Friday, April 18, 2014

Are You There, People Who Find Chelsea Handler Funny?

Chelsea Handler has been in the news a lot lately. First, she was one of the names thrown about as possible replacements for David Letterman, who is retiring in 2015. Then, more recently, she made herself a the name throw about as a possible replacement for Craig Ferguson, who by all accounts is not retiring at all. Then Handler took herself right out of the running to replace the non-retiring Ferguson by saying she will never ever work for a "regular network." Whether that was her decision, or CBS' decision, we'll never know.

Seeing her name bandied about reminded me of a question I have asked myself many times since I first heard of the host of Chelsea Lately: is Chelsea Handler funny?

My first experience actually listening to Chelsea Handler was when she was a guest on the Howard Stern Show in October of 2012, and I found her to be...offputting. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but something about her bothered me. She was an interesting interview, to be sure, but she seemed too quick to make fun of people she had met or dated or interacted with. Plus I felt that she wasn't as thankful to Howard as she should have been, as (in my estimation at least) she wouldn't have the career she's had without him paving the way.

But regardless, that really wasn't enough of a Chelsea Handler experience to make a determination as to her funniness. So I posed the question on Facebook, to ask if anyone found her funny and if so, why. The only responses I received were other guys who also didn't understand what about Handler was funny.

So I decided to watch her show on E! to see if I could figure out what made her so popular. Chelsea Lately has been on since 2007, its YouTube page has over 300,000 subscribers...so it's gotta be funny, right?

I watched a week's worth of episodes. The format seems to be: a brief opening monologue by Handler, followed by the opening credits, followed by Handler introducing her panel. It's three people, most if not all stand-up comedians, although I had never heard of any of the panelists from any of the four shows that I watched that particular week.

Handler then goes topic-by-topic, with each panelist getting a chance to make a joke about the subject matter, with Handler getting the final line. She then goes to the next topic; rinse, repeat. The final segment is a celebrity interview - the ones that I watched seemed more about Handler than the guest. (I certainly didn't learn anything about the guest, although to be fair, the late night show format as a whole - Daily Show and Colbert Report not included - is pretty lame when it comes to the interviews.)

My assumption is that the panelists are also writers on Chelsea Lately, which, if true, makes me wonder if the stuff they're writing for Handler is really their best jokes. I mean, if you're going to be on the show yourself, would you really want to give your best material to someone else to use?

Regardless of who is writing for whom, I didn't find anything anyone said particularly funny, and that includes Handler herself. Her comedy doesn't seem to be comedy per se, she just says things that are inappropriate or just plain mean. She goes to the stereotype well too quickly; there isn't any substance or intelligence behind her jokes.

In a recent appearance on the Stern Show, she told a story of a joke that E! asked her not to use. The joke was about Ryan Seacrest and how it's weird for a straight man to be covering the Oscars. The punchline was that any straight guy who covers the Oscars should be forced to have gay sex. Handler said E! asked her not to go with the joke because it's making fun of Ryan Seacrest. I say E! asked her not to go with the joke because it's terrible. Not funny. Just terrible.

But that's her "humor." That's what constitutes comedy for her. We all know people, men and women, who say ridiculous things as a way to get a laugh, and Chelsea Handler seems to fall in this category. Obviously this has worked quiet well for her, at least on E!. (It did not work so well on her sitcom on NBC. And this is NBC we're talking about.) I've never seen her live. She has had four successful books - full disclosure, I've read nary a one. My wife couldn't get past the first few pages of Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.

Having listened to Handler twice on the Stern Show, I think she's interesting. She's obviously very smart and she has good stories to tell, when she's not resorting to weak stereotype punchlines. But I just don't see her as a late night host on a major network. I think E! suits her because she doesn't have to worry about ratings and she can get away with a lot of "jokes" that she probably wouldn't be allowed to say on CBS/NBC/ABC. FOX, maybe. But not the other three.

Many people have correctly stated that it's ridiculous that there are no women on late night, and I agree with that. I know Tina Fey's name has been thrown about, but she's executive producing TV shows and starring in movies, so I don't see her jumping into the late night rat race anytime soon (if ever). Ellen Degeneres is very funny, but why would she want to leave her successful day-time talk show? Samantha Bee is a possibility, but my guess is that TV executives would want someone with hosting experience to take over one of the main late night shows. With Colbert moving to Letterman's spot, Bee would be an excellent choice (maybe along with her husband Jason Jones) to take over the slot after The Daily Show.

