Amy Schumer is a famous American comedian known for her film Trainwreck (2015) and her comedy show Inside Amy Schumer (2013-2016). What she is most notorious for, however, is her consistent joke-stealing which has spanned her entire comedy career. Schumer has denied ever stealing material despite the constant accusations, insisting that all her jokes are her own. Yet this seems unbelievable when comparing her ‘original’ jokes with the genuine original jokes. Two thirty-minute ‘Amy Schumer joke stealing compilation’ videos can be found on YouTube, garnering 15 million views and around 400k likes, and attesting to the undeniable fact that Schumer struggles to come up wither own original humour. Even her films, Trainwreck, I Feel Pretty (2018), and her up and coming show Life and Beth (2022) are all just rehashes of the same plotline: a woman in her 30s with a drinking problem who can’t commit to a job or a relationship. In this article I will look at Schumer’s joke-stealing, whilst also delving deeper to question Schumer’s entire brand of comedy and its relationship to feminism.
Schumer has been on the American comedy scene for over a decade and at the start of her career opened for many famous comedians. Consequently, these are the people Schumer has stolen material from, so it is impossible to claim that Schumer was unaware of these comedians’ work. Here are just a few examples of the jokes Schumer argues she came up with her herself.
Schumer opened for Patrice O’Neal and later copied his joke almost identically, simply changing the name and adding the element of sexual assault. Here is the said joke:
O’Neal: “There’s ‘the Poltergeist.’ But you need your friend for this one. You’re f*cking her from behind, and then you sneak out and he takes your place. And then you walk outside and wave at her through the window.”
Schumer: “The worst one I’ve ever heard is ‘the Houdini.’ It’s where the guy’s having sex with the girl from behind. Then, unbeknownst to her, his friend subs in for him. Guy 1 runs outside, knocks on the window, and waves to the girl. Which is just r*pe. That’s just r*pe. It’s not fair to Houdini.”
In other instances, Schumer has stolen from the likes of John Mulaney with a joke about blacking out, Dave Attell with a joke about time travelling and Wendy Liebham with a joke about men paying for sex. She has also stolen material for her skit show Inside Amy Schumer from other skit shows such as MADtv.
What Schumer does add to the jokes is her amazing talent of making them unfunny. Top comments on the YouTube compilations of her joke stealing make it clear that the general consensus is that Amy Schumer ruins the material. She tends to make jokes very personal to her in a vulgar way. Often her material (regardless of whether it is stolen or not) is related to her personal hygiene and sex life in a bid to empower females and counteract the traditionally crude male stand-up routines that focus on sex and women. This would be fantastic if Schumer’s ‘jokes’ weren’t outright disgusting and actually landed. Instead of a joke with a punchline Schumer’s audience will instead hear a long description of the contents of her underwear after a long day. In the end, I believe Schumer does more harm than good for the female stand-up world, an industry that already suffers from a lot of misogyny.
The overarching question is, is it possible to ‘steal’ a joke or is it inevitable that comedians will make the same jokes about the same things? This is what Schumer and her backers claim is the case, but as this article has demonstrated that seems really unlikely. The reality is that Amy Schumer is not a good comedian. Yet she is still in the limelight because she appeals to a specific demographic. Her crude brand of feminism clearly appeals to Hollywood execs who believe they can sell Schumer’s work to women who will relate. If people enjoy her comedy that is fine, but the likelihood is that what you’re watching is a stolen joke or skit that Schumer has miraculously ripped the humour out of. Watching other female comedians like Ali Wong and Jenny Slate would be a much better use of our time, and would give some of the limelight Amy Schumer takes up a disproportionate amount of to comics who are actually talented.