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Thanks, Pop Culture, for Making Awkward Cool

Amy Schumer and more own their awkwardness on-screen
cool kids pop culture awkwardness is cool now amy schumer comedy awkward stories

Universal Studios

“Do you follow sports?”

As a writer interviewing a sports doctor, this is not an ideal question to be asked by your subject. But that’s exactly what happens to Amy Schumer in the highly anticipated comedy Trainwreck, which opens this week. It’s clear that the answer to the question is no. No, Amy the journalist interviewing the sports man does not, in fact, follow sports. Fumbling for a response, she says her favorite team is “the Orlando . . . Blooms?”

Anyone who has seen her much-talked-about show Inside Amy Schumer knows that she is the master of perfectly pitched awkward moments, acted with pristine realism. I believe Schumer’s first written and directed feature film is yet another prime example of a trend I’ve seen developing over the past few years: Call it the “Age of Awkward.”

Mindy Lahiri, Jess Day, Liz Lemon, Pam Beesly-Halpert—these fictional females have ruled the small screen and dominated pop culture discourse for a while now, and they are all incredibly lovable and incredibly . . . awkward.

We are living in an age where awkward is no longer bad. In fact, it’s cool. It is finally viewed as being real and being yourself. As an awkward person, I find this trend worth celebrating. Cool girls of the bygone era wanted to be like the beautiful, blonde, boy-magnet Cher Horowitz (you know, from Clueless, for those of you born in the nineties), not the quirky girl with bangs and glasses like Jess Day.

Now some of the most popular TV shows include Big Bang Theory, Silicon Valley, and Parks and Recreation—all featuring socially awkward protagonists. Watch any Wes Anderson film. He is the master of uncomfortable. Or how about backtracking a bit to Curb Your Enthusiasm? Larry David took hilariously awkward to a whole new level.

I believe that today, if awkwardness had a spokesperson, Amy Schumer would be it. She may push the envelope, that’s for sure, but she makes awkward cool. She is completely unapologetic and confident. She’s not about trying to not be awkward (trust me, that only makes it worse); she embraces awkwardness and makes it work for her.

I can relate; I have an entire lifetime’s worth of awkward moments to draw from.

Almost everyone has an awkward first kiss, right? Mine was interrupted by the boy’s mom and grandma. They walked in on us and just stood there. Guess it’s time to hit the ol’ dusty trail, I thought. It was his dad’s 40th birthday party, and I had to make my walk of shame through a crowd of his family and friends.

Then there was the time I got my first period at Hurricane Harbor. I didn’t realize you couldn’t put an overnight-size pad on with a one-piece suit and go down the water slide. I did just that, and the pad ended up hanging out of the front of my suit. To make matters worse, my friend spotted the wardrobe malfunction before I did and informed me from yards away that I had what looked like a whale tongue sticking out of my suit. This is it, I thought. This is how I’m going to die.

Those were the days when awkward moments made me cringe. Now they make me want to laugh. What changed?

Surely the perspective that comes with growing up helps awkwardness become less painful. But what has really helped is how pop culture humor has evolved to embrace the types of social exchanges we have in real life—imperfect, blundering, and awkward. Anyone having flashbacks to the scene in The Big Bang Theory when Sheldon insisted that Penny sing “Soft Kitty” to him while applying vapor rub to his chest? How about when Nick literally moonwalked back to his room when he ran into Jess after their first big kiss on New Girl? By acknowledging that awkward encounters are a normal part of life that we all experience—by showing that these fumbles are universal and laughable—TV shows and movies have made a huge difference.

Now when something unexpected and awkward happens, I invite others to laugh with me as opposed to stressing out in lonely despair. For instance, when I fell on a treadmill in the fitness center of my workplace, I sought out the footage from the security camera and put it on my Facebook page for all the world to see. A couple days later, the FedEx guy came by my office and died laughing: “I saw a video of you falling on a treadmill. That was you, right?” People appreciate good, funny honesty. We need to see other people doing and saying weird and embarrassing things. It’s what makes us feel not so weird ourselves. It helps people relate to one another.

It’s not about being the prettiest or the skinniest or even the funniest. People need honesty and humility. We are all so worried about fitting in and saying the right thing and wearing the right clothes and looking like this actor or being cool like this celebrity. But if we’re getting any tips from comedy today, it’s to celebrate our awkwardness.

No wonder Seinfeld and Friends ran for so long. No wonder new shows have been following suit. Because if there’s something you’ll never run out of material for, it is life’s many—unpredictable—awkward moments.