Chelsea Handler’s fans think they know what she wants: booze.
The TV talk show host and comic is interrupted three times during her raunchy 75- minute stand-up set at a cavernous theater in Houston on a Saturday night by audience members who want to give her a glass of the hard stuff. The first fellow comes up front and merely hands her a drink and strolls off. The second gent, who sports a shaved pate, lingers at the lip of the stage, and Handler gives him a leering once-over. “I’ve never had sex with a bald man,” she says, pausing, “in Houston.” The audience roars. Last up is a woman so tipsy she can’t even remember, when quizzed by the star, what she’s drinking. “Well, enjoy your urine,” responds Handler.
This is what happens when you write a best-selling memoir called Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea and frequently clink cocktail glasses with guests on air during E!’s Chelsea Lately, your late-night talk show. But don’t confuse image with reality. In Houston, Handler takes only one dainty sip from the first glass before stowing it atop a stool onstage, where it is soon joined by the two other libations, which go entirely untouched.
“I kind of love that people think that,” Handler says of the widely held perception that she tipples 24/7. “Yes, I like to drink”—preferably vodka and tequila—“but I don’t walk around shit faced.”
She would never have accomplished so much if she did. The star of Chelsea Lately is TV’s only female late-night host. (“I keep waiting for someone to take over so that I can bow out,” she says of being the sole woman.) She also appeared on E!’s After Lately, a faux reality show featuring her staff; has written four best-selling memoirs, including her latest, Uganda Be Kidding Me, about her recent travels in Africa and elsewhere; runs a production company, Borderline Amazing; fronts a publishing imprint bearing the same name; and is in the middle of a 31-date stand-up comedy tour.
“I work really hard. I’m focused. I have a lot of integrity,” she says. “I don’t say I’m going to do things that I don’t do.”
Over margaritas at a hotel bar, she talks about her show, her dyed blonde hair (“I can’t imagine being a brunette; that’s not my personality”), writing her books (“The first draft is the hardest part”) and her plans for the future. “I’m not afraid of interviews,” she says. “I just show up and answer honestly.”
She is witheringly critical of the E! channel, with its regular menu of tacky reality shows—hello, Kardashians!—and says she’s out of there when her contract is up at the end of the year. As for what comes next, she says she’s looking at “a bevy of different ideas” (at press time, one was reportedly a show on Netflix) but wouldn’t mind taking time off to decompress. She’d like to live overseas and study another language for a few months.