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February 3, 2010

Chelsea Handler: Funnier Than the Boys

chelsea hander writers room

Photo Credit: Art Streiber

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The first topic of discussion in the writers' room this morning is a public-service announcement airing on CBS that encourages men to give their wives or girlfriends Pap smears for the holidays. A round of jokes about diamond necklaces in vaginas don't impress. Then Handler suggests making up a list of the various gifts she's gotten over the years, including an STD test and an ultrasound. After a little riffing among the group, they land on a gag about finding a lost iPhone in her uterus, which eventually makes it onto the show.

"I love a stupid joke, something that doesn't make any sense," Handler will explain later. "And things that come out of left field I find very funny. The challenge is to keep it fresh. If you're talking about Britney Spears over and over, it's very hard to keep that interesting."

A lesser item on the agenda is the birth of former Hugh Hefner girlfriend and E! star Kendra Wilkinson's baby, a 9-pound, 5-ounce boy. "Which makes him bigger than Ryan Seacrest," says Handler, without even looking away from her citrus. Sarah Colonna, a writer/comic on the show, says, "Hef was contacted for comment, and he said, 'Where am I?'"

The women of Chelsea Lately have a unique and seemingly authentic bond. They're all stand-up comics who often join Handler on her tours. That they have penetrated this traditionally all-male domain and that, even more surprisingly, the five of them are actually friends, is unique. Once a week, they meet downstairs for a group pilates session, courtesy of Handler. Heather McDonald, another writer/comic on the show, turned up to exercise one day in what she describes as "the ugliest running shoes in the world."

"Chelsea saw them and said, 'Those are ridiculous. You can't wear those,'" she says. "I took them off for pilates, and Chelsea was texting her assistant about something. By the end of class, she'd come down and replaced my shoes with a brand-new pair in my size."

"When you're doing stand-up, there are usually five or six men and maybe one woman on the bill," says another woman on the show, Jen Kirkman. "Many women just don't want to see another woman around. They don't want to share the attention. Chelsea's not like that. She's really supportive."

After the 90-minute session in the writers' room is over, the writers retreat to work on the material they pitched, and Handler heads to the editing room for 10 minutes. Then she's off to the gym for her daily hour-long workout. By 12:30, she's back in the office, showered, in a red velour robe, and into hair and makeup in her office, which is really more like a studio apartment. There's a sofa, a mini fridge, a food scale, an ice machine, and a makeup table; racks of tailored, colorful, dressy-casual clothes that show off her tiny, athletic frame; and shoes — lots of them — from Lanvin, Miu Miu, and Yves Saint Laurent. The hairstylist stands behind Handler, who's checking e-mails at her desk, with a curling iron. A staff writer comes in with a rough outline of the night's program, including all of the material written while Handler was working out. While having her makeup applied, she checks off which lines will make the cut. Minutes later, a production assistant comes to fetch Handler (with half-done hair and no lip gloss and still in her robe) and her dog to film promo-teasers for upcoming shows in the studio downstairs, which she improvises on the spot.

Handler names Jennifer Aniston, Jenny McCarthy, and Jim Carrey as her favorite all-time guests. "I haven't heard of anyone who's been unhappy with how they were treated on the show. At least it hasn't made it back to me. But I don't make fun of people who lead respectable lives. Like the Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal breakup — I won't talk about them because they seem like smart, decent people. But if you go out and behave in a ridiculous way, you should expect to be made fun of."

Next, Handler heads to the editing room to punch up a sketch about giving employee reviews, while eating a jar of pickles, then back to hair and makeup to finish before the 2:30 taping.

On the show today is an Animal Planet host named Dave Salmoni, who's brought along with him a lemur, a wolf, and a giant South American reptile, which Handler proclaims would make her take a "giant shadoobie" if she saw it in the wild. Adam Lambert from American Idol is in to film an interview for an upcoming show, to whom Handler says, "You used to be hugely fat in high school, right? And your hair isn't really black. You're a redhead. So you were just really unlucky." Lambert thinks it's hilarious.

By 4:45, Handler's whirlwind day has ended. On most days, she's wrapped and ready to go home to the condo she shares with Harbert in Marina del Rey by 6 p.m. "To be honest, my favorite part of the day is when we're done," she says. "The day is always really busy. We're all friends, and I like the writers. It's like summer camp that just keeps going. But I like it to be over. I like the minute when I can get off the stage and go home, and I know I've done a good job."

Christine Lennon is a writer in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and two children.


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