Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.
It went roughly like this, says comedian Jen Kirkman: She had this idea for a book about the struggle not to have children. She told her agent about it. The agent told an editor at Simon & Schuster. The editor was familiar with Kirkman from her regular panel appearances on Chelsea Lately, Chelsea Handler’s dishy late-night talk show on E!, where Kirkman is also one of the show’s writers.
Kirkman got a book deal. That book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, recently debuted on The New York
Times Best Seller List. It has drawn favorable reviews,
and Kirkman is proud of it. She also harbors no illusions about the push the book got from Handler’s seal of approval, just as she knows the value in being on Handler’s panel every other week.
“There’s nowhere else where your comedic persona is getting exposed a few times a month for years on TV,” Kirkman says.
For comedians, the Chelsea Handler Effect flies in the face of the last several decades in late-night television. Comedians are still introduced to the nation on Conan, or trotted out as panelists on shows like The Burn With Jeff Ross on Comedy Central.
But the implied gravitas of Johnny Carson giving the thumbs-up to a young Drew Carey or Jerry Seinfeld or Roseanne Barr is long gone from television. So too is the loose and improvisatory atmosphere where mismatched celebrity guests comingled on Carson’s set.
“I think the Carson thing people say because there’s this anointing that goes on that doesn’t go on if your standup is just featured on Comedy Central,” Kirkman says.
Kirkman, who started in standup in 1997 and has been part of the Comedians of Chelsea Lately comedy tour, analyzes the audience response this way: “Just by having you on and interacting with you they think of you as Chelsea’s friend—then they like you. So they come to see you. They might not know what your material is as a standup, but they’ve bought into the cult of you because of the cult of Chelsea’s personality.”
Kirkman’s book was done through Simon & Schuster, as was fellow regular Heather McDonald’s You’ll Never Blue Ball in This Town Again and Sarah Colonna’s Life As I Blow It. Josh Wolf (It Takes Balls) and Ross Mathews (Man Up!: Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence) hatched their books through Handler’s Borderline Amazing publishing brand.
Mathews also has a new E! show, HelloRoss, through Handler’s production company.
“We’re all tweeting about each other’s books,” Mathews says. “That all stems from her vibe of ‘Everyone can win.’ I’ve heard her say that there’s room for everyone.”
In that sense, Handler, seems less like Carson and more like Oprah’s blonde Mini-Me.