After her E! talk show debuted, Chelsea Handler was written off by one TV critic as "a poor woman's Kathy Griffin." It's two years later, and no one's crying "D list" now: September guests on "Chelsea Lately" included Nelly Furtado and Jennifer Aniston, a booking coup that earned the droll, 35-year-old bombshell her highest ratings ever.
Aside from "Lately" - and a stellar writing sideline, thanks to bestsellers like "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" - Handler has reignited the stand-up career that put food on the table before late-night success. She performs at the Capital One Bank Theatre at Westbury Saturday.
Handler, 35, was born in Livingston, N.J., to a Jewish father and a Mormon mother. In public, she milks the idea that she's a boozer, a woman who puts the "fun" in highly functioning.
During a stop at the U.S. Open this month, Handler joked that she only came because she thought she was scheduled to "compete." "But I guess since I'm not, I can have a cocktail," she told Newsday. At the Open, Handler was joined by Ted Harbert, chief executive of Comcast Entertainment Group, which owns E! They have a three-year relationship.
A 'TREMENDOUS SUCCESS'
Drinking jokes aside, it was a DUI arrest at 21 that proved a fundamental event in Handler's career. As partial reprimand, she landed in a class about the dangers of driving drunk. Her recounting of her experience in jail had classmates laughing.
In July 2007, Handler broke into the world of male-dominated late-night talk shows. "Chelsea Lately" is consistently among the highest-rated programs on E!, and has been picked up through 2012.
"Chelsea has proven to her fans that she can absolutely handle herself against the network 'big boys' each and every night," says Lisa Berger, the E! exec who oversees original network programming.
"Chelsea Lately" (weeknights at 11) earned its following (mainly young women) by not interviewing A-list guests, and, ergo, not being beholden to them. Now, things are changing. Think this can get complicated? This summer, Handler began an interview with Denise Richards by airing a compilation of her own clips insulting Richards on previous broadcasts.
Does Handler worry she'll be left with no one at a distance to insult? "We make fun of the celebrities that are acting like idiots," she recently told a London newspaper. "Paris Hilton is an idiot. Lindsay Lohan is an idiot . . . right now, anyway. I'm not going to make fun of Reese Witherspoon. She's not an idiot."
WHO Chelsea Handler
WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 8 p.m., Capital One Bank Theatre at Westbury
INFO $51.50, livenation.com or 877-598-8694. Find available tickets