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.

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