How Multiple Sclerosis Helped Me Fall in Love With Amy Schumer

'The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo' is hilarious and daring – and not just because of all the sex.

Amy Schumer at CinemaCon 2015, Las Vegas, April 23, 2015.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

I haven’t had an affair with Amy Schumer. Actually, I have had one, and it’s still going on, but she doesn’t know about it and never will, unless ...

No, there’s no reason to even dream about it. After all, even if we did meet, she’s an American woman, young and pretty, a blonde comedian who talks a lot and in clinical detail about her sexual experiences, and about sex in general.

Meanwhile, I’m an Israeli man who’s getting up in years; that sure sounds better to me than “getting old.” And I’m disabled because of multiple sclerosis (something that’s very relevant, which I’ll explain shortly). I also write about the theater, which one would think is the furthest thing from stand-up comedy.

Instead of Amy Schumer, I have her book that was published last month: “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo” – the title is a play on Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Schumer received an $8 million advance for her effort, and I spent $15 on it (for the digital edition). It’s not a novel; it’s not even an autobiography.

In the book, Schumer writes about herself and her family; this includes the story of her (it’s hard to believe) only one-night stand, and a letter to her vagina, for which she, on prime-time television, somehow managed to call her pussy.

There are also lists of things she likes, or hates, or that make her angry. For example, there’s the list of excuses of men who don’t make sure their women climax. The list is short and each point is based on the man’s fulfilling his obligation as quickly as possible. We also learn that Schumer needs more to achieve orgasm than mere penetration, so she expects her man to take care of her clitoris too.

These are just examples showing that her writing is similar to her stand-up comedy and television show (“Inside Amy Schumer” – take the title literally), and even to her movie “Trainwreck.”

To a great extent, this is simply a book of stand-up comedy, a performance in print, with comments that connect with the reader as if behind the text’s back. It’s hilarious, crude, uninhibited and full of charm and boldness, and not just because of the detailed sex but because of Schumer’s ability to expose herself and relate to herself in a sane, sympathetic and balanced way.

Bat mitzvah funny girl

She describes the book herself: “I’m a flawed fuckup and I haven’t figured anything out, so I have no wisdom to offer you. But what I can help with is showing you my mistakes and my pain and my laughter. I know what’s important to me, and that is my family (not all of them, for Christ’s sake, just some of them). And getting to laugh and enjoy life with friends. And to, of course, have an orgasm once in a while. I find at least once a day is best.”

Schumer says she has always loved to perform, even during her bat mitzvah, which she treated as if she were performing in a musical. When her voice broke on the last note she turned it into a stand-up routine. (Yes, of course she’s Jewish, on her father’s side, and she even likes gefilte fish. She likes food in general, Jewish food in particular.)

Her way to the top was more interesting. For years she appeared a few times a week in all sorts of clubs, in front of small audiences, sometimes having to bring her own fans. She lost a lot of blood, sweat and tears in order to improve her act.

She tells how proud she was of the first jokes she wrote. Here’s one of them, very characteristic of her humor:

“A couple weeks later I wrote a new joke: My boyfriend is always turning the lights on when we have sex, and I shut them off, and he puts them back on. The other day, he said, ‘Why are you so shy? You have a beautiful body.’ I said, ‘You are so cute! You think I don’t want you to see me?’”

To me, this is a very important part of the refreshing way Schumer talks about sex and severs it from the “male point of view versus the female point of view.” Instead she examines the human experience shared by everyone; if only we could rise above the gender limitations that everyone adheres to.

But what does an old, straight, white man like me understand about the sexuality of a young woman who likes sex, laughter, life, food, stand-up and alcohol?

Between one punchline after another in this stand-up-comedy book, Schumer says she’s introverted. (Yes, she prefers to be on stage, in the studio or at home – not at parties or on the town.)

She talks about how she lost her virginity; she discovered, drowsy, that her boyfriend had penetrated her without her realizing it. She talks about how she was abused, so she can say that it can happen to anyone, even someone like her who knows how to stand up for herself and laugh. And she settles accounts with her mother, with love but without pulling punches (and now their relationship isn’t as close as it was).

The human comedy

With a courageous directness, Schumer tells about the not-so-simple things that have happened to her, and she takes advantage of what has happened to her to share a sort of lesson, honest and not at all patronizing.

From the cover of Amy Schumer's 2016 book 'The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.'
Gallery Books

I won’t go into details of her relationship with her mother, a former flower child. I’ll just suffice with the last paragraph from this chapter:

“No matter what my mother had put me through, I’m still grateful to her for raising me to believe I’m talented, smart, and beautiful. She made me who I am – someone who, ironically, places the highest value on being vulnerable, honest, and real. I wish we could have a normal mother-daughter relationship. If such a thing exists. I don’t know if that’s possible for us, but I believe family is a constant negotiation. I have never given up on her. I can’t, and I never will.”

Schumer’s parents divorced when she was 10; it was the second marriage for both of them, and both remarried once again. Schumer devotes two heartrending chapters to her father, who was struck by multiple sclerosis around that time. This is how the first chapter in her book about her father opens: “When I was fourteen my dad shit himself at an amusement park.”

She describes how her divorced father took his daughters out but didn’t have control of his sphincters – in front of his daughters and everybody else. It happened again at the airport when she was older.

Another moving story is about her attempts to convince her father to try stem-cell therapy for his illness. There’s also a father with multiple sclerosis in “Trainwreck.”

I confess that if so far I had been captivated by Schumer’s charms, here I fell totally. This isn’t just because I know the disease personally. It’s largely because of how she describes her father’s coping with his situation, which to a great extent guides her approach to life and comedy, or if you like, the comedy of life.

She writes: “I look at the saddest things in life and laugh at how awful they are, because they are hilarious and it’s all we can do with moments that are painful. My dad is the same way. He’s always laughed at the things that are too dark for other people to laugh at. Even now, when his memory and mental functioning have been severely impaired by his MS, I’ll tell him his mind is a pile of scrambled eggs and he will still laugh hysterically and say, ‘Too true, too true!’ My dad never shows any sign that he pities himself. He never has. He’s not afraid to look dead-on at the grim facts of his life. I hope I’ve inherited this quality of his.”

I’d sign off on that. And if Amy Schumer comes to perform stand-up in Israel in a stadium (in New York she has played Madison Square Garden), I’ll go despite the lack of intimacy. A man has to do what a man has to do. If he wants. And I want.