Gina Gallow - Vulgarity Works

Vulgarity Works

Gina Gallo


            Very casually, comedian Chelsea Handler walks onto a small platform. She introduces herself and with no hesitation she gets right into her act. In this short piece from the clip “Secret Stand-Up: Chelsea Handler (Hilarious!),” Handler states:

You know when you’re dating someone like the first couple times, weeks or something and you’re dating and in a new relationship and you go to the bathroom and sometimes girls don’t know if it’s going to be a number one or a number ‘twosie,’ sometimes it’s both, sometimes it’s a double jack pot, and you’re like ‘Oh.’ Like you go down for one and you’re like Oh, something’s creeping out here. (“Secret Stand-Up: Chelsea Handler (Hilarious!))

This stand-up routine was performed in Handler’s earlier years of being a comedian. It just goes to show that Handler never fails to open up one of her acts without a bang of vulgarity.

            In this particular stand-up routine, Handler speaks about girls who have recently started dating a guy and their experiences while using the bathroom. She also speaks about people who have babies and after the baby was born they refer to their age in months instead of years. Handler relates it to being a grown up at a bar and saying: “yeah, I’m four hundred and eighteen months, come and get it.” She says this while rotating her hips around, causing the crowd to burst out into laughter as she controls the stage in which she stands on.

            Handler never once uses a prop besides the microphone she carries in her hand throughout the performance. She never hides behind the microphone or uses it as a safety net. Instead, she uses it to show the sense of control she has taken over the stage. She does this by holding the microphone very firmly and demanding the presence of those who are watching her. She dresses very plain, jeans and a black shirt. This allows more attention to be on what she is saying, rather than what she is wearing.

              Her body posture is very relaxed, which allows the audience to feel relaxed as well. Handler uses hand gestures and body movements to get her point clearly across and create more humor. She also changes the pitch in her voice throughout the routine, showing great emotion or pathos. The demographic Handler appeals to is younger individuals, adults in their twenties and thirties.

            In order to build a relationship with the audience, kairos is everything and Handler uses her timing perfectly. She makes sure to stop in the perfect places, so that her audience has time to process everything she has said. For example, “And I come out and I’m like hey, do you want to get something to eat, like quickly and he’s like (pause) did you just take a dump (pause) it’s like no I didn’t (pause), that’s pretty disgusting that you actually say that, why would you say that, did you take a dump in your pants, you sick-o” (“Secret Stand- Up: Chelsea Handler”). As you can see, Handler puts a pause in just the right places.

              The Davis Theory is depicted perfectly in Handler’s stand-up. The Davis theory involves laughing at indifference and that is exactly what Handler makes her audience do. She makes fun of adults who have babies. It is as if just because they began having babies that they now all of a sudden have to talk in months. She also makes fun of the fact of how hard it is for a girl to take a “dump” on the first date.  She uses the stage rather well. She makes sure to use the entire platform, rather than just one part of the stage. Another theory that is also seen which demonstrates one of the theories of humor is the incongruity theory. The incongruity theory states that humor is irrational and we laugh at something we consider taboo. That is exactly what Handler allows her audience to do. She takes something totally inappropriate and makes her audience laugh because of it. Her comedy deals with the violation of expectations. What we think is going to happen in situations does not. 

            While some may say that Handlers comedy can be quite controversial, many people think it is funny.  Some may say they do not like her comedy because it is too vulgar for them, especially the piece about using the bathroom. Many people like to act like talking about using the bathroom is so wrong when we all know going to the bathroom is a natural thing, so why is it such a crime to talk about? Others find her sense of humor great. They find light in topics that Handler brings up and they admire her sense of bringing laughter to those awkward situations, or at least those situations that people think are awkward. 

            Personally, I find the vulgarity of the routine rather funny. Handler just makes it work. This is the point that Virginia Heffernan makes in her on-line New York Times article, “A Pop Savant, Up Late and Armed With Wit.” Hefferman states: “she’s a writer, above all, she can turn a joke around fast. She’s genuinely good looking, and has a way of saying withering things through a smile that works.” To those that do not speak Handler’s language, she may come off trashy to them. It is just that type of humor that you either find funny or you do not at all and if you find Handler funny, then you absolutely love her comedy. 

            I feel that people take life too seriously sometimes. Handler knows how to make light in some of the worst situations. She makes jokes about situations that many rather just not talk about, such as the stand-up routine previously mentioned about girls taking a “dump” on their dates. Many may find that rather disgusting and many may find humor despite how gross it may sound. Many rather just pretend these topics of life do not exist. This is the point that Karl Taro Greenfeld makes in her Time article, “The Anti Oprah.” Greenfeld states: “she has become a symbol of our mania for compulsive and frank discussion of what previous eras would have been divulged only to ones shrink or simply buried and left to fester in our deep, dark subconscious.”   

            Handler has such a willingness to talk about anything and that is what makes her so talented. She has no filter what-so-ever and this has a lot to do with her childhood. According to Greenfeld’s article, Handler grew up in Livingston, New Jersey and she was the youngest of six children. Handler’s father was Jewish, her mother was Mormon and she sought attention from them even if it was not always for the right reasons. Many feel, Handler really began to change after the death of her older brother Chet which is when she cried out for the most attention.  After her brother died, her family was so consumed with the grieving process that Handler began acting out for attention. Handler wanted to lift her family’s spirits after such a tragic incident took place in her life. The fact that she can create humor in some of the darkest moments in her own life, says a lot about the individual Handler really is. It shows that she doesn’t make comedy to disrespect people, rather she does it to bring joy to people’s lives. In any occupation, when a person does their job with a meaning behind it, they succeed.

            She is a very confident person and that is sometimes key for demanding people’s attention. Handler shows all women out there that it is possible for woman to be just as funny as men. According to Greenfeld, Handler allowed for a whole new audience to be brought to stand up, young women from age eighteen to thirty four. Comedy is so much more than just getting up on a stage and making people laugh; it allows people to relax and for a short time, forget about the everyday worries that consume and control their lives.

            Those who do not like vulgarity will not find Handler’s stand-up funny, but what is stand-up if you can’t even laugh about inappropriate material. I feel people just have to let loose sometimes. Let’s face it: half of the material that is funny out there is highly inappropriate and if you don’t laugh, you are just missing out on the fun!


Works Cited

Greenfeld, Karl Taro. "The Anti Oprah." Time 28 Nov. 2011: n. p. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <>.

Heffernan, Virginia. "A Pop Savant, Up Late and Armed With Witt." The New York Times [New York] 6 Sept. 2007: n. p. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <>.

“Secret Stand-Up: Chelsea Handler (Hilarious!).” YouTube. n.p., 24 Aug. 2008. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. <>.