Chelsea Handler’s career has been on the fast track.
The very attractive actress and comedienne has been a regular fixture on network and cable television, including The Tonight Show. Recently, she’s been busy touring Europe and the United States in promotion of her new book My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands (Bloomsbury USA Press, 2005, 213 pp, $13.95 ). She’s about to star in her own talk show on the E! cable television network. And next week she’ll be performing eight stand-up comedy performances at Hilarities 4th Street Theatre at Pickwick & Frolic Restaurant & Club.
It might surprise some to learn that this very risqué star of “Girls Behaving Badly” is Jewish. “I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood,” she notes in a CJN phone interview. “There were six of us, and we were all bar and bat mitzvah and confirmed.”
Handler moved from her Livingston, N.J., hometown to Santa Monica, Calif., while still a teenager.
She began her show business career as many do in California - waiting tables at age 19. After she built up her confidence four to five years later, and with the encouragement of friends and show business professionals, she decided to try stand-up comedy.
She did stand-up at the Improv in Los Angeles and at a few comedy festivals.
Because of her attractive looks and her sometimes sexually frank material, it wasn’t long before she was noticed by Hollywood casting agents. Soon she was guest starring in a variety of dramatic and comedic roles on television.
Appearances on “The Bernie Mac Show,” “My Wife and Kids,” and Comedy Central’s “Reno 911” helped her maintain a high Hollywood profile while retaining the lead role in Oxygen Network’s “Girls Behaving Badly” in its first three seasons. She also portrayed a rape victim on “The Practice,” which helped establish her ability to play dramatic roles as well.
Through it all, she continued perfecting her controversial and sexually charged stand-up routines. “It takes a long time to become a regular at the big clubs,” she relates. “For me it was seven years - that just goes along with the business.”
When she began her nightclub career, “the idea of doing stand-up was terrifying to me,” she says. Through the years, though, her confidence has risen. “Now I can’t get enough of stand-up.”
One of the more printable excerpts from her routine is spoken while sipping a cocktail: “I went out with a guy who once told me I didn’t need to drink to make myself more fun to be around. I told him, ‘I’m drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.’”
Beginning in 2004, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno cast her as a correspondent for short interview segments on the show. She covered the California première of the final Star Wars film “Revenge of the Sith” and a segment on competitive square dancing in the Midwest.
“A lot of it is improvising because you’re interviewing people,” she explains. “They (The Tonight Show) have writers with suggestions, but you have to come up with a lot of your own material.”
These segments, along with various commentaries for the E! Entertainment Channel, have given her career an unexpected momentum. Following a recent pilot shot for E!, executives made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: her own weekly, late-night talk show.
“We shot the pilot and based on that they are ordering new episodes,” she says excitedly. “They are going to be shooting 13 weeks (of shows) soon.”
Despite her hectic schedule, Handler, now 30, still finds time to return to her Jewish roots. “I go to synagogue on the High Holidays,” she says. “When I go home, I try to go to a (Shabbat) service with my father.”
Her father is Jewish, and her mother is Mormon, a mixed marriage that survives to this day. “I consider myself a Reform Jew,” she explains. “I don’t really go to any one temple. I could be doing a lot more than I’m doing, but I travel a lot. It’s hard.”
Handler’s book has been selling briskly. The book’s title is a double-entendre that contains many of her strange and wild sexual encounters. “Every story takes place over the course of one night,” she explains. The book, which she describes as “self-deprecating,” stems from many of the stories she would tell friends about her sexual liaisons. In turn, they urged her to write down her hilarious stories, all of which, according to Handler, are true.
“There’s not as much sex in the book as one might think, but above all else, I wanted to be funny,” she says.
After submitting the first two chapters to a publisher, she was told that she needed to add ten more for consideration. “Ten more chapters?” she quipped. “Does that mean I have to sleep with ten more guys?”
Her agent sold the book to Bloomsbury USA Publishing within three days. According to Handler, they have been so pleased with sales that they already have inked a deal for her second book.
Handler has won some unexpected fans too, including a number of married women. “I get a lot of e-mails from elderly women, and they say ‘Good for you!’ for being honest about writing about sex. I guess it’s kinda like living vicariously through the book.”
Handler maintains that she has nothing about which to be embarrassed. “My feeling is that there’s nothing wrong with what we’ve done,” she says. “Anything will be humiliating the next morning, but if you give anything two weeks, you’ll get a good laugh about it.”
Handler will be appearing at Hilarities 4th Street Theatre, 2035 East 4th St., Feb. 9-14. For more information call 216-241-7525. Handler will also be signing her book at two area Borders - Beachwood on Sat., Feb. 10, and Westlake, Sun., Feb. 11.