Inside Amy Schumer sends up Hollywood magnificently. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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This Inside Amy Schumer sketch about the media's treatment of "older" women is perfect

Passing the age of "believable fuckability".

If Julia Louis-Dreyfus chugging a pint of melted ice cream, then letting rip a sizeable, rasping fart doesn’t fill you with the kind of warmth usually stimulated by, say, a basket of puppies, I don’t think we can be friends.

And this is just a snippet of a sketch from this week’s season premiere of Inside Amy Schumer, which beautifully, caustically and, in a way quite seriously, rips it out of Hollywood’s treatment of older women. And by “older”, I mean forty to fifty-somethings, which, in an age where people regularly make it past 100, hardly seems old. We see Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette (both “older women” by Hollywood standards) join Louis-Dreyfus in celebrating her last day of “being fuckable”.

Louis-Dreyfus explains that this is the point at which the media decides that, as an actress, you’ve surpassed the age of believable fuckability. So, where you were once cast as a sexpot, you’re now cast as a long sweater-wearing frump. It’s when you start getting offered sexless and dowdy roles like Mrs Claus. An apt example of this being Sally Field’s stealthy transformation from Tom Hanks’ love interest in Punchline to his mother in Forrest Gump. And no, the same rules do not apply to men.

Aged 65, Harrison Ford was still Indiana Jones. Aged 58, Bruce Willis was still vesting it up and refusing to die hard as John McClane. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer, in her fifties, is hardly still playing Catwoman. Can you imagine? Well actually I totally can imagine, but I’m not Christopher Nolan, so tough tits.

But Louis-Dreyfus, the extremely fuckable Seinfeld and Veep star, is sanguine about her transition to unfuckableness, hence the ice cream-chugging and farting. She can let it all hang out now. “I can grow my pubes out,” she says, shortly before being cast off in a ceremonial “no longer fuckable” rowing boat in the style of a funeral barge, with “Sally Field wuz here” carved into it.

Not only does this sketch throw ample shade at that toxic combination of sexism and ageism, ever present in show business, it’s also a giant “fuck you” to everyone still banging on about women not being funny. What’s more, it’s a true sign of women in comedy having reached a critical mass, where they can safely criticise the double standards that plague their own professional lives. They can also fart, talk about pubes and generally be extremely toiletty. And by “toiletty”, I mean (in short) unashamed of their bodily functions.

The more that gender politics are prodded and poked at in mainstream comedy, the closer we get to anything resembling equality on our screens. And if that prodding and poking also happens to involve farts, all the better. Because, I’m sorry, farts are funny. And toiletty, irreverent and pubic women are the future.

I’ve always been suspicious of comedy with a message. Generally speaking, moralising of any kind is about as funny as a replacement bus service. But this absolutely perfect Amy Schumer sketch manages to make a very serious point, without compromising a single LOL. This is what so many funny women do best.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Strictly: Has Ed (Glitter) Balls got the winning moves?

Will the former Westminster high-flyer impress the judges and fans?

Ed Balls once had dreams of Labour leadership. Now, according to flamboyant Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli, the former Shadow Chancellor should be aspiring to “imitate the hippopotamus from Fantasia” every Saturday night, preferably while basting himself in fake tan.

Welcome to my world, Ladies and Gentleman. A place where the former Westminster high flyer  is more famous for sashaying around in sequins (and ineptly tweeting his own name) than for his efforts with the Bank of England. It’s a universe so intoxicating, it made political correspondent John Sergeant drag a professional performer across a dance floor by her wrists in the name of light entertainment.

The same compulsions made respected broadcaster Jeremy Vine alight a prop horse dressed as a cowboy (more Woody from Toy Story than John Wayne) and former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe fly across the ballroom like an inappropriate understudy in an am dram production of Peter Pan. It is a glorious, if unnerving domain.

