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 She’s With the Brand 201201

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PostSubject: She’s With the Brand 201201   She’s With the Brand 201201 EmptyTue Jan 25, 2011 8:09 am

Chelsea Handler isn’t just a trash-talking comic. She’s a bestselling author, talk-show host, and money machine.

She’s With the Brand 201201 1295658562344
Art Streiber / August
Chelsea Handler is onstage at a New Jersey concert arena, complaining
about one of her politically incorrect pet peeves: names
African-Americans give their babies. (Other things the blonde, blue-eyed
equal-opportunity offender tells the audience bug her: Russians,
Asians, the Kardashians, and Angelina Jolie.) She mimics a fan at one of
her book signings, who complained when Handler misspelled her
daughter’s name. “You spelled it wrong! It’s B-a-i-l-e-i-g-h.” To which
Handler snapped: “Look, bitch, you spelled it wrong. If you’re going to
name your daughter after a liqueur, at least have the courtesy to
f--king spell it right.” Don’t even get her started on people who use
numerals in their names, like the woman she met named L’4sha. “Can you
imagine having sex with someone with a number in his name?” Handler says
as she sticks out her butt and moans, “Give it to me, 50, give it to
me!” It’s a clever wink at the rumors that she’s dating the rapper 50
Cent. The crowd goes insane.

For Handler, the personal is not only public; it’s profit. In just under
a decade, she’s gone from a stand-up comic touring the nightclub
circuit to a full-fledged brand—call it Chelsea Inc.—with books, TV
shows, concerts, movies, and sponsorship deals that raked in a reported
$20 million last year alone. Her act—think Joan Rivers’s irreverence,
Howard Stern’s prurience, and Chris Rock’s rage—hasn’t changed much, but
her fan base, which is largely women and gay men, doesn’t mind. Their
insatiable appetite for her stories of sexual mishaps and other personal
humiliations keeps her first two books on the bestseller list.
(Together they’ve sold 1.7 million copies and counting.)

Handler is currently touring in support of her third release, Chelsea
Chelsea Bang Bang. She recently signed a deal with Grand Central
Publishing to head up her own imprint, Borderline Amazing; the first
title, Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me, is a collection of essays by
family and friends and comes out in May. NBC is developing a sitcom
based on Handler’s second book, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,
and the comic is working on After Lately, a behind-the-scenes program to
follow her Chelsea Lately talk show on E! Between all this, she found
time to host the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, film This Means War with
Reese Witherspoon, and voice an animated role in the film Hop. Katie
Couric, who is friendly with Handler, calls her “the hardest-working
girl in showbiz.”

Yet unlike Tina Fey or Jon Stewart, Handler is not a darling of the
media elite. She rarely appears on magazine covers. She’s never hosted
Saturday Night Live (though a Facebook group is lobbying for this to
happen). Her books aren’t reviewed by The New York Times. And when they
do notice her, critics are unkind. After Handler hosted the Video Music
Awards, the Times called her performance “among the worst in the show’s
history.” The New Yorker described Chelsea Lately as “too sloppy by
half.” “It’s like she’s a certain radio station,” says her friend Jenny
McCarthy, the former Playboy model turned actress. “If you tune into
that frequency, she’s huge, but people who don’t tune in don’t connect.”

Handler claims to enjoy having a lower profile than some of her
counterparts. “I like being a bit under the radar,” she says over dim
sum the morning before her New Jersey show. “In terms of income, I
probably have a lot more than most everyone in my business, so it is
interesting ...” she trails off.

Part of the reason Handler isn’t embraced by critics may be her refusal
to wrap air quotes around her sexuality. On Saturday Night Live, Maya
Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig have lampooned overtly sexual
female characters: think Rudolph’s drunk, orange-skinned, libidinous
Donatella Versace. By contrast, there’s nothing ironic about Handler’s
sexiness—lots of cleavage, lots of heels, and the frequent assertion
that her pubic hair is waxed in the shape of the E! logo. In publicity
shots, she often has a hand on a cocked hip and a come-hither smile—a
pose Fey might adopt, but only with one eyebrow satirically arched.

