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#7 Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

By (October 1, 2010) 18 Comments

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

By Chelsea Handler
Grand Central Publishing, 2010

It’s hard not to like Chelsea Handler, only you keep wishing she were funny. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang is her third book to reach the bestseller list, and its essays are simply extended versions of monologues that might appear on her benign, endearingly low-budget, and unfunny talk show Chelsea Lately. Viewers of the show – TV viewers in general, really – will find its contents as undemanding as an hour surfing Youtube clips. Handler’s basic-cable entourage are all featured: her no-nonsense personal assistant Eva, her pale, mouth-breathing producer Brad, her amiable dwarf sidekick Chuy (pronounced Chewy), and so on. Their presence in her narratives keeps Handler feeling comfortable, and allows her to ramble on for the requisite number of triple-spaced pages in the inoffensive bantering style that has helped her stake a claim in the male-dominated field of late night television, and recently earned her a gig hosting the Video Music Awards (a performance that, sadly, was not well-received, owing to the fact that it wasn’t funny).

Handler’s running shtick, in which her viewers and readers get to be complicit, is that she is supposed to be an edgy, unfiltered, bitch-on-wheels personality type. The truth, of course, is that all of her material would be perfectly at home on The View, that elephant’s graveyard of once-talented women. Here she writes about farting in public, getting “the feeling” as a young girl, drinking before noon. All of it seems like it may have been moderately shocking forty years ago, and that in turn lends her essays a warm sense of nostalgia, for the era of Bob Hope and Henny Youngman, when comedy was mannered, friendly, winking, and unfunny. The dedication in Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang just needs a rimshot: “To my brothers and sisters. What … a bunch of assholes.”

Given the widespread toleration for the onetime “seven words you can’t say on TV” (and that the number one book on this bestseller list is called Shit My Dad Says), there are a surprising number of safe-for-work euphemisms throughout these essays – but that’s clearly part of Handler’s faux-wild girl appeal. Her first piece, about her discovery of masturbation as an eight-year-old, gives us the cutesy slang “hot pocket in a pita,” “magic muffin,” “baby bean,” and, a little out of place perhaps, “albino pincushion.” A later essay is mostly about how her dog Chunk is unable to take a “shadoobie” in her presence. Handler’s large family, characterized as unregenerate screw-ups, are adorably tame, squabbling in their Martha’s Vineyard beach house about God knows what, getting high and eating sandwiches. The drugs in this world are Vicodin and – be careful now – mushrooms.

On occasion, Handler will venture her big toe over the line of political correctness, albeit in perplexing ways. “Hawaii bores me,” she writes. “There’s no nightlife, and whenever I’m there, I wake up at seven. If I wanted to wake up at seven, I’d adopt a black baby.” But before you’ve had time to puzzle over that newly-minted stereotype, she introduces us to her beloved chauffeur Sylvan (some of my best drivers are black!), whom she takes on an expensive beach vacation and pairs up with a sassy black woman named Wendy. “You white people are CUH-razy,” says Wendy, who didn’t even know about the ‘shrooms. The foil to all these yuks is Handler’s then-boyfriend Ted Harbert, who’s the CEO of Comcast and therefore, rather interestingly, the head of the E! network, which puts on Handler’s show. But he might as well be Ricky Ricardo, as his roles include engaging in a dance-off with one of Handler’s exes and being the butt of a prank that was filmed and later aired on her next appearance with Jay Leno, our reigning heavyweight champion of comfortably unfunny comedy.

Only the first two essays here, about Handler’s girlhood, show any semblance of having been written and constructed – the rest are more like slice of C-list celebrity life. But at one point she expresses what almost resembles a writerly ethos of a sort: “I am fascinated by anyone and everything,” she says, “especially if it involves a childhood story about an inappropriate uncle or obesity.” Human curiosity is not exactly a common trait in television stars, and that too must be what makes her such a likable commodity. I came away from Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang hoping she’d spend more of her capital on time for real writing about things that fascinate her. And maybe, in doing that, she’ll drop the whole awkward pretense of trying to tell jokes.

Sam Sacks is an editor for Open Letters living in New York. His book reviews have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and The Barnes and Noble Review, amongst other places.

