Chelsea Handler: The Anti Oprah

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Jeff Minton For TIME

Chelsea Handler

In this week’s issue of TIME, Karl Taro Greenfeld profiles Chelsea Handler, who, he says, is “the final iteration of decades of salty female comics, from Phyllis Diller to Joan Rivers to Kathy Griffin to Sarah Silverman.”

You’ll have to pick up a paper copy of the magazine (or subscribe! Hey, that’s a good idea, you should probably subscribe!) to read the full article. But I call attention to this quote because when I read the article, I kept thinking about Sarah Silverman.

Hander’s one-two punch of comedic tell-all memoirs and stand-up shows have earned her a large, devoted following among women and gay men — a following so devoted that they will wait in long, winding lines just for a chance to meet and be insulted by their idol. But her audience seems largely devoid of straight males — unlike Silverman, who has always had a hefty heterosexual dude following. I would think that the broader, cross-gender appeal would be a prerequisite for becoming mainstream, but maybe I’m wrong.

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Greenfeld also mentions Handler’s penchant for drinking (in the article, she says that if she wants to maintain her weight, she can either have carbs or alcohol but not both; she chooses alcohol) and blatant promiscuity, which he characterizes as both edgy and comforting at the same time. We’re shocked when Handler tells us what she did last night, but her sins somehow make us feel better about our own.

But one of the most interesting things that struck me about Greenfield’s article is his claim that America still finds the idea of a foul-mouthed female comedian shocking. I thought we got over our prejudice against loudmouthed, opinionated women with Roseanne Barr and I’d hoped that we’d resolved the “Wait, women can tell poop jokes too?” question with Silverman. For a while there, Silverman looked poised to take the idea of dirty-mouthed women mainstream. She never had a talk show, but she did have The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central for three seasons (it ended in 2010). But for whatever reason, she fell short, and now Chelsea Handler has reached no. 33 on Forbes’ list of most powerful women in the world instead of her.