If you’ve read any of my pieces on her in the past, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of Chelsea Handler, but I’m gonna forget all that for a minute and start a slow clap for her, because she just really impressed me.
On Sunday, Chelsea was referenced in a piece by Bill Carter for The New York Times in which he discussed Jimmy Fallon‘s rise to The Tonight Show and the ongoing race in late night to score younger viewers. And when I say she was referenced, I should be more clear — her name appeared alongside other hosts jockeying for youthful viewership like but it appeared thusly:
Even with potent competition for younger viewers all over cable, from the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and Mr. O’Brien on TBS, the host NBC is clearly most concerned about is Mr. Kimmel, who is 46. (The only female host in late-night is Chelsea Handler, 38, on E!)
In a string of other names listed in a normal fashion, Chelsea’s was relegated to inside a set of parentheses, with a pointed mention of her gender. And without an explanation for why that choice would’ve been made, Chelsea couldn’t help but wonder (rightly, I think), if it was because she’s a woman. And here’s where I have to really admire Chelsea: she said something about it, via an op-ed in The Huffington Post this morning.
There are a lot of people — myself possibly included, although I hope not — who would probably have tried to talk themselves down from feeling any sort of way about a grammatical slight like that. After all, it doesn’t inherently change the quality of her show or the fact that Chelsea Lately has been on the air for six and a half years; it’s simply a matter of perception. But altering perceptions is the crucial first step toward any type of real change, and I think that’s exactly what Chelsea is driving at by drawing attention to to a seemingly-innocuous set of parentheses.
“I wanted to confirm what a parenthetical suggests, so I looked up the definition. The first few definitions that came up were: incidental, subordinate in significance, minor or casual.”
Maybe you still think it’s not a big deal, but it’s important to be aware that in a conversation about late night, Chelsea is far from insignificant. As she points out:
“Depending upon whose research you look at, I share the distinction of having the youngest average viewership with Colbert, The Daily Showand Conan. So from a purely statistical standpoint how, in this paragraph, could I only be mentioned as an aside?”
She’s very clear that you don’t have to like her show, but you do have to acknowledge it. No matter how dumb or tone deaf or hurtful you (or I) might think it is on occasion, you included her in a list of her peers because her viewership numbers require it. The statistics themselves place Chelsea in the same category with the names you already listed, Bill Carter, so it’s not up to you to suggest her contributions to the field are parenthetical.
And before anyone gets loud about Chelsea demanding special treatment because of her gender, she has a measured, appropriate response to that as well:
“And just as I don’t want to be inconsequential in any late-night discourse, I also don’t want to be singled-out and lauded merely because I am successful “for a woman.” I only want to be acknowledged for having worked hard to build an equally significant audience and fan base to those of my peers. I believe the success of any woman should never be qualified by her gender.”
I couldn’t agree more. I may not be on board with her treatment of Amanda Bynes‘ mental health issues or her exploitation of the tenuous relationship between Khloe Kardashian and Kris Jenner, but I can’t argue with Chelsea’s right to be judged on her impressive accomplishments instead of being sidelined by something as irrelevant as her gender.
She may not have earned my appreciation, but she’s certainly earned my grudging respect and admiration.
(Photo: FayesVision / WENN.com)