Handler says i must thicken my skin. She tells me I am not going to make it in this business if I let people push me around, if I get upset easily when someone I've written about is angry with me. She asks repeatedly if I am listening to her.
"You are one of the worst journalists I've ever met," she declares when I can't repeat back to her what she has just told me.
We are sitting in a back booth in a Japanese restaurant in Brentwood, Calif., facing each other over plates of sushi. Handler picks off the fish and shuns the rice, explaining that for her it's become a choice between carbohydrates and alcohol. She nibbles raw tuna and sips a grapefruit cosmopolitan. An angry woman, the subject of a story I wrote for another magazine, keeps calling and texting me.
"Let me deal with her," Handler says as she grabs my phone.
Handler, 36, has large ears, a high forehead, thin eyelashes, a slightly crooked nose and a long chin, all pleasingly fitted onto a narrow face beneath frosted hair with brown roots. She has broad shoulders and thick upper arms and says she is working on straightening her stature: "I was watching myself on the monitor during the show and noticed I have terrible posture. I'm slouching." She doesn't like her arms, she says, but she can't do anything about that. She already works out 90 minutes a day--the price, she explains, of being a celebrity. You have to look a certain way, she says. "But I'm not complaining about being a celebrity. My mom used to say, Don't complain about where you are; you're the one who got yourself here. And I would be like, Mom, I'm 10. You drove me to Hebrew school. You got me here!"
She drove herself to the restaurant this evening in her black Bentley from her Santa Monica studio, where she tapes Chelsea Lately, the top-rated cable late-night talk show among women ages 18 to 34, and After Lately, the faux reality show that purportedly goes behind the scenes of Chelsea Lately into Handler's life. According to the Hollywood Reporter, she brought in $40 million in ad revenue for E! in 2009. This month she agreed to a $25 million deal with NBC that keeps Chelsea Lately on E! for the next three years. Those shows; her 4.1 million Twitter followers; her NBC sitcom, based on her best-selling memoir Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea and scheduled to debut Jan. 11, in which she plays the role of her sister; her four consecutive New York Times No. 1 best-selling books; her appearance in the 2010 movie Hop; her upcoming roles in the films Mall, This Means War and Fun Size; her hosting of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards and her sold-out 2011 26-city stand-up-comedy tour--her 2010 tour grossed $16 million--constitute the various strands of the most powerful one-woman media brand this side of Oprah or maybe Rachael Ray. And watch out, Rachael, because Handler will be publishing a cookbook written by her brother Roy through her new book imprint.
She has become the 33rd most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes magazine, by saying, repeatedly and without regard for who might be offended, whatever strikes her as funny or subversive. It's not that she's outspoken; it's that she seems to leave nothing unspoken. "Not much filter," says Roy. "She was always like that."