Read #8, Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne


  • Mickey says:

    I get that this is the Bestseller issue, but what exactly motivates a man to write 700 words on Chelsea Handler (five of which are variants of “unfunny”)? To further build his rep as a scourge of “unserious” culture? Critics who take on a given book for the purposes of talking down to it might at least do the work of providing context…What might Handler’s popularity suggest about the current states of comedy, tv, and/or feminism? If nothing, then the question is again begged–why bother?

    Re: The View–What illustrious achievements of its panel was the reviewer thinking of when he deemed the show a graveyard for the once talented? Oscar interviews? Whoopi Goldberg’s film career? Isn’t it possible that a lot of these women are actually doing their best work on this show, whatever one thinks of it?

    Re: Bob Hope. Has the reviewer ever seen Hope in any of the Road films w/ Bing Crosby? If indeed he has and doesn’t think that Hope is funny in, say, the Road to Morocco, I feel sorry for him. I don’t find Handler amusing, but I’m curious–What does the reviewer actually find funny, either in the past or present (and please don’t say “Rabelais”)?

  • Pluto says:

    The reviewer may have used five variants of unfunny to stress that it failed to move him/her to laughter. Ask yourself whether you were really laughing at Bob Hope in the Road to Morocco or were you merely expressing approval of and nostalgia for a simpler, kinder comedy.

  • Mickey says:

    Hold on, let me ask myself.

    Nope, I was laughing because it was funny. I’m going to take a wild guess that you haven’t actually seen the film, or indeed any Bob Hope movie. Ask yourself this, oh former planet and current sock-puppet: are you showing your nostalgia for the Authoritative Voice in trying to pass off condescension as criticism?

  • Mickey says:

    Do you think Woody Allen’s 70’s films are funny? Do you know how often Allen has professed his indebtedness to Hope in terms of performance style? Just curious.

    Btw, introducing one’s black chauffer would more likely count as flaunting, however unfunnily, a disregard for political correctness, wouldn’t it? So what is “some of my best drivers are black” supposed to mean in this context?

    It’s true that you (I’m sorry, “the reviewer”) place CH on a continuum of blandness, but given how pseudo you profess to find her edginess, she might have been more interestingly placed in the tradition, or ongoing pervasiveness, of the pseudo-transgressive. It would also have been interesting to mention what, if anything, you do find comedically transgressive in 2010. Saying that because she’s unfunny she therefore resembles Bob Hope just seems arbitrary, and to miss any number of points.

  • Pluto says:

    Oh you bold postmodern protector of the low-brow, you. Do I find 1970s Woody Allen funny? Sometimes. Does his indebtedness to Bob Hope make me think him funnier? Not in the least. Is Woody Allen spared the “authoritative voice of condescension” (Hey, weren’t you in my Feminism 101 class in 1989?) when he’s not funny? No, he’s fair game because he’s a male intellectual. The only one condescending here is you and your “arbitrary” defense of little miss unfunny. But I’m sure your girlfriend is impressed.

  • Mickey says:

    The idea was to better appreciate Bob via Woody’s appropriations. (Were you asleep at the back of my Anxiety of Influence class in 1991?)

    Woody’s fair game for…uh…criticism when he’s not funny because he’s a male intellectual? You’re obviously much smarter than me, as I have no idea what that means.

    And yes, my girlfriend is easily impressed. It’s why she so reveres the writing of Sam Sacks.

  • Pluto says:

    Thank you, but to your credit you’re obviously much more comedically transgressive than me. (Your girlfriend must also doze off a lot when you’re speaking). Listen, if you really want to better yourself in your girlfriend’s eyes, stop engaging in this spineless unsigned meta-criticism of yours (I think they call it blogger-envy). Go try to publish some real criticism where you can employ all your regurgitated ideas on the authoritative voice and Bob Hope erudition – and won’t that make for a nifty read!

  • Mickey says:

    I think they call what pervades at this website “delusions of competence.” I think they call the pompous, inept, status-hungry prose found in pretend-magazines like this “risible.”

    Wow, Pluto (undoubtedly your spineful given name), you’re really sweet on my girlfriend, huh? Tell me, are you *Sam’s* girlfriend, or just his redeployed sock? You obviously really love him. You both use twatty words like “nifty,” and “amongst,” which undoubtedly help you to pretend that you’re not just the sort of hustling mediocrity on which arts-sections everywhere rely, but rather a serious man of letters, a defender of great Traditions. Never mind that you can’t use English vocabulary correctly, or that your best day at the office wouldn’t make the cut at any publication that wasn’t maximally desperate for content.

