Anyone who has seen her work knows Chelsea Handler is good on her feet. If a situation demands that she improvise, Handler can handle it with a quick wit and withering smile.
In juggling the demands of a rapidly expanding career, though, improvisation only goes so far for the 32-year-old stand-up comic, TV personality and author.
Sometimes, she explains during a short phone chat from Santa Monica, Calif., you just have to grit your teeth and smile - and hope there’s a comfortable place to put your posterior.
“The stand-up material comes easily,” Handler says, talking in polite, rapid-fire bursts during a break from filming ending segments for her late-night comedy talk show on E!, “Chelsea Lately.”
“It’s the travel that is the most challenging. I’ve been doing stand-up for 12 years, so I have my feet underneath me. It’s the plane rides that are the pain in the (rear).”
“Chelsea Lately” first aired on July 16, and in late August it was renewed for 50 more episodes. The show, which features Handler and a panel of two or three people talking about pop culture and skewering the foibles of the famous, was called “embarrassingly watchable” by The New York Times. Handler herself was designated “one of four or five stand-ups who have lately emerged as heiresses to the great bad-girl comic Joan Rivers.”
Asked what her current stand-up show might include, Handler says, “I’ll probably mix it up, some old stuff, some new. It depends what kind of mood I’m in. But I’ll be talking to the audience for an hour.”
No doubt there will be jabs at her friends and their babies, the travails of being a bridesmaid and a recap of her alcohol-soaked romantic adventures, which she amusingly and fearlessly laid out in her 2005 book “My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands.” The incident that is most often mentioned took place in Cabo San Lucas and involved a little person, a lot of tequila, a blackout and waking up to the pitter-patter of little feet. “I was so confused,” Handler writes, “at first I thought, `Oh great, I had a baby.’”
Will she offer a sample of her second book, “Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” which comes out in 2008?
“It’s pretty much along the same lines (as `My Horizontal Life’),” says Handler, who grew up in Livingston, N.J., the youngest of six children born to a Jewish father and a Mormon mother. “There’s some dating stuff in it. But you can’t write two books about one-night stands if you have any serious expectation of ever getting a marriage proposal.”
Handler says the book will include her thoughts on “dating a redhead, and why it isn’t safe,” and an account of the vacation she took with her father where they were mistaken for honeymooners. “Mom had passed away, and I took him to Costa Rica for two weeks,” Handler explains. “He was 75 and balding. It was very disturbing.”
Another potential topic: The baby-sitting service she started when she was 12. “I started my own business because my parents had no dowry for me and I was worried,” she says. “I ran it from their Martha Vineyard’s summer house. I baby-sat for a 14-year-old boy all summer and was giving him time-outs, even though I was two years younger than him.”
Asked who her favorite celebs are at the moment, Handler replies, “Britney (Spears) is always interesting because she’s always doing something stupid. I was on vacation in Spain last week, in Ibizia, and it’s upsetting when you have such good stuff going on and you’re not here to enjoy it.
“Then there’s Nicole Richie and (“Heroes” actress) `Lindsay’ Hayden Panettiere, who is on the cusp of becoming a major disaster.”
And the celebs she would most like to interview? “Paula Abdul - I’d like to ask her if I could borrow some of what she’s using; Clay Aiken, because I would like to know who does he think he’s fooling, and Condoleeza Rizzo, whom you know as Condoleezza Rice.”
As a rule, Handler seeks out for her show “people who can make fun of themselves. Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes don’t interest me because they are so guarded and protected. I want my guests to have given more information about themselves than before I had them on.”
As the interview concludes, Handler is asked a question about taste. She has been known to push the envelope with jokes such as: “I don’t like to see homeless people with dogs. I saw one today and he asked me for some money to buy food. Why should I give him money when he has a perfectly delicious dog standing right next to him?”
So what is her reaction to comedian Sarah Silverman’s broadsides at Britney (“She is 25 years old and she’s already accomplished everything she’s going to accomplish in her life”) and Britney’s sons, Jayden and Sean, who turn 1 and 2 next week (“They are the most adorable mistakes you will ever see!”) during her monologue at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 9?
“The stuff Silverman said about Britney is kinda true,” offers Handler, “and if it’s funny, it’s funny. ... Britney is a disaster that should be ridiculed over and over again. And it’s my responsibility as a comedian to do so.”