Ed Glitterballs, as he will henceforth be introduced at every after-dinner speaking engagement he attends, has trotted out many well-rehearsed reasons for signing up: getting fit, being cajoled by his superfan wife, Yvette Cooper, regretting a missed opportunity. But could it be that, as he relentlessly plugs his autobiography, he’s merely after a bit of Strictly stardust for his post-politics career? 

Let’s start with the basics. Politicians are generally unpopular, while anyone with a vague connection to Strictly is treated as a demi-God. So the chance for “the most annoying person in modern politics” (David Cameron’s words, not mine), to bask in reflected glory is a no-brainer.

It’s a valuable opportunity to be humble and self-deprecating — qualities so rarely on display in the House of Commons. Which of us sitting at home scoffing Maltesers, wouldn’t sympathise with poor old Ed being chastised by his impossibly svelte partner for having a beer belly? Early polls suggest the dads’ vote is in the bag.

When Widdecombe appeared on the show back in 2010 — one of the most astonishing rebranding exercises I have ever witnessed — Westminster colleagues warned she would lose gravitas. “My reply was yes I would, but what did I need it for now?” she said.

Strictly Come Dancing gives the nation an extraordinary capacity to forget. Maybe it’s the fumes from the spray tan booth, but Widdecombe’s stern bluster was soon replaced by the image of a sweet old lady, stumbling around the dance floor with gusto. Her frankly shameful record on gay rights evaporated as she traded affectionate insults with openly gay judge Craig Revel Horwood and won us all over with her clodhopping two left feet. Genuinely incredible stuff.

Balls won’t be another Ann Widdecombe. For a start he’s got the wrong partner. She had untouchable fan favourite Anton Du Beke, more famous than some of the celebrity contestants, who happily provided the choreography and patience for her to shine. Balls is with an unknown quantity — new girl Katya Jones. 

His performance has been hyped up by an expectant press, while Widdecombe's had the all-important shock factor. Back then nobody could have predicted her irrepressible stomp to the quarter finals, leading to a career in panto and her own quiz show on Sky Atlantic. And unlike John Sergeant, who withdrew from the competition after a few weeks owing to sheer embarrassment, she lapped up every second.

Neither, however, is Balls likely to be Edwina Currie. If you forgot her stint on the show it’s because she went out in the first week, after failing to tone down her abrasive smugness for the ballroom. Balls is too clever for that and he’s already playing the game. Would viewers have been so comfortable with him cropping up on the Great British Bake Off spin-off An Extra Slice a few months ago?

My bet is that after a few gyrations he’ll emerge as amusing, lovable and, most importantly, bookable. The prospect of Gordon Brown’s economic advisor playing Baron Hardup in a Christmaspanto  is deliciously tantalising. But what happens when the fun stops and the midlife crisis (as he takes great pleasure in calling it) loses its novelty? Can he be taken seriously again?

When asked about Labour’s current Corbyn crisis, Balls told The Guardian: “If I got a call saying, ‘We think you can solve the problem, come back and rescue us,’ I would drop Strictly and go like a shot.” Well, Jeremy Vine came out unscathed — he hosts Crimewatch now, folks! — and thanks to Have I Got News For You, Boris Johnson casually led us out of Europe. Perhaps the best is yet to come.

Great news all round for Balls, then, he’d have to work really hard to come out of this badly. But there’s a reason he’s the bookies’ booby prize, with odds of 150/1 to lift the glitterball trophy. An entertaining but basically useless act has never won the show. We’ll be bored by November.

“But Ed might be sensational!” I hear you cry. Unfortunately his brief appearance on this year’s launch show suggests otherwise. This weekend — the first time he and Katya will perform a full routine —  he will be giving us his waltz, one of the more forgiving dances, and a style Balls has already expressed fondness for.

After that come the sizzling samba, the raunchy rumba and the cheeky Charleston. These can be mortifying even for the show’s frontrunners. As a straggler, Balls may find himself dewy-eyed, reminiscing about the time Bruno compared him to a cartoon hippo. But if he can just cope with a few weeks of mild ridicule, the world could be his oyster.

Emma Bullimore is a TV critic