Amy Schumer may be an Emmy-winning star who sells out arenas on her stand-up tour, but she would usually prefer to stay home and watch TV with takeout Chinese food and boxed wine. She owns a Manhattan apartment with a terrace, yet her bedroom contains her beloved collection of creepy stuffed animals, including one that “has, without fail, scared the s--- out of every single boyfriend I’ve brought around.”
Basically, Schumer wants you to know she’s just like you. “I haven’t figured anything out, so I have no wisdom to offer you,” the comedian-turned-TV and movie star writes in “The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo,” her highly anticipated collection of essays. “But what I can help with is showing you my mistakes and my pain and my laughter.”
Schumer, 35, emphasizes that this book (for which she was reportedly paid about $8 million) is not a memoir or an autobiography. Indeed, it reads like dispatches from self-described “Long Island trash” and an extreme introvert who is grappling with new fame and wealth. Schumer is happy to annotate her mortifying teenage journals and spill details about the nightmarish international press tour for her hit movie “Trainwreck,” but she also wants people to know that she’s more than the raunchy “sex comic” she’s perfected in her Comedy Central show.
“I’m so sorry to disappoint anyone who thinks I walk around at all times with a margarita in one hand and a dildo in the other,” Schumer writes. Although, she admits, “even I sometimes confuse my onstage sexual persona with my reasonable, sensible, real-life self.”
Despite that disclaimer, the book does contain laugh-out-loud — occasionally graphic — dating anecdotes. It’s made funnier when infused with Schumer’s vivid, occasionally stream-of-consciousness writing style, such as when she describes a one-night stand that boosted her confidence: “I was wanting some reassurance, and a night of unexpected sex with a built, British redhead was the Z-Pak I needed to kick the leftover mucus. (Is there an unsexier metaphor? No. Also I feel like that antibiotic never works.)”
Still, make no mistake: This is not solely a breezy beach read. With little notice, the essays whiplash from hilarious to grim as Schumer lays bare some of the most traumatizing moments of her life.
Her candor shouldn’t surprise anyone who has heard her stand-up or interviews. But even though she has talked about her parents’ dysfunction, it’s another thing to read about her mother openly having an affair with Schumer’s best friend’s father in middle school. Or, years later, Schumer’s father telling her about the time he had bondage sex with a stranger in his apartment while his girlfriend and her parents waited in the lobby.
Such anecdotes may help explain why Schumer has no boundaries sharing intimate details, but she doesn’t get too analytical in these pages. Instead, she sprinkles some disturbing stories with jokes, such as her father’s horrific struggle with multiple sclerosis. “I look at the saddest things in life and laugh about how awful they are, because they are hilarious and it’s all we can do with moments that are painful,” she writes, adding that when she tells her dad his mind is “a pile of scrambled eggs,” he cracks up and agrees.
There are no laughs in a chapter called “How I Lost My Virginity.” She describes hanging out with her boyfriend in high school. One minute, she zoned out, and the next, “he was penetrating me. Without asking first, without kissing me, without so much as looking me in the eyes — or even confirming if I was awake.” Schumer knows “people will have opinions about this chapter,” as happens anytime someone comes forward with a testimony of sexual assault; she’s tackled the matter in her stand-up act, talking about a gray area she calls “grape.”
Her pain is evident, as it is in another chapter about her scary, physically abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. She speaks directly to the reader: “When you’re in love with a man who hurts you, it’s a special kind of hell, yet one that so many women have experienced. . . . I got out. Get out.”
The lighter chapters also show Schumer connecting her life with readers’, no matter who they are. As someone who scraped her way up through low-paying jobs, she knows exactly what the average person wants to know about being famous. (Yes, flying in private jets is as great as it sounds.) Yet there are downsides, especially from an industry that places so much emphasis on women’s looks.
As in her TV show, Schumer is at her wicked best when she eviscerates double standards put on women, particularly in Hollywood. She reveals a cringe-worthy email exchange with a Men’s Health editor and recalls her breakout stint on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” where she earned the scorn of male comedians. She’s endlessly self-deprecating, describing herself without makeup as Bruce Vilanch (“Just picture a barn owl wearing a blond wig”). When she once glimpsed a paparazzi photo of herself paddleboarding, her first thought was, “Oh, cool, Alfred Hitchcock is alive and loves water sports.”
At the same time, while she says that she would be “the third-hottest bartender at a Dave & Buster’s in Cincinnati,” she laughs at the idea that her physical appearance defines her. Her years in stand-up have given her the confidence to ignore the stream of Twitter trolls who insult her appearance and abilities on a daily basis.
“I know my worth. I embrace my power. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong,” Schumer writes. “You will not determine my story. I will.”
Emily Yahr writes about pop culture for The Washington Post.
By Amy Schumer
Gallery. 336 pp. $28