It’s obvious from the moment Chelsea Handler steps on stage for her new Netflix special Revolution that she won’t have to work hard to make the crowd laugh. The audience filling Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium applaud raucously upon her arrival, and she waves back eagerly with both hands. When you’re of a certain level of fame, just showing up is enough to “kill.”
However, Handler keeps from completely resting on her laurels for the set. Her animated physical comedy draws in the casual viewer, spicing up jokes that may have otherwise just been okay. Handler delivers bits in funny and engaging ways, whether mugging at the crowd or serving an uproarious impression of her gagging on a vaginal suppository. There’s an undeniable verve to her performance.
That’s in contrast to the joke writing, though. Most of the bits are predictable—so predictable, in fact, that the audience often laughs in anticipation of the punchlines. Handler lets these moments last a bit too long, making you wish she’d just get to the expected zinger instead of drawing things out so much. In fact, Revolution could do with being tighter in general timewise. The special runs for 77 minutes and by no means needs all that time. Handler may tell some longer stories, but her jokes tend to be fairly self-contained and her execution of the thematic throughline (the effectiveness of which we’ll get to shortly) doesn’t justify the length, either. With a slightly more clipped momentum and shorter runtime, the special would be vastly improved.
As for themes, Revolution loosely centers around how straight white dudes suck and women deserve better. The notion is hardly as provocative as the title would have you think, and frankly her criticism of the patriarchy feels stale in this day and age. She also doesn’t spend much time on the topic until toward the end of the special, when she takes a left turn and gets sincere and rightfully incensed about how women have been mistreated throughout the ages. As a result, the sentiment, though true, feels unearned and tacked on.
One element of this final bit works, though. Handler talks about comedian Jo Koy, her now-ex and then-boyfriend, who also directed Revolution. The warmth with which she jokes about and praises Koy is genuinely very sweet. As Revolution ends, words flash on screen that subtly acknowledges their romance is over, but that also underline her enduring love and hope for the future.
Handler’s Revolution may not live up to its name, exactly, but she delivers the raunch and no-fucks-given attitude that her fans are looking for.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.