[9 March 2009]
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)
For Chelsea Handler, it’s always happy hour.
In every sense.
That breathtakingly snarky sense of humor she trains on celebrities on her late-night series, “Chelsea Lately” (11 p.m. EDT, E!)? It isn’t an act that she drops as soon as the stage lights go off. That’s her genuine personality.
“My show is very representative of who I am during the day,” she says on the phone from the Los Angeles facility where her show is taped. “I’m not going to mouth some opinion just for effect, because the audience can smell that from a mile away.”
This is also a lady who, as she often reminds us, enjoys her cocktails.
“I definitely like craziness,” says the comic, who turned 34 on Feb. 25. “I drink quite frequently. But I don’t consider myself an alcoholic.”
She does, however, observe an end-of-the-week ritual on “Chelsea Lately.”
“Friday is margarita day,” she says. “They start running the blenders right after I come off the air (at approximately 4 p.m.). We start drinking immediately.”
So does this mean Chelsea may stumble out for her stand-up shows?
“Yes, I’ve been drunk on stage,” she admits. “I don’t make it a habit. But I always have a cocktail before I go on stage.”
Her stand-up performance differs from her TV show.
“It’s hard enough talking about celebrities five nights a week. I don’t want to do it on weekends as well,” she says. The stage show “is much more about my personal life. I talk about my family, my boyfriend, and my friends.” (Her boyfriend, Ted Harbert, is the CEO of the Comcast Entertainment Group, which operates E! - a situation that might help Handler when it comes to contract talks.)
The topics in her act, she maintains, closely resemble those in her two books. Handler’s humorous, autobiographical essays suggest David Sedaris’ hard-partying, crude cousin.
The first book, 2005’s “My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands,” dwells more on Chelsea’s misadventures as a single white female. If you believe her, she’s always played easy-to-get.
She recently observed on the show that past indiscretions would rule out her pursuing political office. “Let’s just say they involve a llama, Lorenzo Lamas, and the flute section of the USC marching band,” she declared.
Her cheeky candor is one of the things that makes her unique: She’s a hot blonde with a filthy mouth.
“Chelsea Handler is rare in that she’s an attractive woman who is able to speak frankly about her sexual exploits,” e-mails Traci Skene, editor of the stand-up comedy Web site SHECKYmagazine.
“In the past, her particular (brand of) bawdy humor would have only been accepted coming out of the mouth of a seemingly much older woman - Mae West for example. ... Chelsea manages to make it funny, believable, and acceptable.”
Handler’s second book, the best-selling “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” focuses more on her upbringing and how it shaped her.
She was born the youngest of six to a Jewish father and a Mormon mother in Livingston, N.J.
When it is pointed out to her that neither of those religions is exactly known for turning out party animals, she says, “Yeah, but if you put them together, things can really jump off.”
They jump off every night on “Chelsea Lately,” especially during the “Round Table” segment, when Handler and a rotating panel of three comics throws acid on the day’s tabloid news. It’s consistently the fastest and funniest 10 minutes on television.
That caustic tone, of course, limits the number of prime-time stars willing to turn up for the interview portion of the show that follows.
Chelsea claims not to mind. “Our ratings spike when we have somebody from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ or some other reality show,” she says. “People are more interested in Scott Baio than someone who is on a regular TV series.”
Not every reality star is welcome. A girl has to have standards.
“I was offered Heidi (Montag) and Spencer (Pratt, from MTV’s “The Hills”). I said absolutely not. I would have nothing to say to them. It has to be somebody I don’t feel venom for.”
Actually, that would rule out any number of guests. Doesn’t it make for awkward moments when she runs into someone at a Hollywood event that she’s spent all week eviscerating?
“For the most part, the people who know I make fun of them say, ‘Oh, hi! I love your show.’ I find that ridiculous,” scoffs Handler. “Most celebrities I run into are very complimentary. They’re just thrilled I’m not talking about them.”
Since moving up a half-hour a couple of weeks ago to 11 p.m., “Chelsea Lately” is averaging 758,000 viewers a night, an increase of 26 percent from its previous time slot. “It’s less competition,” explains Handler. “The only other person on at that time is Jon Stewart.”
With a metier that consists of carving up show-biz totems from Kanye West to Simon Cowell, Handler is a rather odd fit at E! The cable channel worships at the altar of celebrity. Chelsea is a raving, ranting heretic.
“That’s the whole point,” she says. “To make fun of E!”
She does this with such unrestrained gusto that she often tests the limits of permissible speech.
“She’s savvy enough that she knows the boundaries,” says Tom Brunelle, executive producer of “Chelsea Lately.” “Our job is to push E! as far as possible.”
Brunelle says it’s pretty easy to tell when Chelsea has tripped a land mine. The channel’s watchdogs monitor the production of every show on a live feed. It’s taped at 3 p.m. daily.
“All of sudden during the taping, we will start getting frantic calls from the E! building on Wilshire across town,” he says.
As a comic, TV host and author, Handler has a lot of things going for her, but a self-censoring mechanism is not one of them. Bear that in mind if you plan to attend one of her concerts.
“It’s very irreverent and intended for adults only,” she says by way of a warning. “Definitely leave the kids at home.”