A Female Comedian Gets Free Rein

July 06, 2016

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I have always believed that being a stand-up comedian must be one of the toughest jobs on the planet. And, having watched many of them over the years (as we all have) I’ve come to the conclusion that many are just not that funny – no matter how much money they’re making. But one who got me laughing right from the beginning – was CHELSEA HANDLER.

So, I was very interested in an article that I spotted in Fast Company magazine, May 2016 by Benjamin Svetkey. There was just one problem: it ran 10 pages and I only write 500-plus words for these weekly blogs. Mind you, it’s a fascinating article – but daunting in length. So, this is my approach: I am starting with the SINGLE, most important and newsworthy item first and then going BACK with a brief glimpse into Handler’s history.

WHERE SHE IS RIGHT NOW – This 41-year-old stand-up comedian, turned E! Network star, turned streaming pioneer, will be spending the next several years inside a 16,000 sq. ft. soundstage in Culver City, California.

Her show, called Chelsea, will have a staff of 50 producers, writers, editors and researchers. It will stream three nights a week – on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays – and will feature interviews with a variety of guests discussing touchy topics. There will also be a live audience and lots of wild-card elements. “I’m looking for a 10-year-old boy with attitude,” she says.

HOW SHE’S WORKING RIGHT NOW – “Give me options,” she says. I’ll tell you what I like and don’t like. It won’t be regimented. You’re not going to turn it on three nights a week and have an opening monologue, a guest and a band. It will be completely different.” And in one respect, it already is: it’s on Netflix.

WHAT EXACTLY IS NETFLIX? It’s a streaming service that prides itself on giving talent virtually unlimited creative freedom while also aiming to rewrite the viewing habits of the entire world. And it has a $6 billion budget with which to do all of this. There are no ads, no ratings and no network notes. “The company is amazing,” says Handler.

HOW ABOUT THE RISK FACTORS? Yes, there are risks for Netflix. The company is putting its money and reputation (90 minutes a week of bandwidth) behind a controversy-prone comedian who has made enemies of everyone from Angelina Jolie to Nick Cannon. That said Handler has 5.8 million Twitter followers and 2.1 million Instagram followers.  

WHAT LED UP TO HANDLER’S CURRENT GIG? She hosted Chelsea Lately for seven years, five days a week and reportedly made between $8 and $12 million a year for her work. This was a groundbreaker: the first female comic to succeed at late-night-TV hosting – something not even Joan Rivers was able to do.

GROWING UP IN SUBURBAN NEW JERSEY as the youngest of six children and raised without much supervision left her with an independent streak. After “about 10 minutes of community college” she left for Los Angeles to become an actress. 

In her 2008 best-selling memoir (the second of five), Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea she tells the story of how she was stopped by the police on the eve of her 21st birthday. Whereupon she spent the night in jail and was ultimately sentenced to DUI classes. It was there she realized her calling. “You ought to do stand-up,” her DUI classmates told her. “That was my entrée into the entertainment world,” she says today. 

MAY WE SUGGEST…

Summer travels can be more fun with the right layering tops: long-sleeves for a chilly, air-conditioned plane – no sleeves when landing in a hot spot.

Shaun Nelson-HenrickSave

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