In her books and onstage, the comedian’s tales of sexual encounters gone
awry mix bathroom humor with putdowns of her partners. Her former
boyfriend Ted Harbert, CEO of E!’s corporate parent, Comcast
Entertainment Group, has been the butt of numerous jokes: Handler’s
routine includes a bit about how she smeared chocolate cake on the
sheets while Harbert was in the bathroom with food poisoning. (He did
not react well to the prank.) She claims to have a sexual obsession with
midgets, and likes to fondle her dwarf sidekick on Chelsea Lately, Chuy
Bravo.

Handler calls herself a “hot mess,” but hers is a controlled explosion.
She says she has no patience for starlets like Lindsay Lohan who flash
their “hot pockets,” and points out that the number of successful
assignations detailed in her first book, My Horizontal Life, is in the
single digits. Though much of her comedy trades on her party-girl
persona, Handler’s work ethic and knack for monetizing her peccadilloes
(Belvedere Vodka sponsored her latest tour) suggest otherwise. In fact,
she says her busy schedule means she’s usually in bed by midnight.

It’s unclear if her fans get the nuance. During her show in New Jersey, a
drunken young woman repeatedly interrupted a riff on Angelina Jolie
(Handler expertly humiliated the fan into shutting up). After the show,
the train to New York City was filled with knots of girls proudly
discussing such Handleresque topics as “blackout sex.” But if Handler
herself were to have blackout sex, she’d likely make her partner sign a
nondisclosure agreement—and then spin the experience into a special for
E! (She confirms to NEWSWEEK that she’s now dating 50 Cent, a.k.a.
Curtis Jackson, saying that “he’s sweet and not a thug.”)

Handler grew up in New Jersey, the youngest of six children. Her mother
was a housewife, and her father sold used cars. When she was 10 her
oldest brother died. “The whole family dynamic shifted,” she says. “My
dad went nuts, and I kind of got lost in the shuffle.” After high
school, she moved to Los Angeles and wound up doing what every other
wannabe does in Hollywood: waiting tables. It wasn’t until she told the
story of a drunken driving arrest in a court-mandated DUI class and got
laughs that she realized there was another way to get the audience she
craved.

Handler launched her E! talk show in 2007 and initially featured quasi
celebrities like MTV’s Tila Tequila, on the premise that they were more
likely to match her level of candor. But as Handler’s profile has risen,
so has the caliber of her guests, and now she books the same stars who
make the rounds of Leno and Letterman. Her approach remains more Howard
Stern than Oprah, and it can be fascinating to watch polished,
platitudinous stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore adjust gears to
match Handler’s style. When Jennifer Aniston appeared on the show, the
normally circumspect actress volunteered that she had dated a Mormon
once, which meant “no sexy time” and “no vodka.” (Aniston and Handler’s
friendship has since become fodder for the tabloids: the two went to
Cabo San Lucas together over Thanksgiving, and when a video of Handler
calling Angelina Jolie a “home wrecker” and a “c--t” went viral last
month, tabloids were abuzz with speculation that the comedian was
helping her new BFF get back at Jolie.)

“She’ll never be Chelsea Plugged unless she shows up on Sesame Street,”
says Couric. But the comic, whose contract with E! expires in 2012, may
be ready for a reinvention. “I can’t keep doing this show forever; it’s
too stupid,” she says. “It makes your brain melt.” At times she has
expressed interest in doing a serious, topical show or taking her
program to a major network. “We’re both not really sure where she’ll be
in five years,” says her business partner Tom Brunelle, who declines to
confirm reports that she’s been offered a network spot already. When
asked about rumors she might replace Jay Leno, Handler deadpans, “I
don’t really know if The Tonight Show is the wave of the future.”

Paradoxically, the woman who has built a small industry around her
outsize personality says what she really wants is to move offstage.
Handler, who is 35, says, “The whole idea is to get the hell off camera
by the time I’m 40.” It’s impossible to know if this is another put-on
(she’s also said her next goal is to buy a dolphin), though she is
already developing shows for several of the comics who are regulars on
Chelsea Lately. “It’s a happy gravy train,” Handler says, “and it’s
happier when everyone’s getting a little bit of the gravy.”

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