Expecting Amy is a candid visual representation of the parallels between birthing a new standup hour and a child.
Of course, not every mother-to-be is a famous comedian who’s working on a Netflix special, but the three-part HBO Max series doesn’t try to make Amy Schumer’s journey glamorous. Much of it is shot by Schumer, documenting her pregnancy with son Gene, as well as her new marriage to chef Chris Fischer. A good deal of the series finds her huddled over toilets, puking into bags, or trying to suppress vomit during sets.
DIRECTOR: Alexander Hammer
STREAMING: HBO Max
Schumer riffs on a new stage.
Directed by Alexander Hammer, who edited Beyoncé’s iconic Homecoming, he uses title cards to set the mood: In the first episode, the letters spelling “Conception” appear as Schumer is tranquilly paddle-boarding. In the second, the tone is more horror-movie jumpscare: “Gestation.” These are also the markers for her nascent special, Growing, which debuted on Netflix in March 2019. We see Schumer working out material, and she comments on “using the audience as lab rats.” Hammer edits together a montage of her delivering one joke about sex until it’s no longer funny. “I have a show in one hour,” Schumer says after puking.
She eventually finds out she has hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that causes violent bouts of nausea that go way beyond morning sickness, something she later works into her act. She admits she didn’t know women got so ill during pregnancy, and “resents” that we’re not told. That is buffered by her admission, during another bout of sickness, that there are women who would “kill” to be in her shoes.
There are moments of social context: Schumer attends protests during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. After learning she’s having a boy, Schumer riffs that there will be “another white man” in their house, a punchline to years of exploring and satirizing white male behavior in her comedy (and dealing with trolls). In one striking scene, she confronts a man sitting near her on a train who took her picture without asking. She demands to see his phone and what he’s texted, and though we don’t get to see, her face registers what so many women already know. But any deeper exploration of how Schumer deals with harassment—or the level of celebrity that allows her to demand to see a creeper’s phone—is left to the viewer.
Beyond her fraught pregnancy, many of the scenes in Expecting Amy vacillate between comedy stages and scenes of domestic life. Fischer is a very calming presence, and there’s more of a focus on his upbringing and road to a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder as an adult. Things get thornier when Schumer turns his diagnosis into material. A conversation about it in their kitchen turns into an argument, but it’s hard to discern how much of it is authentic with cameras rolling. The series needs a bit more of this kind of raw interaction, but it’s clear she also is tuned into this part of him.
Do we need to see so much footage of their star-studded wedding? Not really. (Jake Gyllenhaal’s revelation during his toast that Fischer is uncircumcised is, curiously, never addressed again.) Episode 3 is devoted to the birth, and it does not shy away from showing (parts of) Schumer’s body post-pregnancy. Her comedy has often focused on the wonders and horrors of women’s bodies, and here she gets to expand on that, intimately. We don’t come away with major revelations about her, though footage from her childhood suggests that she’s always been “on.” The series does strip away the such-a-blessing veneer of pregnancy, revealing the toll it takes on women who are often expected to keep working and smiling through it, often with much less.