Chelsea Handler: Stand-up comedy’s mischievous little sister

By | April 22, 2007 at 7:39 am | No comments | Features

Chelsa Handler: Stand-up comedy’s mischievous little sister
Stand-up comic Chelsea Handler has already told the world about her sexual exploits in a best selling book. So how could she possibly shock us with her new book, Are You There Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea. You’d be surprised.


By Dylan P. Gadino

After she spent four seasons on Girls Behaving Badly, the now-syndicated estrogen-fueled prank show that ran on the Oxygen network, stand-up comedian Chelsea Handler has found no shortage of chances to stay in the public eye. She’s starred in The Chelsea Handler Show, wrote a best selling book, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands and has continually toured the country like a rock star.

With a new late-night talk show premiering on E! this summer and a May release for her new book, Are You There Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea, we’ll be hearing a lot more from the 32-year-old Jersey native with the West Coast disposition.

At a recent show, you were talking to some girls in the crowd when you were on stage. You said the night before you let them sleep in your hotel room while you 
slept in Marla Schultz’s (ed. that’s Chelsea’s opening act) room. Are you normally that accommodating with your fans?
The girls were only 19 and were planning on sleeping in their car, and we were in the middle of a blizzard. I’m not usually offering my room up unless there are extenuating circumstances, because sleeping with Marla is not ideal. She farts like a seal, all night long.

Speaking of fans, have you ever gotten strange requests from adoring male fans?
The strangest thing was when the same guy was in my green room in both Atlanta and Nashville. Luckily, my feature act showed up before I did and gave him the boot. But then he sent me an email on MySpace talking about the chemistry we had. I had spoken to him one time. He had hair down to his ass and weighed about 100 pounds. I had more chemistry with my rabbi.

So you’ve got a new book coming out. Your first book, My Horizontal Life, was basically a collection of stories about you having sex. How does the new one differ?
Well, I couldn’t write two books about sleeping around. So I had to make some of the stories not about having sex, just in case I ever want to ever get married.

You definitely could have written two books about sleeping around.
Thanks for that support. But this one’s another book of short stories. They’re all real things that happened to me. But they’re completely disparate. There’s no through line. Some are about dating. One’s about when I got a DUI and had to spend two days in Sybil Brand, a women’s prison in Los Angeles. One story is about me starting my own babysitting ring, because I realized my parents needed to step up their game. If I had any future of getting out of that house it was going to be on my own.

So I ended up starting this huge babysitting thing at our summer house, and I had this whole business going. I was 12 years old, but I was lying and telling everybody I was 15, so I could baby-sit for kids. I ended up babysitting for a kid who was actually two years older than me. I had to give him time outs. One story’s about me dating a redhead and why that’ll never happen again. One’s about a boyfriend hooking up with a dog. Well, not hooking up, but we were dog sitting and something bad happened. So they’re all just kind of random.

There are authors like David Sedaris, who write those kind of stories where there’s no through line. So I was like OK, now that I’ve done one book with a theme, I don’t want to have a theme for another book, because then it kind of puts it in one category.
Chelsa HandlerSo are you the female David Sedaris? Is that what you’re saying?
No, I would never give myself that big of a compliment. Plus I’m straight.

Right, right.
For now.

That might change in the future?
For the afternoon.

You’ve said before that writing is something that you’re most proud of. Do you want to do a lot more writing in the future?
Yeah, you know, I love doing so many different things. It’s so nice to be able to do TV and then to go on the road and do theater tours and then go and do books. It’s three different worlds, so it’s kind of nice. The fact that I’m an author, I think is ridiculously hilarious. And I’m so impressed by it. I mean I can’t believe somebody published me. My brothers and sisters are like lawyers and accountants. And they’re like ‘You’re getting a book published? About what?’ So, that’s kind of funny.

But it just goes to show you, you can write a book about anything. Anybody can really do it. I didn’t even go to college. Well, I went for a year and was like, ‘This is so stupid. This is such a waste of everyone’s money, because I’m not going to use anything here.’ And, by the way, I educated myself probably 10 times more than I would have in college, because I was so paranoid about being labeled somebody who didn’t go to college. So I read everything under the sun, which helped.

E! Entertainment recently announced that you’ll be back with a new show called Chelsea Lately. Are you hoping this will segue into a situation where you’re 
not doing stand-up as much?
I’ll probably be doing stand-up as long as people want to come see me. Although, there’s something about a 65-year old woman telling jokes on stage that seems not quite right. Being that’s only eight years away, I’ve decided to start taking Spanish lessons, so if everything falls apart, I can become a cleaning lady.

Well, you did go to college for one year. So you’re probably prepped for a career in the cleaning services.
Yeah, I went to the County College of Morris. It’s one of the Top Ten community colleges in the country. Me going there had something to do with the fact that I was tripping on acid when I took my SATs. And scored, I think, a 400.

Morris County, New Jersey?
Yeah.

Got you. We’re located in Hackensack.
I used to have a boyfriend that lived in Hackensack.

Really? Was it me?
I was 15 and he was 25. It was a very beautiful relationship.

I bet. Was this relationship based on common interests and trust?
It was very trust based. And yeah, we had a lot in common. I was planning my sweet 16, and I think he was taking his CPA exam. So I mean, obviously two people are going to come together under those circumstances.

