Something Rosalind Wiseman, the author of Queen Bees & Wannabes told me, resonated with me when watching Inside Amy Schumer last night. When I asked Wiseman about what Mean Girls, the movie based on her book, got right about teen girls she responded: "What I think it got right is the little tiny ways that girls go after each other."
If Mean Girls, which came out 10 years ago today, gets those little indignities, some of which might seem trivial to the passive observer, right on a teen girl level, Inside Amy Schumer aptly satirizes the way adult women undermine themselves and their peers. Take for instance the opening sketch of last night's episode, wherein Schumer and a group of women look down on some fairly happy looking strippers hugging one another and socializing on the sidewalk. Schumer and her cohorts bemoan how "sad" the strippers lives must be. Amy starts to tear up. That is until a trainer starts yelling, "Okay, bitches, welcome to body pole pump class." The women mount stripper poles in their Lululemon-esque attire. He screams, "whores, whores, you're all whores." Schumer is taking dead aim at the ways women (and men!) undermine one another.
That of course is a theme throughout Mean Girls—from the moment the Plastics turn to Cady and expect her to criticize something about her body to Regina's declaration that she really wants to lose three pounds. For the most part, Tina Fey's script just lets these little moments of self-belittling, self-deprecation hang there, but eventually the movie has Fey's Ms. Norbury, the resident female adult, tell its young people: "You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores."
As a sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer is operating on a different plane that Mean Girls so there aren't really these sorts of teachable moments. Instead, Schumer guides her sketches into outrageous absurdity. In "Compliments" from season one, arguably the show's signature sketch, a group of women meet on the street and respond to each other's compliments with self-inflicted vitriol. "Excuse me, when did you start working for NASA, you're weightless," a woman tells Amy, who responds: "Fuck you. I'm a fucking cow. Indian People are trying to worship me. I sleep standing up in a field." When one woman finally takes the compliment she's given, the others destroy themselves. Literally. There's self-immolation, Amy walks into traffic, you get the picture. This season, we got the sketch "I'm So Bad," wherein women condemn their own bad eating habits. They choose to ignore, however, the other truly terrible things they are doing. "I was cyberbullying my niece on Instagram the other day and I literally ate 15 mini muffins. I'm so bad," Amy says.
In her review of Inside Amy Schumer's second season, Slate's Willa Paskin wrote: "Schumer hides her intellect in artifice and lip gloss—that’s how she performs femininity. By wrapping her ideas in a ditzy, sexy, slutty, self-hating shtick, her message goes down easy—and only then, like the alien, sticks its opinionated teeth in you." Both Mean Girls and Inside Amy Schumer are concerned with the performative aspects of how women—young and youngish—live their lives, how they try to conform to unwritten rules of womanhood in order to please their friends and the men around them. (To be fair, the Plastics do have real rules. On Wednesdays they wear pink!) In the high school world of Mean Girls, that means Cady playing dumb for Aaron Samuels. In the twenty-to-thirtysomething world of Inside Amy Schumer that means parodying the "Cool Girl" trope—the one defined so well by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl—as a beef-eating, sports-loving "Chick Who Can Hang."
Not all of Schumer's material adheres to this formula. She has her share of purely silly sketches, like the one from last night's episode in which she goes home with a corny, sleazy, truly bizarre magician. Other times Schumer's work on her show takes aim purely at how women are treated by men: she aired a piece that would have been hilarious if it wasn't so horrifyingly real this season in which a woman sits down to play a military video game and instead faces sexual assault and the bureaucratic character assassination that comes with it.
But despite Schumer's versatility, the reason that the sketches about the way women talk resonate is the same reason people like me (sorry) are still writing articles about Mean Girls ten years later. Schumer's sketches are quotable and biting but also inherently relatable. Schumer told Jessica Grose in a recent Elle interview that "Compliments" and "I'm So Bad" came about because "that’s behavior I noticed among my friends and from myself." Mean Girls worked so well because Fey used Wiseman's real-life work as a basis for humor.
I was 13 when Mean Girls came out, about to leave my tiny middle school for the scary world of Regina George. I was lucky enough to have Fey's words in my head throughout my high school tenure. Now, a 23-year-old in New York, I feel lucky enough to have Amy's voice in my head when I start to criticize my eating habits. I'm so bad.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.