HANDLER, CHELSEA. Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me. New York: Chelsea Handler Book, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-446-58471-5. Pp. 292. $24.99.
Chelsea Handler's newest book isn't actually by her, but is comprised of recollections by different people in her life. The theme is in the title. Here's what I learned: If you are (sort of) famous and a lavish spender, you can get away with being a genuinely bad person. Of course, you have to surround yourself with the right kind of entourage (yes, Handler has one of those), which would consist of people who would drown their neighbor's near-sighted son if it could them into Time magazine. As I was reading, I couldn't help but fondly remember Keith Richards's gentle antics as a traveling minstrel, recounted in his sweet memoir, Life. I'd choose his mushy brain and scary tan over Handler any day.
It may be because of my youthful age, but I think our country has gotten into the habit of glamorizing bitchiness over the past decade. I think I can pinpoint it to the moment when "Sex and the City" was first being aired on HBO. Being spoiled and over-sexed became not just okay, but kind of cool. A woman's preoccupation with expensive shoes was romanticized, while finding love was cheapened. I know the show was a parody, but its philosophy was not. The four main characters are all essentially good people with flawed priorities, and their sort-of goodness justifies all else.
Things have gotten worse. Now our tweens are reading the "Clique" and "Gossip Girl" series and our pre-tweens are playing with Bratz. Now, underlying goodness does not even fit into the equation at all. Enter comedian Chelsea Handler, a woman with no comedic talent, unless it is at the expense of someone else. This "insult humor" the lowest form of stand-up because anyone can do it. And everyone does it every day. The difference is that most of us do it behind closed doors at the office or at home and not on basic cable television. I watched a couple of clips from Handler's show, Chelsea Lately. She was doing a bit on the failed arrival of the rapture from a couple weeks ago. A more talented comedian could make this funny without actually being an asshole. Handler, on the other hand, just called the false prophet an "idiot" and that was it. She wasn't funny, and she was rude. What a package! After reading Lies, I realized that there is a reasonable explanation for the awfulness of the show: its writers aren't funny. One of them, Heather McDonald, wrote a chapter for this book. The closest she gets to comedy is calling her office-mate a lesbo. Handler's assistant, Eva Magdalenski, another contributor, is supposedly a "comedy expert". Here's the funniest line in the chapter she wrote: "I like to think [Handler] sits down with them on New Year's Day over a bowl of black-eyed peas, perhaps while listening to the Black Eyed Peas". This, coming from someone who supposedly spends her free time studying the work of comedic greats like Steve Martin.
I suppose I should give an example of the kind of "pranks" Chelsea pulls on the people she "loves" in order to justify my distaste for this work. It seems that one of her favorite lies is telling people, including boyfriends, that she is pregnant. She pulled this one on Heather McDonald, who immediately started daydreaming about getting pregnant too so that her child would be slightly younger than Handler's child and could therefore get all the designer hand-me-downs. A few days into this charade, Heather and the rest of the Handler entourage go out for sushi where Handler proceeds to eat a mountain of raw fish and drink rounds of vodka rocks. All of this dismays McDonald, who follows her into the bathroom to say: "You can't continue to drink unless it's after your fifth month of pregnancy, and only if it's chardonnay. I know because that's what I did, and both the boys seem to be fine". And I'm pretty sure she wasn't trying to be funny. In a later episode from the same chapter, McDonald offers to work on a Sunday for a project Handler had fabricated (it involved making a comedy about the Challenger space shuttle). As a result, McDonald misses out on a Jenner/Kardashian pool party where "[Kris Jenner] has waiters dressed in black, white, and pink, to match her patio furniture, and they walk around with an unlimited amount of Veuve Clicquot. This means you never have to get up off your four-inch heels in your mono-kini to refill your glass yourself". After learning that she missed this fabulous experience for nothing, McDonald throws a fit at her husband (but not at Handler, who is better than a husband because she puts McDonald on TV). Having read this, I felt as hollow as the woman who penned it.
The rest of the book is much in the same vein. Handler ruins honeymoons, marriages, and has a fondness for hacking into other people's e-mail and sending sensitive and humiliating messages ("I'm super duper horny and I'm just gonna say it: my clit is burning for you") to random people. A lesser being would be fired for it, but Handler is rich, blond, and sort-of-famous.