But that's another story for another day. I know I've only watched four episodes of Chelsea Lately, but I still don't get what makes her funny. I feel I have a pretty normal sense of humor. I think Family Guy is funny. I love Parks and Rec. I'm a huge Howard Stern fan. I listen to the comedians on SiriusXM's comedy channels and I laugh. But Chelsea Handler just doesn't do it for me. Is it a guy thing? Is that why I don't get her? I could see her being good on a Bill Maher-type show, where she can host a panel that discusses various topics, where she can give her honest opinion rather than make jokes. For me, jokes are not her strong suit. I'd like to think that it's not me, it's her, but I'm just waiting to hear from someone who finds her funny.

So I guess what I'm asking is, Are You There, People Who Find Chelsea Handler Funny? It's Me, Someone Who Doesn't.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When Reporters Troll

After UConn defeated Notre Dame in the women's basketball championship, ESPN reporter Holly Rowe asked Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma,  "What is it about your standard of excellence that's different from other coaches?"

I can't tell you how much this question, and this type of question, bothers me. Oh wait, I can. And will.

ESPN is already pretty well known. It's the world-wide leader in sports, for crying out loud. Do ESPN reporters really need to go out of their way to troll coaches for sound bytes? What other possible reason would Holly Rowe have for asking that question? She's basically setting Geno up to say something critical about other women's basketball coaches, therefore getting ESPN in the news "UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said on ESPN after the game..."

If Holly Rowe, and ESPN, really cared about finding out what makes Auriemma and UConn tick, maybe a better question would have been, "talk about your standard of excellence and what you expect from your players, even in the late stages of a blowout win."

But no, Rowe went for the troll question, which apparently is what passes for reporting these days.

In Rowe's defense, she's not the only one. Nor is ESPN the only organization that resorts to these tactics. I just think it would be nice if we saw more attempts to report the news, and fewer attempts to become the news.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How I Met Your Series Finale

SPOILER ALERT: this contains the ending to the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. If you are a fan of the show but haven't seen the finale yet, stop reading. If you've never watched the show but believe that you will one day binge watch the entire series, who are you kidding you never will. Keep on reading.

CBS' hit show How I Met Your Mother called it quits after nine seasons, with the season finale on Monday, March 31. I thought the finale was great, until the final two minutes. It was sweet, it was silly, it was honest (friends drift apart - who knew?!) and it was funny. Then came the final two minutes, when older Ted - now played by actual Ted (Josh Radnor), not voice-over Ted (Bob Saget) - finishes the story to his kids about how he met their mother, who we now know passed away.

We realized that something bad was probably going to happen to the Mother in an earlier episode, when Ted got choked up talking about mothers not making it to their daughters' weddings. Well, some of us realized it, anyway. My wife had to point it out to me.

Regardless, the season finale made our worries come true, as it showed time going by with Ted and Tracey getting together, having a baby, getting married, Tracey getting sick, etc. Then we got to the weird two minutes. Ted ends his story about how he met their mother, and the daughter immediately tells him that the story was really all about Aunt Robin and how Ted wants to ask her out but doesn't know how to tell his kids. Short two minutes short, Ted goes to Robin and the show ends with him standing under her apartment window with the blue trumpet he stole for her earlier in the series.

The How I Met Your Mother creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, are certainly not against writing episodes that deal with the death of a loved one (see dad, Marshall's). I have no problem with the story line including the Mother passing away. My issue is the show ended in such a way as to make it seem like Robin was Ted's destiny, not the mother of his children, the focus of the story (and name of the show).

Ted and Robin did not work together. He wanted kids, she wanted a career. He was a sentimentalist, she was...not. He was a romantic, she was...also not. The finale showed us how well Ted and Tracey went together. But if we take the ending at face value, he had to go out and have kids with another woman so that he could end up with Robin. Yes, we are told that six years has passed since the Mother passed away, but for me that wasn't enough. Not in terms of time - it could have been six months for all I care. I needed to know that Ted knew what we all knew - that Tracey was the love of his life, his soul-mate.

All it would have taken for the season finale to be perfect was one line. All we needed was for Ted to say "you know kids, your Aunt Robin will never replace your mother" or something similarly as cheesy. That way we know that Ted knows what we know.

I understand that ending a show is hard, that you're never going to appease everyone. Like I said, I loved the season finale. I'm just a little surprised, with the job that Bays and Thomas have done with the show so far, that they didn't think to add in that one tiny line.

Because the way the show ended, it kind of made msnbc reporter Adam Serwer's tweet from January of 2013 come true:

How I Was Totally Into Your Aunt Robin For A Decade But She Married My Best Friend So I Settled For Your Mother.