Shock Treatment

Female comics work blue, draw modest crowds

Sex sells, or so the old saw goes. Do smutty jokes from the fairer sex do the same? We may find out this weekend.

“Trainwreck” marks the first starring role for Amy Schumer, unofficially dubbed today’s “It” comic by a fawning press. Don’t know Schumer? She’s tall, blonde and quick with an R-rated quip. Her stage shtick involves boasting of sexual conquests sans commitment. Will that sell to mainstream audiences? She’s hardly the first female comic to work blue. So far, bawdy comediennes have enjoyed mixed results for their troubles.

Sarah Silverman looks like the girl next door but talks like the sailor across the street. Lena Dunham pens stories for HBO’s “Girls” that make adults squirm in their sofas. Lisa Lampanelli’s Queen of Mean moniker is richly deserved – think Don Rickles in a dress. Former E! star Chelsea Handler boasts of her boozing and philandering as if she were trying to jump-start a newer, more lascivious Rat Pack.

Her stage shtick involves boasting of sexual conquests sans commitment

To paraphrase the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch … “how they doing?”

Silverman’s work over the past decade has spanned stand-up, television and feature films. And none of them have connected with the public at large. Comedy Central’s “The Sarah Silverman Program” sputtered along for three low-rated seasons before cancellation. Her indie roles didn’t come in breakthrough projects. She gets more headlines for her pro-abortion rhetoric of late than her punch lines.

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Dunham’s HBO series “Girls,” in which she stars and writes, is one of the cable channel’s lower rated offerings. Yet the show keeps getting renewed by HBO (season five is on the way). Dunham’s sole stint at “Saturday Night Live” host proved a ratings dud as well. She had better success with her 2014 memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl,” which managed strong sales.

Handler’s raucous “Chelsea Lately” talk show drew a crowd on E! for seven seasons, convincing her to take her talents to a more cutting-edge platform. She’ll debut her new talk show next year on Netflix, promising a combination of “60 Minutes” and “The Daily Show.”

Male shock comics boast an equally sketchy track record

Lampanelli is considered a heavy hitter in comic roast circles, but she hasn’t parlayed that reputation into broader success or sizable film roles.

Of course, male shock comics boast an equally sketchy track record. Andrew Dice Clay once rocked Madison Square Garden at the height of Dice-mania. His star came crashing to earth shortly thereafter, sparked in part by the sour reaction to his 1990 comedy “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.” Comic Anthony Jeselnik gleefully tells outrageous jokes (think cancer and 9/11 gags), but his Comedy Central show “The Jeselnik Offensive” only lasted two seasons.

And then there’s the self-proclaimed King of All Media, shock impresario Howard Stern. We don’t hear much about him or his SiriuxXM radio show these days, but his reign atop the traditional radio landscape lasted for decades. His work on “America’s Got Talent” found him minimizing his shock tactics for a family-friendly platform.

Popzette_FunFacts_Template_Trainwreck-03The jury is still out on Schumer, although we’ll get a sense of her box office clout once the ticket sales are tallied for “Trainwreck” this weekend. The initial tea leaves suggests she might potty mouthed her way past her peers.

“Trainwreck” is outpacing ticket sales for Melissa McCarthy’s R-rated comedy “Spy” at the same point in the cycle, according to movie ticket site Fandango.com. And the company’s survey of more than 1,000 “Trainwreck” ticket buyers showed that 81 are eager to see her in a romantic comedy.

She does have a potential ace up her sleeve. Judd Apatow, the modern-day prince of naughty but nice humor, is “Trainwreck’s” director. If anyone can make crowds embrace Schumer’s knack for mugging our sensibilities, he does.

What’s Apatow’s secret? He starts with R-rated high jinks but quickly finds the traditional core of the story in play. “Knocked Up” celebrated the pro-life argument as well as monogamy. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” found our hero waiting … and waiting … for the right girl. In “Trainwreck,” Schumer’s character may give up drinking and philandering after meeting one great guy (Bill Hader).

Perhaps the best way for Schumer to separate herself from other shock comediennes is to remind us her sex-filled shtick is just a well-calibrated act.

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