If talk show host, author and stand-up comedian Chelsea Handler has a calling card, it’s her brutal honesty.
The star of the pop culture-based E! talk show Chelsea Lately has made a career out of her addiction to truth. Handler displays it when asked what she and her celebrity guests talk about when the sound is cut just before going to commercial. “It’s an awkward thing, so you’re always just saying some bullshit,” she admits. “You say, ‘Oh, I love your shoes,’ or 'Great job, that was great.’ But it’s all bullshit, and everyone’s full of it.”
Handler’s brand of self-effacing wit has made her a bestselling author of two books, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands and Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. Her improbable tales involve little people, ecstasy experimentation, faux-incest, and penises large and small. Fame hasn’t kept her from getting into the outrageous situations that have provided the fodder for her comedy. “I always do things that a normal person wouldn’t do, which is why I am the way that I am,” Handler explains. “I get into situations that really don’t make sense for other people to be in.”
Handler made a name for herself doing standup comedy, a realm dominated by men. She says she’s heard the argument that it’s tough for women to survive as the minority sex in the profession, but Handler doesn’t buy it. “There’s less women in it, so it’s easier for women to stand out,” Handler reasons. “When you’re a girl, you’re not really competing with the guys, you’re competing with other girls, and, in that regard, it’s a huge advantage to be a girl as a standup comedian.”
Chelsea Lately pulls in an impressive 450,000 viewers a night, but Handler isn’t ready to consider herself among late-night royalty like David Letterman and Jay Leno, whose shows occupy similar time slots. “I kind of feel like we’re in junior high school and those guys are in high school,” she says. “Our show is kind of like little kids playing around.”
Even though Chelsea Lately relies on pop culture for material, Handler says her show isn’t trying to fuel the public’s fixation with Hollywood. “If we’re already obsessed with it, we might as well make fun of ourselves for caring that much,” she says.
The Livingston, N.J. native is particularly critical of reality TV, which she says is becoming more and more absurd. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s pure mind-pollution,” Handler says. “You see these people that have sex changes, and then like three hours later they have a television show. That’s not supposed to be the succession of events.”
Handler says Chelsea Lately pokes fun at exploitative programs without contributing to the madness. “That’s why I don’t feel so bad about doing this show, because we are in such a strange and weird place,” she says. “I feel strongly that we just have to laugh about it, because if we don’t, then there’d be a lot of people crying.”