We used to think Chelsea Handler was, at her best, funny. On her popular late-night talk show Chelsea Lately, which was carried on the E! Network for several years, her persona was that of a laid-back, know-nothing, hard-drinking, sex-happy narcissist who spread her wealth around to her chums and in return got to treat them like vassals. Whether it was an act or not (one had the impression that her persona was a somewhat exaggerated version of her actual self), she put it over well, and at its best, as we say, it could be quite amusing.
Chelsea Lately had a simple format: she opened with a sort-of-monologue, in which she went on for a few minutes, in her self-absorbed way, about some recent experience or personal complaint or griped about one of her friends or crew members; she then proceeded to have a lighthearted roundtable with two or three other comedians, with whom she traded silly quips and personal barbs; and she concluded by chatting one-on-one with some celebrity who was there, in the usual fashion, to promote something, except that Chelsea, instead of feigning interest in the project being promoted, fixated on her guest’s shoes or clothes or breasts, or professed to find the guest sexually attractive, or expressed a lack of interest in whatever anecdote her guest was trying to put over. There was certainly not the slightest whiff of politics about any of it: the whole idea, the whole schtick, was that Chelsea was too childlike and egocentric to possibly give a moment’s thought to such lofty matters as statecraft or international affairs or the welfare of others. Indeed, the main appeal of the show was its casual political incorrectness. (50 Cent: “I had some free time….” Chelsea, interrupting: “Were you in prison?”)
It was all terribly silly – but it was aware of being silly. It was even, you might say, wittily silly. But then something happened. Like many funny people, Chelsea decided that she was tired of getting laughs. She wanted to be taken seriously. Calling it quits with her successful late-night show, she moved over to Netflix, where she started doing a “serious” weekly interview program. Yes, there were showbiz celebrities, but they were, more often than not, politically engaged showbiz celebrities who were eager to talk with her about such subjects as global warming and DREAMers and Islamophobia. In addition, Chelsea had long, earnest conversations with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Chelsea Clinton, Jake Tapper, Trevor Noah, Keith Olbermann, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former Mexico president Vincente Fox, and Democratic strategists David Alexrod and James Carville.
The premise was that Chelsea was “learning.” She was “educating herself.” This was how she described the show, and it was how Netflix promoted it: come along and watch Chelsea learn from the best and the brightest! But what really ended up happening on her Netflix show, as it turned out, was that Chelsea was sitting there exposing herself, and her viewers, to endless hours of Democratic Party rhetoric. It was pure brainwashing. Chelsea was not hearing both sides. She was not being taught how to use her mind to examine ideas critically. She was certainly not picking up any history lessons. On the contrary, she was being trained to spit back left-wing talking points. She thought she was thinking, but she wasn’t doing anything of the kind. Alas, she still doesn’t know what real thinking is.
When her show was canceled recently by Netflix, the news came as no surprise: American audiences had no interest in this new incarnation of Chelsea. They didn’t need to be lectured at by this woman who, until just the other day, was presenting herself as a bubblehead. But Chelsea lectured anyway. She lectured on her show – and, even after its cancellation, she continued lecturing on Twitter. We’ll get to that on Thursday.