Chelsea Handler turns 36 today. To date, she has a successful show, a trio of best-selling books, and more than 3 million Twitter followers — yet still, Chelsea remains one of the most polarizing figures on the comedy scene. That’s due in large part to Chelsea’s bold willingness to say absolutely whatever’s on her mind, be it about herself, another celebrity, or just about anyone else who gets in her line of vision. And while this brazen lack of self-consciousness makes her absolutely abhorred by a subset of America’s TV-watching audience, I think Chelsea Handler is totally awesome.
Here are the first four thread topics on Chelsea’s IMDB message board: “Pig,” “A totally despicable woman,” “Has it really come to this…” and “Talentless.” Her comedic work, which revolves around Chelsea herself as the hard-partying, hard-sexing lynch-pin, is considered gauche and oversharey to a degree that viscerally upsets a lot of people. On the flip side, Jay Leno has said of the comedian, “What I love about Chelsea is that she shows we’ve reached a point where comedy is comedy—it’s not male comedy or female comedy.”
Do I agree with Leno’s statement? Not exactly, but I like the sentiment. Chelsea’s comedy is female comedy, intrinsically. She writes what she knows, and what she knows is being a woman — a particular type of societally frowned-upon woman at that. But I think what Jay’s referring to is Chelsea’s wit, that enviable ability to hold her own with the sharpest and quickest male comics on the landscape. And that’s the bottom-line reason I love and respect Chelsea — the woman is really, really goddamn witty, which is the foundation for everything else she does.
I often hear people say that Chelsea Lately is good “for what it is.” Which is a valid point — the show is an fluffy celeb round-up that often feels lazy and slapped-together. But the merit it does have comes from Chelsea’s abilities as a host — once again, that underlying wit. Take her rapid-fire sharpness and add the willingness to say and reveal just about anything, and you get a really solid comedian who’s producing great and interesting work.
Would I want to hang out with Chelsea Handler over dinner? Probably not! I imagine I’d never get a word in edgewise, and the waiter might end up spitting in our soup. But I like watching her on TV and I’m glad she’s doing what she’s doing.