Late-night talk-show hosts don’t generally slag off their guests, but when it comes to Perez Hilton, Chelsea Handler can’t really find anything nice to say. There’s the celebrity blogger’s name on the dry-erase board displaying the taping schedule, and whom is she kidding? “He’s less disgusting than he used to be,” she says in an apparent reference to Hilton’s dramatic weight loss over the past year. “But he’s still an a--hole. I don’t like it when he draws coke out of people’s noses who clearly aren’t doing coke. Like, why are you doing that? But people are interested in him, and he has good gossip, so we sometimes have him on.”
Of course she does—after all, her program, Chelsea Lately, on E! Entertainment Television, is a welcome mat for reality-TV show winners, second-string sitcom players and anyone else with a tenable connection to Hollywood. Handler accepts that she’s going to have to occasionally hold her nose. An ironic deconstruction of everything that passes for celebrity today, Chelsea Lately begins with a roundtable of comedians and culture pundits dissecting the day’s celebrity stories, then moves to a traditional talk-show format, albeit with a sidekick midget named Chuy and far less famous guests than the ones her major-network counterparts reel in. While David Letterman gets Madonna, Handler has to settle for Christopher Ciccone on what New York magazine’s Jonathan Van Meter dubbed the “Bite the Hand That Feeds Me book tour.”
Not that she’s complaining. “The worse the guests are, the more pathetic they are, the funnier the show is,” she says with a shrug.
Viewers seem to agree. Since its debut a year and a half ago, Chelsea Lately’s audience has grown to more than 500,000 viewers a night, making it one of E!’s best-rated programs (if teeny by network rating standards). Moreover, the show’s viewership is composed largely of 18- to 49-year-old women, hitting the sweet spot with advertisers. On the stand-up circuit, Handler is flown to Las Vegas to skewer everyone from Matthew McConaughey (“McCona-gay,” in Handler parlance) to Angelina Jolie’s adopted son Maddox. (“He probably thought he was scoring the biggest deal of his lifetime, getting adopted by this famous movie star who was going to rescue him from his third-world Cambodia,” Handler joked in a Comedy Central special, “only to find out she was going to take him to every other third-world country in the world. He’s probably like, ‘When are we going to get to Malibu?’”) Meanwhile, the comedian’s book of essays Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea has sat on The New York Times best-seller list since May.