The title of late-night comedian Chelsea Handler‘s new book is Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang (Grand Central Publishing). It is a series of relatively disconnected essays on life–well, her life–that range from masturbation to peeing in your pants. Wait! That’s not a broad enough range for you? There are also interspecies putdowns, sibling jousts and lots of mate-as-dork insults toward her boyfriend.
A book like this is not writing for the ages, it’s brand extension, like celebrity perfume or the old-school lunchboxes. It is book as product. The hallmarks are always the same; paper stock thin as Charmin, margins wide enough for a short grocery list and suspiciously large font (such publishing devices save production costs, but bulk out the book so it looks and feels substantial to consumers).
But, folks, you can’t get all wrapped around the axle if you’re going to read the oeuvre of late-night talk show hosts. You don’t bring Velveeta to a cheese tasting, but it’s perfect for microwaved nachos.
Handler, a stand up comedian with the popular E! TV show, Chelsea Lately, is a terrific whippersnapper and probably the “new” Joan Rivers. Her humor is raw and unflinching. Her rat-a-tat irony shoots on sight and no noun is safe: all people, places or things will be taken down by her arsenal, which I find uproariously funny at 11 p.m. on TV.
On her show, she purposely stocks her panel with C-level guests, unknown showbiz types who you could not pick out of a lineup even if they were up against the wall with the L.A. Lakers. The methodology is that regular people are funnier than celebs on message. And she’s right.
In her book the regular guests are replaced by her family, friends and staff. Ted, the boyfriend (now an ex), is an ongoing target. Luckily he is the C.E.O. of E! and Ms. Handler can get away with atypical employee fun (do not try these wicked e-mail gags at your work place).
Through her telling, he never suspects his acerbically charged girlfriend is pulling his leg. He swallows whole cloth the e-mail saying a gynecologist will be on the set offering free check ups to female and male staff. (“Don’t say anything yet to CH but having outside Dr in is a problem as outlined below…” he writes in a response e-mail to her assistant, Eva.) And she strings him from here to Palookaville with the one about accidently killing a Hollywood agent’s cherished bulldog and the subsequent funeral at the Santa Monica Pier. He’s a good foil, Ricky to her Lucy, and his foot is always caught in the bear trap.
Then there’s her family: a survivalist’s group of five kids from Livingston, N.J., with their flaky parents. Here is a typical wicked Chelsea moment, when she and her brother Greg eat mushrooms–not talking sauteed enoki here–at a restaurant with her sister’s fiance. (This is how they impress future family members.) I don’t know if this story–like all the stories in her book–is true. But if that’s what you need as a reader, best to take out Mitt Romney’s new tome on Republican heraldry from the library. (Well, then again…)
There is always one problem with reading a comedian’s book. It is rarely as funny on the page as the act is on stage. Comedy, whether at a small club, an amphitheater or in front of the Tonight Show curtain depends on delivery and body language. A stance is as funny, funnier often, as the well-worked gag line. And timing is everything. You don’t get that delivery as a reader.
Here, you have to be in the right mood to buy into why Ms. Handler is driven to net a dolphin and bring it home to her L.A. apartment or about the coleslaw smoothies on the Vineyard or why she calls her black driver Chocolate Chunk. I’m not sure what mood you have to be in when you read the opening chapter “The Feeling,” a smashup of wanting a Cabbage Patch Doll and masturbating, although not together as one item.
Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang will sell like hotcakes. They’ll make zillions. The book is no doubt hurling toward the #1 slot on The New York Times Best Sellers list. But at least now you know why. Pass the nachos.
P.E. Logan is communications professional and a writer in New York. She has worked at various adult trade publishing houses including Random House, Putnam, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster for almost three decades. She now works at The New York Times. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and other periodicals.