I don’t have cable but when I’m in a hotel (rarely) and up late (rarely) and happen to have a TV on (rarely) I like Chelsea Handler’s show. It’s about as much Hollywood as I can really take in a given sitting and, recognition where due, Handler is an able comedienne.
For these reasons, I decided to check out her second book without having read the first Are you there Vodka, it’s me, Chelsea. I was expecting something along the lines of David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day) meets Stephanie Klein (Moose).
Almost predictably enough, the opening vignette was about female masturbation. Le Sigh. Why is it that every comedienne since Rita Rudner feels the unstoppable compulsion to write about their gear? I get it, you’re post-feminism, you can sleep around, and feel good whenever you want too, just like men, right men, you get that, just like you! A story about menstruation or masturbation serves to titillate (just enough) but also gives enough plausible deniability such that if any backward-looking Neanderthal says “Did you really have to open with that?” the questioner is either a repressive, oppressive, or a pleasure-hating troglodyte.
This vignette, it’s subject matter aside, covered what’s best in Handler’s writing. Her voice is not much different than Paul Feig’s or Stephanie Klein’s: being a young, kinda nerdy kid in America isn’t easy (especially when your family is insert identity class here) and leads to humiliation, often, especially where parents, sex, or worse parents and sex are concerned. Handler’s career in Hollywood seems to have its antecedents in her youth, for as she narrates the occurrences she never fails to mention the pop culture milestones around her: Growing Pains or a Three’s Company lunchbox. It’s a style that we often see in Tom Friedman (who never leaves a brand name out) or, visually, in Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson.
The opening story about getting “the feeling” and on the matter of the Cabbage Patch Doll are the strongest stories.
As I said, where her family or her history is the topic, her voice is the strongest. But this book was written after she achieved some level of fame with her first book and her show, “Chelesa Lately.” The second theme is life post-fame, stunts she pulls in Santa Monica on her CEO boyfriend (from whom she is now estranged, as the press has it), jaunts to Turks and Caicos, etc.
It is here that the substance is so thin that it has a hard time being spun into a narrative substantial enough for humor to bounce back off of it. It’s a bit like reading someone’s blog post or email dispatch about their spring break. “Oh man, our taxi driver was so crazy, he roped this iguana…”
Now, to be fair, I didn’t think I was picking up Catch-22 (one of the few books that can make me laugh out loud), but I did want some diversion from the oodles of boxes stuffed in my home and the hours of technical reading I’m doing at work. I guess I just expected this divertissement to be more…diverting.