Chelsea Handler is like the Prince of comedy. Just like the Great Purple One’s harem of lingerie-clad proteges, Handler’s developed a side gig as a comic mentor, encouraging the careers of several of her writers on her E! talk show, Chelsea Lately. Loni Love’s Love Him or Leave Him, but Don’t Get Stuck with the Tab: Hilarious Advice for Real Women is just that – a collection of responses to letters asking for relationship advice – a sort of hipper, funnier Dear Abby. Meanwhile here colleague, Heather McDonald’s My Inappropriate Life: Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Small Children, Nuns, or Mature Adults is a series of essays that detail the comedienne’s family life, raising two children and maintaining a career in show business. Aside from wordy (read: clunky) titles, the two share similar virtues and debits: long, sustained flashes of hilarity broken up by brief, but not insignificant passages of mediocrity. It’s clear that both women are very talented, and it’s easy to see why Handler likes them; both books show encouraging promise that with a few more tomes, they could develop into excellent writers.
Love’s humor is primarily based on her adventures with love (see what I did there?). The advice she gives is pretty basic – none of it too profound, but all of it rooted in common sense. The draw for her book is her examples from her personal life that enliven the mundane pearls of wisdom she shares with her readers. It appears from the sheer scope of her stories, she’s had lots of experiences – ranging from having a girlfriend crush on her to dealing with being reduced to a racist stereotype by a would-be suitor’s Asian dad. Because Love’s gone through pretty much everything, she’s got a story for any kind of situation. The only problem is the letter-response format doesn’t always show off the author’s gifts – if she had confined her writing to strictly essays, the book would flow easier – as it is now, the letters break up the momentum, as do some bulleted bits of advice that she presents throughout the book. And while the advice she gives is fine, no one should be going into reading this book with serious marital issues. But again, once Love gets into sharing her anecdotes, the book really becomes very entertaining – normally, I suggest that comics reign in their ambitions when writing books (Bob Smith reached for sci-fi comedy with his Remembrance of Things I Forgot, and it was a lamentable failure), but with Love, I’d push for her to do more – I think it’d be great if she tried her hand at writing fiction. And given her smart observations of race on Chelsea Lately as well as her contributions as a panelist on the View rip-off, The Real, I’d also encourage her to possibly write a book of political essays, too. Still, as it is, Love Him or Leave Him, stands as a safe, solid piece of work.
Heather McDonald, on the other hand, does what she does best with My Inappropriate Life, share funny war stories of being a mom, wife and a working comic. McDonald’s a very talented comedienne, and she writes great prose – she has just the right amount of raunch in her tales that makes her work edgy, without making it smutty (a difficult and delicate balance that is rarely achieved by working comics). And though she takes pains to ensure that motherhood isn’t idealized, she comes off as a great mom – loving, understanding, with just the right amount of healthy scepticism, to keep her from ODing on mommyhood. There are some sore spots in her work, namely, with her handling of gay issues. First, it has to be said that McDonald is very gay-friendly, despite being a Catholic Republican. However, her view of gay men – at least on paper – is a very shallow, Sex and the City lite version vision – gay men are relegated to finger-snapping, mother-worshipping, fashion-loving sidekicks, waiting to be adopted as pets by loud and needy straight women. And though she gets to pat herself on the back with an episode where she teaches her kid about homophobia (a lesson he didn’t need, thanks to Modern Family), she undoes any genuine and sincere affection for gays with her severely reductive view of gay men. Tina Fey – a wonderful writer – has talked about this strange relationship that straight people have with the gay community, that definitely is rooted in unequal sources of privilege and power – unfortunately, McDonald doesn’t really scratch below the surface when looking at that relationship, and instead revels in it.
But aside from the benign homophobia, My Inappropriate Life has some great moments – particularly, when McDonald writes about being a mother. Some of the funniest bits have the author tussle with other moms who always seem one step further in preparedness. A particularly well-written piece has McDonald volunteer at her school by bringing bagels, but quickly her gesture of goodwill and generosity dissolve into a heinous act of carelessness when the other moms grill her on whether she took any precautions for peanut allergies. Or another essay, which is surprisingly poignant, shares a telling vulnerability when she doubts her son’s ability to get into a tony elementary school.
After finishing Love’s and McDonald’s books, I knew that these two women will easily transcend the “Chelsea Handler” brand and succeed on their own merits. What’s great about Handler’s vision is that despite the raucous and sarcastic nature of her comedy, she does have a wide, diverse palate when it comes to humorists: she covers all kinds of tastes, whether it’s the more bro-centric comedy of Josh Wolf, to the cerebral humor of Jen Kirkman. Both Love and McDonald have their respective niches, too – and it’ll be interesting to see them flourish.
Click here to buy Loni Love’s Love Him or Leave Him, but Don’t Get Stuck with the Tab: Hilarious Advice for Real Women on amazon.com.
Click here to buy Heather McDonald’s My Inappropriate Life: Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Small Children, Nuns, or Mature Adults on amazon.com.