By: Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff Writer:
Amy Schumer has broken ground for female comics as the first woman to ever make the list of top-paid comedians. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
In Inside Amy Schumer’s only episode-long sketch 12 Angry Men—a parody of the play and film of the same name—12 middle-aged, white men deliberate whether Schumer is attractive enough to be on television.
Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti and other famous actors pose questions and make ruthless comments as they puff on cigars: “She’s built like a lineman, has cabbage patch-like features, and her ass makes me furious,” one quips.
Turns out Schumer is not only attractive enough for television, she thrives on screen. Her success earned her $17 million last year, making her the fourth highest-paid comedian and also the only woman to ever make the list of the world’s top-paid comics.
Her earnings come from a variety of sources, including her aforementioned Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Comedy Central show and a tour with Aziz Ansari, who did not make the list. She also received a piece of her $8 million book advance for The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo in the time period, became a film star with her role in Trainwreck (though she reportedly only earned $300,000 for her star turn) and likely earned in the seven figures for a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial.
This packed schedule is par for the course for women in entertainment, who often have to work more—readily combining film and TV roles with endorsement deals and commercial work—to earn the same amount as their male counterparts. Schumer often plays off the sexism faced by women in theindustry in her work.
In another notable skit from her show, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette and Tina Fey gather to celebrate Louis-Dreyfus’ “last f**kable day,” or the last day the actress is young enough to be cast as an attractive love interest. The bit pokes at the ageism women experience in Hollywood, where their male love interests can be years–or decades–older.
Her show challenges gender disparity behind the camera, as well. Five out of eight writers of the most recent season were women, far more than many other shows on TV, particularly comedies. Women accounted for just 28.9% of writers across broadcast, cable, streaming and film in 2015, with the number even lower, at 28,5% when looking at cable, alone.
Unlike other female comics, however, Schumer has been able to cash inmillions from stand up on the road—a historic moneymaker for the majority of male comedians on the ranking. Even the women that many consider the pioneers of 21st century female humor—Amy Poehler, Fey, Louis-Dreyfus—have achieved most of their success on television or in films.
Onstage, many women still face the gendered stereotype that women just aren’t funny, or double standards with subject matter, When female comedians use the raunchy material that stand ups often turn to, it is oftentimes still considered taboo.
“I’m labeled a sex comic. I think it’s just because I’m a girl,” Schumer said at a gig at the Apollo Theater, which was later air on HBO. “A guy could get up here and literally pull his [penis] out, and people would be like, ‘he’s a thinker!’”
Schumer often addresses the sexism of the entertainment industry in her work and in interviews, but it is likely worse in comedy, as the genre has traditionally been a boy’s club. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
It also has to do with attractiveness: According to studies, while women find funny men attractive, a sense of humor does not seem to affect how men view women. This means that there is more pressure on men to be funny, and culturally, we have evolved to encourage men to tell jokes or make us laugh.
In one 2006 study, both men and women were shown images of equally attractive members of the opposite sex, but some were attached to funny statements and others attached to not funny statements. While female participants often selected the funny male, males tended not to factor humor into their choice.
In another study, men and women participants could spend money on traits they wanted in their partners, either choosing between being funny or bring appreciative. The results of the study found similar results, with women caring about men who produce humor, and men caring about women who are receptive to their own humor.
Perhaps as a result, there have historically been fewer female comedians. Only a handful, including Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball and Phyllis Dillerachieved successful, sustained careers. Without possibility models and precedents, it has made it even harder for contemporary and up-and-coming ones to succeed on the level of their male counterparts—or join the highest-paid comedians ranking.
While Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler have been extremely successful, neither of them played Madison Square Garden (Schumer became the first woman to do so in June). And in smaller stand up shows, organizers and audience members are so used to having no women on the bill, it is almost as if they have forgotten to include them entirely.
It seems that, until recently, this was so often the case that no one bothered to say anything. Luckily, this is changing. Last year, only three out of 40 comics on the line up of the Houston Whatever Fest were women, which caused pushback, though no changes or additions. A festival featuring only women–the All Jane No Dick Comedy Festival–was founded in 2011 to help foster female comedians.
But even when they do get booked (and make money), there is still work to be done to make comedy a gender-neutral industry. Just last year, Schumer told GQ that “All I’ve ever wanted is to be treated like a comedian who’s performing at your venue, who sold it out. Just talk to me how you would talk to Bill Burr, who was here the week before me. Like Patton Oswalt, who’ll be here next week.”
The industry, unfortunately, may not be there just yet. But thanks to Schumer, it is getting closer.