When one thinks of the late-night talk show, a subgenre of talk shows, prominent figures such as David Letterman, Jay Leno, or Jimmy Kimmel may come to mind. The late-night talk show arena is dominated by males. Only one female has been able to break into that arena and that is the sharp-tongued Chelsea Handler with her show Chelsea Lately.
Handler was born on February 25, 1975 in Livingston, New Jersey. She is the youngest of six children. Even at a young age she would insult people or say outrageous things to get a laugh and for the attention. At the age of nine, her older brother Chet died due to a hiking accident. This traumatic event affected Handler greatly. She was pushed to the side by her family because the focal point had become the fact that Chet had died. Chelsea wanted to be the center of attention so she then began to tell outrageous lies at school. Enjoying the spotlight the lies brought, she then decided to move to Hollywood in 1994, after high school, because she wanted to be famous and well known (Hedeguard, 2010).
Chelsea’s Hollywood success was not immediate. She spent many years bussing tables as a waitress and attending numerous auditions to no avail. She then set her sights on stand up where she received a much better response with her brash and sometimes vulgar act. Her first big break came when she landed a part on the sketch comedy show Girls Behaving Badly in 2002. Afterward she guest starred on numerous television shows such as My Wife and Kids, The Practice, and The Bernie Mac Show. In 2006, Handler starred in her own sketch comedy show called The Chelsea Handler Show. The following year, in 2007, Chelsea became the first female late night talk show host when her show Chelsea Lately premiered. Chelsea Lately aired from 2007 to 2014. After Handler’s contract with E! Entertainment expired she decided to continue her popular talk show on Netflix and produce a handful of dou-comedy specials that are to air between 2015 and 2016 (Chelsea Handler, 2015). Not only has Handler been a known television force she is also a New York Times best selling author. Handler has written many books including “Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang”, “Are You There Vodka?, It’s Me Chelsea”, and “Uganda Be Kidding Me” (Chelsea Lately Staff, 2013). Chelsea Handler has great success in the media industry but it has not come without some opposition.
According to Kearney (2012) the media is a patriarchal medium that “serve the needs of patriarchal society by suppressing and distorting woman’s experiences” (pg. 31). Late-night talk shows fall under this umbrella because, with the exception of Handler, all of the hosts have been male starting with Ed Sullivan and The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1940s. When David Letterman announced his retirement in 2014 there was a brief period of time where an immediate successor was not named. There was hope that Chelsea Handler might be the one to fill Letterman’s shoes but those hopes were squashed when Stephen Colbert was announced (Stahler, 2014). CBS had a chance to change up late-night but decided to stay with the status-quo that is a male dominated late-night line up.
Handler is no stranger to scandal. She is known for tweeting and posting outrageous things to her various social media accounts. In October of 2014 one of Handler’s risqué Instagram posts was taken down to her protest. Said post was a picture of Handler riding a horse topless mocking Vladimir Putin’s topless horseback picture of 2009. The photo was accompanied by the caption “Anything a man can do, a woman has the right to do better. #kremlin.”. She instantly put the picture back up again and it was again taken down in accordance with Instagram’s community guidelines. She then voiced her outrage on Twitter calling the incident “sexist”. Handler is not alone in the outrage, she’s just one of the more well known cases due to her stardom. Breastfeeding moms have voiced similar concerns when their semi nude picture have been taken down from their social media accounts. Many have argued that “nudity laws and policies like this amount to “female oppression.”” (Alter, 2014).
In conclusion, Chelsea Handler is a outrageously witty and cheeky comedian who has worked her way up the television entertainment ladder. She made history as the first female late-night talk show host and is not afraid to push the boundaries that the patriarchal media has set.
Alter, C. (2014). Instagram Is Right to Censor Chelsea Handler. Time.Com, 1.
Chelsea Handler. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 03:10, Feb 09, 2015, from http://www.biography.com/people/chelsea-handler-20680075.
Chelsea Lately Staff. (December 23, 2013). Chelsea lately bios: chelsea handler and chuy bravo. Retrieved from http://www.eonline.com/news/493513/chelsea-lately-bios-chelsea-handler-and-chuy-bravo
Hedegaard, E. (2010). Dirty Slutty Funny. Rolling Stone, (1113), 64-84.
Kearney, M. C. (2012) The gender and media reader. New York: Routledge
Stahler, K. (August 26, 2014). When ‘chelsea lately’ ends, there’ll be no women in late night – but there may be hope. Retrieved from http://www.bustle.com/articles/37495-when-chelsea-lately-ends-therell-be-no-women-in-late-night-but-there-may-be