Chelsea Handler: from jokes to talking points

Chelsea Handler

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

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.

With Gavin Newsome

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.

 

Entertaining Qaddafi

Yesterday we remembered Sting‘s ignominious 2009 performance in Uzbekistan. Today we’re going to look at a few other megarich celebrities who sold out their ethics to the late, unlamented Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for a mess of pottage.

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Muammar Qaddafi

First, let’s back to 2006, when Lionel Richie flew to Libya to perform for over 1000 officials. The price tag? A cool $5 million. The occasion? The 20th anniversary of U.S. air strikes in which dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter Hana was one of 40 people killed. The event was billed as “Hana Peace Day.” “Hana would be happy tonight!” said Richie during his performance. “This night is a wonderful honor for Hana, whose name is linked to peace.”

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Lionel Richie (left) performing in Libya

Richie’s arrival, according to one account, “was greeted with the rapture befitting a visiting deity. His hands had been washed in rosewater, he’d been accorded the honorific ‘Brother.’” He told a press conference in Tripoli that his presence in Libya was a ‘historic event,’” and that he’d decided to take part in the event “because ‘music unites people.’” At the concert, he introduced his set by telling the audience he was honored to be in Libya, by thanking them for their “unbelievable” hospitality, and by sending out a message to the world that he recommended a visit to “this beautiful world in Libya.”

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Aisha Qaddafi

The Tripoli Post quoted at length from comments made by Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha at the beginning of the concert. After calling for a moment of silence for “our martyrs who were killed at the hands of the enemies of peace,” Aisha recalled that on the day of the U.S. bombing she’d awakened “to the sound of bombs and rockets and the cries of my brothers. My memory [will] never forget, nor history will ever erase it. But today we try to heal our wounds and shake hands with those who are here with us tonight. Yes for peace, no for destruction.”

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José Carreras

The concert, noted the Post, “ended with a group of children dressed as angels standing on a balcony of the house and waving candles as they sang along to a recording of the US humanitarian pop anthem ‘We are the world.’”

Richie wasn’t alone in accepting the Qaddafi regime’s invitation. Appearing on the same stage that night were Spanish opera singers José Carreras and Ofelia Sala.

The next year, the Qaddafis continued to shell out sizable sums for top-drawer showbiz figures. Singer Nelly Furtado got $1 million from the regime for putting on a private 45-minute show at a hotel in Italy; in 2011, after this gig was exposed in the media, she tweeted “I am going to donate the $.”

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Usher

In the same year, Wikileaks cables revealed that several other stars had raked in impressive sums for entertaining the Qaddafi family. Beyonce responded by announcing that she’d be contributing to Haitian earthquake relief the fee she’d earned for a New Year’s Day 2009 bash on St. Bart’s. Mariah Carey, who’d received $1 million to sing four songs for the Qaddafis around the same time, said she’d been “naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for” and pronounced herself “embarrassed to have participated in this mess.” Other names on the infamous list included Usher and 50 Cent – neither of whom publicly expressed remorse or promised to give away their ill-gotten gains.