Beyond the new show, you’ve got some movies coming out.
Yeah, I shot an independent film last Fall with Ally Sheedy called Steam Room. It’s about these two women, we have kids that go to the same school. And her husband leaves her, and I’m basically just the comic relief. It’s like a Bonnie Hunt type role. I got to improvise and just be a loud mouthed, obnoxious soccer mom. So, obviously the kids were very frightened of me, but the important thing is that I showed up for work every day.

Right.
And Ally Sheedy gave me all the good dish about St. Elmo’s Fire, so I was sitting there foaming at the mouth talking to her. It’s like my favorite movie ever, that and The Breakfast Club.

On paper, it sounds like you came from a slightly conservative family. What kind of effect did that have on the type of stand-up you do now?

Well, we grew up in this upper middle class Jewish neighborhood. And so we were surrounded by all these people who had money. And all my friends’ parents drove around in Mercedes and BMWs. And my family was so not that way. My father was a used car dealer and had awful cars in my driveway my entire childhood. It was to the point that you would have people drop you off down the street, because you didn’t want them to see your driveway.

And, so, I never felt like I fit in with the rest of the town. So the comedy came from that. It was me constantly being embarrassed about my family. My dad was Jewish, and my mom was Mormon, and they told me to choose what I wanted to be when I was five, like I had any idea. My sister was like, ‘Listen, there’s no drinking, no smoking, no partying and no sex, or you can get presents eight days in a row. I’m like, ‘I think I’ll take the dreidel, thank you.’

My dad’s a character and I have a lot of brothers and sisters. But I think my comedy comes from feeling out of place my entire life. Like all these Jewish people have one brother, one sister. We have this mess of a family– I have two sisters and three brothers. We had all these kids, all these cars in our driveway. Nobody wanted their kids over my parents’ house. My mom slept through my entire childhood. She was like a cat.

So it’s not like they were too restrictive?
Oh, no, please. I could leave for the weekend and say I was going to the Himalayas with somebody I met online, and they’d be like, ‘OK, well call us when you get back.’ They were like the least protective parents ever. Because I was the youngest of six. By the time I came along, they were just wiped out. My oldest sister probably had more to do with raising me than my mom.

Tell me a little bit about your joke writing process. Do you have a very formal regimen where you kind of sit down at a computer and bang out jokes?
No. It’s very rare that I sit down and write jokes out. I add to bits a lot when I’m on stage. I talk a lot to the audience. A lot of my new jokes, I get there. The bits just get bigger and bigger and bigger and longer. I wrote a joke about a midget five years ago, and now it’s like a 10 minute bit.

I’m completely undisciplined. I do things at the last minute. But, when I hear something funny, or I watch something funny, and I think of something, I’ll try it on a couple of people. If I get a reaction, then I’ll try it on stage. I like to always do at least one new joke every time I perform.

So you’re at the point now where you don’t worry about forgetting something, or not committing a bit to memory?
I mean, I forget shit all the time. I go up, I do like an hour, and sometimes there’s bits that you forget, and sometimes there’s bits you remember. I don’t always do every joke I have. And sometimes you get tired of bits and you just put them away for a while. And then when you do them the next time, they’re so much more refreshed.

I was on tour for a couple months, and I took the last half of December off, and January, because I was just burnt out going from city to city to city. And I did my first show in Austin my first weekend back in like a month and a half. And I did, and it was the best show I ever had. Taking a break is so good for me. Some comics hate that, they freak out if they can’t get on stage. I’m not – I’m the opposite. The less I have to work the better. It just goes better with my personality.

When you travel, do you usually travel with people, or is it basically you going alone?
I just bring Marla. I don’t have an entourage or anything.

You should get an entourage.
I want to get a midget.

You want to get a midget?
Just to travel with me. I had one on my show named Chuey, and he can’t fly, because he’s got some condition. Plus he’s big, and I want to get one that you can just put on my lap and you don’t have to pay for the extra seat. So, I got to find one.

Aren’t you afraid of being labeled like a –
A midget lover?

No, like you’re trying to rip off Kid Rock, because years ago he had that little guy with him.
I don’t fucking know anything about Kid Rock, and he’s the last person in the world I’d be trying to rip off. There’s room for two people to love midgets in this world.

All right, if you say so.
I say so.

Do you feel, even at this point, comedy is kind of still a boys club?
I don’t think that way at all. If you look at it that way, then that’s what it is. But I don’t feel that way. I don’t ever even have to deal with men, usually. If you’re funny, you’re funny, you’re going to get noticed. Women say it’s so hard. I don’t think it’s that hard. I think actually, probably, it’s easier for women. Because if you’re a really funny girl, there’s a deficit of funny women. I think everyone is excited to find the next funny comedienne.

I’m sure some male comics have their feelings about female comics. But I’ve never had a terrible experience with anybody. Male comics have been great to me. I used to tour with Dave Attell and with David Alan Grier when I was featuring. Those guys couldn’t have been any nicer. In any profession there’s a bunch of competitive type people that are just angry at the world. But I steer clear of that kind of stuff. I’ve never really hung out at comedy clubs, either. That’s a big thing.

You mean after or before your performances, or just in general?
Yeah. I usually just get out. When I’m done I just get out and leave. Usually I want to get home, rent a porn, and get party started.

And the party is not at the comedy club?
No, the party is in my pants.
Chelsa HandlerFor more information, check out www.chelsea-handler.com

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.