Sunday, February 25, 2018
Stage

Amy Schumer, on top of the world and ranked by Forbes, plays Tampa on Sunday

Amy Schumer made history the other day.

She's used to it by now, of course. She was the first female comic to headline Madison Square Garden. She was the first recipient of the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. And as long as we're talking firsts, she's "the first comedian to truly speak to the women of my generation," Selena Gomez said in an awards show speech last fall. "She gets us."

This latest record-setting feat comes via Forbes, which just slotted Schumer at No. 4 on the list of the world's highest-paid comedians. Through her stand-up tours, films, television show, book and commercial deals, Schumer raked in $17 million from July 2015 to June 2016, putting her behind only Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld and Terry Fator. In the 10 years Forbes has compiled the list, Schumer is the first woman ever to make it.

Tally up the cash, the acclaim, her popularity, her general cultural ubiquity and an arena tour that brings her to Amalie Arena on Sunday, and truly, we are all living inside Amy Schumer's world in 2016. For all the hilarious women who have come before her, the frank and forthright New Yorker might be the first with a legitimate claim to the title of World's Biggest Comic.

Not World's Biggest Female Comic. Not even World's Best Comic.

World's. Biggest. Comic. Period.

This impacts how the world sees Schumer. She has found herself dragged beneath the cultural microscope, pulled into debates she probably had no intention of entering. Body labeling, after she was unwittingly spotlighted in Glamour's "chic at any size" issue. Gun control, after two women were shot dead at a screening of Trainwreck in 2015. Sexual assault, as an Inside Amy Schumer writer went off on rape accusers on Facebook.

True, Schumer seems uniquely equipped to handle such pressure — she's tough, and as game as any comic to play her own psyche and physique for laughs — but it's not like people are hounding Hart and Seinfeld about these same issues every day. Schumer has reached that rarefied, almost unparalleled air, where much of what she says and does pings across social media until it becomes bait for hot takes. She is expected not only to speak out on The Issues, but to respond to the backlash when she does.

Here's another example. Perhaps you heard about the Tampa story from her recent book The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo. It's a good one — so good it basically kicks off the book — about Schumer's only one-night stand, with a man she met aboard a flight to a gig in the "horrendous" city of Tampa.

"I'm not scared about writing that and making those people mad because I know for a fact that no one who lives there has ever read a book," she wrote. "JKJKJKJKJK, but kind of not K."

It's one line in a 323-page book. But because Schumer is Schumer, of course Tampa noticed. Inkwood Books posted a sign reading "Dear Ms. Schumer: Give us another chance? Love, the 3 people who read." Fans tweeted at her, in both good humor and bad, and she dutifully @-replied: "I have only had fun in Tampa. That's the truth ... It gave me one of the best nights of my life." She also called herself "10 times trashier than Tampa."

All good fun, right? Right ... except by focusing on the hyperlocal Tampa "controversy," we're missing something revealing about what it means to be Amy Schumer in 2016.

Go back and read the story closely. It seems to have taken place around a 2012 gig at Side Splitters, a year before Inside Amy Schumer shot her into comedy's stratosphere. She was, she wrote, "slightly famous at the time," but described it as a "lovely time in my life when no one took pictures of me unless I photobombed them." She was still just reading magazines with Jennifer Aniston on the cover, instead of appearing on them, and "wondering about my own worth."

The fondness with which Schumer recalls that night doesn't seem to be all about the "perfect" sex. It was "one of the best nights of my life," but also "the purest night of my life." It's raunch tinged with introspection and reflection, a tidy encapsulation of so much of her comedy.

Since then, Schumer's gotten Forbes-list rich and Hart-level huge. She has an Emmy and a Peabody and can grace the cover of any magazine she chooses. But not so long ago, she was just another semi-famous stand-up working the road in Tampa — and she hasn't forgotten it.

"I am not special just because I'm famous right now," she wrote later in Tattoo. "I won't be famous forever — not even much longer, actually, which is fine with me because it doesn't feel good to have people be nicer to you because of your money."

She's here now, though, composing the laugh track to our narrow slice of history. That's the job of the world's biggest comic. It's a role that Schumer wears well.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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