Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Amy Schumer’s collection of stories is a discursive and, often inconsistent, read that alternates from awkward genital humour to earnest emotion

Lakshmi Sankaran
Lakshmi Sankaran

February 14, 2017

Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Amy Schumer’s best jokes as a stand-up comedian feed on her carefully cultivated persona of tawdry excess. She’s the chipper blonde from New York’s Long Island, who loves fast food, cheap booze and casual sex – too much – and knows her Kourtney from Khloe (Kardashian). At the end of a filthy anecdote, she’ll sometimes offer a sarcastic declaration, “I’m trash, ok?”          

This air of exaggerated insecurity, combined with brassy abandon, can spark peals of laughter in a tight 30-minute onstage set. But in The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, a confessional of scattered episodes from her life, it has a waxing and waning effect.

No subject is out of bounds. There are graphic retellings of her raunchy adventures with athletes and even a failed night with a rock star, none of whom are named.

When Schumer likens herself to a water-soaked Alfred Hitchcock while referring to paparazzi shots of her paddle-boarding in Hawaii, her shtick is exasperating. Other times, it elicits a loud chortle. In one passage, she details unappealing foreplay with her inebriated college senior using a movie metaphor: “His a***hole was the canyon. This was my 127 hours. I needed to chip away at the rock and get out.”

Instead of purple prose, Schumer prefers a colloquial style with a liberal dose of frat-girl profanity. No subject is out of bounds. There are graphic retellings of her raunchy adventures with athletes and even a failed night with a rock star, none of whom are named. However, she stresses that she is not the libertine from her comedy routines. “I enjoy sex the normal amount and most of the time, it’s with someone I am dating,” Schumer reveals in a chapter about her only one-night stand. Her days of reckless alcohol intake are also behind her, she writes. That was College Amy. Comedy Superstar Amy would rather enjoy scotch or wine in moderation. 

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The riveting portions of her book as those that puncture her image as a bulletproof flake. Beneath the flippant one-liners Schumer is capable of thoughtful self-examination. One entry, called “The Worst Night Of My Life”, is devoted to a domestic abuse situation in her past that nearly claimed her life. The comic, who was 35 when she wrote this, posits her relationship as a cautionary tale for female readers. “I am telling this story because I’m a strong-ass woman, not someone people picture when they think ‘abused woman,’” she says.

Her movie Trainwreck (co-star Bill Hader in pic) was about "equal opportunity" for women to be commitment-phobes, she says

Schumer’s famous TV show (Inside Amy Schumer), which began as a benign skewering of pop-culture, had turned into biting gender and social commentary towards the end of its fourth season. This book has a similar evolution. In the beginning, come the bawdy asides about her NuvaRing (a popular contraceptive) but the later section, particularly one chapter where she rages against double standards for women in entertainment, is not as cheery.

Promoting her first film, Trainwreck, was an awakening experience, especially dealing with international journalists, who took the movie as license to subtly undermine her abilities. Schumer has a pet peeve with members of the media, who regularly ask her one question: Is it an exciting time to be a woman in Hollywood? “The exciting time will come when no one has to answer that stupid question,” she fires back.

In more ways than one, Trainwreck appears to have been a turning point in her life. She calls the film a “love letter to her father”, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The chapter that deals with his difficult condition is Schumer at her most vulnerable. After seeing her film, a fan with MS put her in touch with a New York doctor, who offered some hope of arresting her father’s gradual deterioration. “Knowing there’s a possibility he will walk again has made everything brighter,” she writes.

A childhood photo of Schumer with her younger sister Kim, her writing partner and constant companion in life

Trainwreck is also the reason for her political engagement on the gun control debate in America, a thorny issue that invites intense partisan disagreement. In 2015, Schumer came out against lax gun laws after a fatal shooting at a theatre that was screening her film. At the time, she was dismissed as yet another celebrity feigning fleeting interest in activism.

But the comedian means business. In a chapter titled “Mayci And Jillian” – named after two young women who lost their lives in that attack – she quotes studies and statistics to make an impassioned case for more common sense legislation. Just as she did, she exhorts her readers to get educated on the issue and even lists all the congressmen that have accepted donations from the gun lobby in a separate annexure.              

Schumer knows her way around crass witticisms but when she drops the pretense, this book feels more intimate and revelatory. At the outset, she clarifies that she will pen a proper memoir when she’s probably 90. If and when that happens, she might be better off with less Cool Amy and more Angry Amy.