In her new Netflix special Growing, Amy Schumer shares that her husband Chris Fischer, a chef and cookbook author, has a high-functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder— a detail that yields the strongest material of the hour-long show, if not her career. It is somewhat of a comeback for Schumer, who’s 2017 Leather Special garnered mostly negative reviews. But now her jokes about love, marriage, and building a life with someone whose brain works differently, put Schumer’s comedic growth on display as much as her belly’s
A recurring critique throughout Schumer’s career has been that her jokes are surface-level enough to seem like street jokes — simple and often vulgar bits exchanged so many times over that it no longer matters who the original author was. In Leather Special Schumer was specifically accused stealing the Patrice O’Neal’s joke about a sexual euphemism called “The Poltergeist,” which Schumer called “The Houdini,” but described the same way. In reality, both comedians were referencing terms that, although taboo, already existed in the broader culture. O’Neal and Schumer offered their own original twists to it and varied their delivery, but whether it was called the The Houdini or Poltergeist the act was not unique (or pleasant).
Growing is not exactly a full departure from her old ways. Vulture noted her reference to a study about how women fear violence most and men fear ridicule the most was not a fresh observation. It was covered by Margaret Atwood in 1982 with, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Schumer’s jokes about her husband are different. The topic of marriage may not be unique in stand up and she is following a long line of comedians’ whose acts are extensions of their families. Even before she says that her husband is on the spectrum, her jokes about life with him are a departure from the low-hanging fruit she’s been accused of cherry-picking in the past.
She starts talking about her husband a little over 10 minutes into the show, leading off with the fact that he’s a chef. “Marrying a chef is a little on the nose for me. It’s kind of like Snoop Dog marrying weed,” she says. That’s not just a joke about her husband, or her body, or Snoop Dog, but and objectively good joke because it’s all of the above executed in an economical way. And that was just her first husband joke out of the gate.
There are subtle hints leading up to the reveal of her husband’s diagnosis. Like when he proposed first thing in the morning by showing her the ring and asking “Do you want me to get down on one knee?” Without knowing he’s on the spectrum, or without being married to someone on it, the fact that she got engaged and went back to sleep is something most couples can connect because it captures absurd comfortability such a commitment. It’s as relatable as it is ridiculous, but it’s not a joke any married comedian could have parallel thought about or pass off as their own. It’s undeniably hers.
If Schumer relied on the surface-level jokes she’s been accused after revealing her husband’s diagnosis, the jokes would’ve never made it in the special. They would’n’t have worked. The joke she came up with instead are not funny because he’s autistic. They’re jokes that are funny because he’s the partner to a professional comedian effectively doing her job. Schumer accomplishes this by discussing being on the spectrum as naturally as any other aspect of their relationship. Like when she asks him if an outfit looks bad and he says, “You have a lot of other clothes. Why don’t you wear those?” We don’t need to know he’s even on the spectrum for her joke to be funny. His diagnosis gives the joke more context and shape, but it’s a detail, not a punchline.
Schumer and her husband chose to share this personal information because they saw his diagnosis as a positive and they wanted to normalize it for others. She frames his diagnosis as a positive thing, saying that how his brain worked is what made her fall in love with him. Treating it like any other aspect of their lives has not just been good for reducing the stigma, it’s been good for her jokes. She’s taking something most people are wrong about and making them laugh hard enough to look at it from another angle, which is subversive comedy at it’s best. And perhaps Schumer making other people grow is the most clever twist of all.