If there's one thing Chelsea Handler likes more than vodka, it's Hillary Clinton. Ever since Handler's Chelsea premiered on Netflix in May, I wondered when her Clinton praise would subside and the Donald Trump jokes would evolve into more than the occasional jab. When would Handler use her chance as Netflix's first-ever talk show host to get characteristically outspoken?
Once Clinton secured the Democratic nomination, Handler urged viewers to buy into the progressive fantasy that Donald Trump had no chance at winning, which fed into the show's general light and positive air (except when it comes to addressing marriage and having children, which she skewers over and over). Then Trump won.
When CNN anchor Jake Tapper appeared on the Nov. 18 episode of Chelsea, "Inside the Trump Tower Bubble," he assured Handler that Trump's win will be a boon to her show — that it would be "better than ever with Donald Trump in the White House than it would've been with Hillary Clinton in the White House."
"Because your voice and your opposition — that's where comedy thrives, is in opposition and speaking truth to power," Tapper said. "And you're a fan of Hillary Clinton, obviously, and I think your voice will be more valuable and more powerful in opposition to the person in the White House."
I couldn't agree more. We need Handler to use her presence on the web's most popular video streaming site to burn Trump.
Chelsea has suffered from what the New York Post has described as too many "polite, pat-on-the-back exchanges." Instead of being her usual scathing self, Handler has thus far spent too much time inviting her friends onto the talk show and congratulating their successes. As much as I agree with Handler politically, her repeated endorsements of Clinton only added to the show's sweet and chirpy tone.
"Sweet and chirpy" works for plenty of entertainers, but those are not the qualities I love about Handler. What I love about Handler is that she's biting, bold and honest. This is the woman whose book, My Horizontal Life, chronicled her fifty most memorable one night stands in an era when the word "slut" is still used pejoratively. Talking to Gwyneth Paltrow about her lifestyle kingdom isn't exactly edgy material. No wonder the show's reviews from the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Fortune, and other outlets have been less than raving. As the New York Times points out, it "seems just like the talk shows it says it isn't."
Tapper's appearance on Chelsea came after the segment about Maria Shriver critiquing Handler's interviewing style, which in and of itself felt like a turning point in the show. The CNN host acknowledged that Handler would've preferred to have her candidate of choice, even if it meant not having as "good of a show" for the next four years. But this is an opportunity for her to thrive.
Comedy isn't supposed to be nice. As English novelist Mark Haddon told the Guardian in a 2004 interview, "Comedy without darkness rapidly becomes trivial. And darkness without comedy rapidly becomes unbearable."
Handler already knows that comedy thrives on the edge. She hasn't built her career on being demure or a so-called nice girl. I've been hanging onto Chelsea in the hope that the host will sharpen the unapologetic mean girl schtick I find so inspiring, especially since she is the first and only talk show host on Netflix.
Of course, just because I find Handler's usual candor inspiring doesn't mean I think she is perfect, particularly when it comes to making race jokes. Like Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, Handler is a problematic white feminist comedian. The Tumblr page Your Fave is Problematic does a fine job of documenting Handler's less-than-shining moments, like joking that she needs a new "black lady friend" because her last black girlfriend robbed her. Or calling a Chinese photographer Vietnamese for the sake of making a Vietnam War joke. Or saying that Persians are only good for oil and hummus. Handler herself says over and over again on Chelsea that she has much to learn. As the child of an Salvadoran immigrant, I'm somewhat reassured by her out-of-studio segments that involve visits to other countries where she asks people about their culture. They can be annoying, but at least they demonstrate effort and interest.
Hopefully, that involves learning that this is her time to use Chelsea (and namely Netflix) to hone in on Trump's misogyny. While Handler still has a lot to learn about intersectional feminism, she triumphs when it comes to using comedy as a means to observe sexism. She's all about women having the right to make choices — in sex, marriage, child-rearing and beyond. Many women can relate to these predicaments, just as many women (even those who voted for him) found Trump's pussy-grabbing remarks offensive.
Handler didn't have much funny to say about Clinton because she was constantly complimenting her. She was too adoring to be critical. But Chelsea is already showing signs of improvement, with the newer "A Day in the Life of Donald Trump" segments that popped up on the show not long before the election.
We need Handler's scathing criticism to help keep politicians like Trump in check and to keep us laughing through the hard days ahead. We need as many voices in comedy and entertainment at large to take on this challenge — especially the voices of women, people of color, immigrants, and Muslims. Add Chelsea to the chorus. Netflix has given her the platform for its first ever late-night talk show. She might as well use this opportunity and her talent as a comedian to thrive under the Trump administration.