    Maybe you should just be grateful that you’ve gotten this far, and not make yourself look any sillier than you already do.


  • Pluto says:

    Did you say “twatty”!
    Wow, I have to admit I didn’t expect to get you to reveal your deep-rooted misogyny so soon. Does your girlfriend know about this (hold on, I’ll ask her).

    How does it feel spending your days parroting your (community) college professor?

    What might Handler’s popularity suggest about the current states of comedy, tv, and/or feminism? (turn your papers in at the exam’s end, good boy!)

    Come on, admit it you silly knob, you have nothing to say. You’re a typical American rehashing the same pseudo-intellectual probing your daddy/teacher praised you for in college. The comment space allows you to finally switch the roles and play teacher. Don’t go through life fooling yourself or family: Comment-space criticism is not publishing. Yes, it can be used to boost your esteem, but this self-deception of the worst kind. Yes, it’s indeed impressive that you know Bob Hope’s early works. But it’s not Sam Sack’s fault that you seethe with envy at not having a byline of your own.

    No, I don’t actually know Sam Sack (but it sounds like you do – what, did he forget your name at a party?), but I do enjoy reading the rare American critic that doesn’t use the space to show how very sensitive and gifted he is (that’s what the comment space is for, as you know).

    You silly ass, get your thumb out of your mouth and go get yourself a byline.

  • Mickey says:

    Speaking of families, you smell like your parents’ money.

    And I’m sure you attended some world-renowned university, and not, God forbid, a community college, where all the durty poor people go.

    Brave, brave Pluto. Dwarf planet, dog of Goofy.

    You need to get over this website. It isn’t publishing, either. It’s a trust-funded comments section.

    You need to get over me, too. How does it feel to spend your days thinking about and frantically responding to some anonymous loser? Would you say it’s the next best thing to a byline?

  • Pluto says:

    And you smell like your parents, and more specifically like your mother.

    But good one with the dwarf planet…Did you get that one from Bob Hope?

  • Pluto says:

    Is that the best you can do? A conspiracy theory? You just keep telling yourself that, big boy.
    Here’s one for you to impress mummy with.


  • Mickey says:

    Glad to see you’ve switched from my girlfriend to my mother. I was getting worried about you.

    I’m sorry, but remind me how it’s evident that you aren’t just another flamer? Am I to assume that you’re a published writer, or you wouldn’t be emphasizing (presumptuously, of course) that I’m not?

    You’ve now posted *six* comments about how superfluous I am. Is that supposed to be impressive? Does it mark you as a winner that you’re engaging a byline-less troll? Who on earth would care so much but the original author?

    I really appreciate your setting me straight on Bob Hope, though.
    And the lectures about anonymous meta-criticism are resonant too. Especially from someone engaged so deeply in anonymous meta-meta-criticism.

    P.S. Your parents are rich.

  • Pluto says:

    And your parents are easily impressed and miss any number of points why you’re an intellectual fraud.
    You have nothing to worry about though. As long as you can keep up the hoax that you’re intelligent, and your parents don’t default, no one will suspect that you and your family are, deep down, white trash. A little bit of education can go a long way to fooling the neighbours.
    Yes, you clever boy, I am the original author. For it is impossible to read a review, see the sole comment as a transparent attempt to impress and react to the jealous tool. Only the original author could do that! I see you starred in logic too.
    You need to get over the fact that your parents pick their teeth at the table. You have no right to be embarrassed by their class.

  • G_Bird says:

    This may be the most accurate assessment of Chelsea Handler’s “comedy” that I have read to date. Well done Sam Sacks! This review is not just on-point – it’s funnier than Handler will ever be.

  • garymar says:

    I really hope Pluto and Mickey aren’t the same person. Their exchange was pretty funny. Please God, let it be real!

    I bought Handler’s earlier book at the airport, read through it on the flight (book finished before flight over), and then returned it for a 50% refund at the same bookstore on my way back! A win-win all around.

  • snort says:

    And after all that analysis…. Chelsey is still on… still quite popular and as mild as the show generally is… fun to watch.

    Yes its bland… but I suspect its designed to be that way. Her inability to tell a joke is actually part of the charm.

    Didn’t see the music awards but I do look forward to putting my tv on snooze to turn itself off after the show.


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