This interview first ran in our Kirkus Nonfiction Spotlight in April 2010. Today, Grand Central Publishing announced that Chelsea Handler now has her own imprint. Her next book, Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me, is set to be published May 2011.
Loud and loquacious late-night host Chelsea Handler returns with her third collection of musings on love, life and the Lifetime Movie Network, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang. Fans familiar with the comedienne are no stranger to Handler’s frank opinions about Hollywood starlets and current events. But, quick as she is to wag her sharp tongue, Handler isn’t afraid to offer up her own foibles—or those of family and friends—for fodder. Whether discovering the joys of masturbating, plotting elaborate pranks on her boyfriend or conspiring with her siblings to have her father euthanized, Handler’s riotously amusing stories spring to life with her singular voice. Here, she chats with Kirkus about how she got her start as an author, her penchant for autobiographies and her family’s thoughts on sharing the spotlight.
How did you decide to start writing books?
When I was doing stand-up, my friends started encouraging me to write, and it became a sort of natural thing for me to do. When I first read David Sedaris, I was excited. Here was this book without a streamline, a collection of stories that didn’t need to connect one to the next. So I started to write the first book, My Horizontal Life; I wrote a bunch of essays and sent it out to a friend in the book world. He got back to me two days later and said, “I’ve got you a book deal.” Obviously, reading it, you can tell I hadn’t studied any writing or gone to college for it. My books are very, very easy reading. Pre-K level.
You mention Sedaris. Do you read other humor writers? Any in particular that have had an influence on your style?
When I’m writing, I tend to read heavier stuff. It’s so easy to mimic someone without intentionally doing it. So, when I’m writing, my light reading tends to be authors like Steinbeck, Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a comedian, you see how people can rip other people’s styles without realizing that they’re doing it, so I try to avoid reading humorous material when I’m writing. In general, though, I go through phases. I’ll read everything by Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger. Last year, I read a lot of autobiographies. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book twice. I think that’s something I’ll delve into more as I get older. When I’m reading, I like to experience things I wouldn’t normally experience in my own life, like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
You’ve mined your family for material in this new collection—what’s their reaction? Are there things that are off limits?
Nothing is really off limits with them. My two sisters are in the car with me right now. I was just in the middle of telling them a huge story, and they turned up the radio. So as you can see, I don’t get a lot of respect. At first they were like, “Please don’t write about this or that.” But after a while I had to say, “This is my life now. You can’t ask me not to talk about these things.” So they’ve realized it and are now accepting of it.
You’re pretty frank about your opinions on your show, Chelsea Lately. Do you catch a lot of flack for the things that you say?
I don’t catch a lot of flack—I didn’t expect that. I thought I would. But people can sense whether you’re really honest and forthright. I’m the first person to make fun of myself, so I think may be why I can get away with making fun of other people, rather than people who don’t have a sense of humor about themselves. Generally, I just assume if I’m thinking it, there are about 500,000 other girls thinking the same thing. They just don’t have a TV show.
Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang
Grand Central / March / 9780446552448 / $25.99