Chelsea Handler didn’t waste any time setting the tone at the Citi Wang Theatre Friday night. After mentioning that she had seen an apparently battered woman at a book signing in Boston earlier in the day, she launched into what seemed to be a serious message directed at victims of domestic violence. But of course it wasn’t. “Could it have been your fault?” she asked. “Maybe you gained some weight.”
Handler’s brand of humor is subversive, filthy, and heavy on humiliation, and it’s led to a successful career as a best-selling author and late-night E! talk show host of “Chelsea Lately.” She is unafraid to show unflattering pictures of herself, often partially clothed, and make fun of her friends and family. She tells self-deprecating, disgusting stories about herself and tosses out random comments such as, “Do you think it’s OK to drink while you’re pregnant if you’re planning to give the baby up for adoption?”
Handler appeared all in black for the second show of the night, her blond hair bobbed above her shoulders, sipping on what appeared to be a vodka drink. Drinking was a popular topic, as was her recent trip to Africa, chronicled in her new book, “Uganda Be Kidding Me,” the cover of which she shamelessly flashed on the screen throughout her hourlong set.
No subject is off limits for Handler. She punctuated stories about excrement and body hair and boogers with pictures that she punched up on an iPad — the raunchier the better — and they got a cheap laugh every time.
Handler likes to play up her bad-girl status. During a ski accident in which she tore her ACL, she said, “I may or may not have been on E.” But for as nasty as she comes off, her comments about not wanting men to talk or open their eyes during sex show a surprisingly prudish side.
As with most comics, there’s some pain behind her humor. She talked at length about how men are afraid to date her, and how her friends counsel her to be less masculine and aggressive. But men’s reluctance to get involved with her is partially due to the fact that they don’t want to be made fun of on her show, she admitted. And who can blame them?
Handler is nothing if not true to who she is, and she is not afraid to put her messy, unconventional life out there for all the world to see. In that way, she is more of a personality than a comedian, and a savvy one at that, mining her niche thoroughly with books, TV, and stand-up tours that allow her to continually cross-promote herself. It’s not the jokes audiences come for, because there really aren’t many, it’s her.
Needham native Jen Kirkman, a regular panelist on Handler’s TV show, opened the night with bits about hair extensions, marriage, and divorce. Like Handler, Kirkman is an irreverent, foul-mouthed 39-something single woman who likes to shock her audiences into submission.Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.