Chelsea Handler Syndrome

Human beings enjoy testing boundaries.

Think of all the classic comedies you love: many of the jokes revolve around people gently testing the norms of propriety and then being slapped on the wrist and forgiven or given another chance after demonstrating a modicum of shame and remorse. Think Groucho Marx. Think John Belushi in Animal House and Blues Brothers, Chevy Chase in Fletch and Vacation, Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover films, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Think Marc Maron, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler, Jimmy Kimmel, Dave Chappelle, and Conan O’Brien asking marginally inappropriate, provocative, or revealing questions while interviewing guests and pretending to have normal unscripted conversations. Asking someone on television the craziest place he or she ever made whoopee was shocking in the 1970s; now it is de rigueur.

If I went into the supermarket and asked the cashier some of the questions Chelsea Handler asks guests on her talk show, I would be arrested.

Chelsea Handler is inappropriate to the point of catharsis so that we do not have to be.

I actually describe some people ’s behavior as the result of what I call “Chelsea Handler syndrome”: the ability to make people feel extremely uncomfortable while remaining oblivious to the fact that you caused it. Yes, she does this under the guise of “being authentic” and is (1) not dumb and (2) often hysterical, particularly in her writing. All this proves is that authenticity does not bring out the best in everyone. Chelsea Handler is authentic to the point of being offensive. Brilliantly offensive. I have never met a happy comedian, but I believe that the ability to find humor in the absurdity of the things that we take to be “normal” is quite a gift.

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