging read. By the time she addresses the titular lower-back tattoo, she’s provided a spectacularly fleshed-out self portrait, showing herself as powerful and flawed and human as anyone else, in a way that women are taught never to be. It’s one more “fuck you” to the gendered expectations from a woman who crafts stories and jokes out of them better than anyone else.
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