Kindle Surprise: Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler

“It’s been my experience that people who make proclamations about themselves are usually the opposite of what they claim to be.”

I went into this with absolutely no knowledge of Ms. Handler. I had not watched any of her TV shows. I had not seen any of her stand-up. All I know about her, I learned from this book. And having read the first couple of chapters in her autobiography, I was able to come to a single rapid conclusion.

Chelsea Handler. What a cunt.

vodkaThe first story she tells dates back to when she was nine, and fabricated an entire career to her school classmates that she was an acting prodigy, about to take on a role as Goldie Hawn’s daughter in a sequel to Private Benjamin. This wasn’t your typical childish lie either. No, this was a monstrous, extended deception, perpetuated over months, in an effort to be popular. It’s presented in such a way that I suspect this is intended to be adorable or something, but the result was actually to generate a kneejerk loathing for a spoiled and entitled little brat. When you open by revealing yourself to be a liar on a pathological scale, it doesn’t exactly encourage the reader to a) have much empathy for you, or b) believe anything you say in the rest of your book.

The self-portrayal didn’t improve in the next couple of chapters, which cover a babysitting incident in her teenage years, followed by her being arrested and spending a weekend in prison for drunk driving. Turns out, Handler is not just an egocentric bitch, she’s a borderline sociopath. And this is the kind of person who becomes “famous” in modern society? I was giving serious thought to dumping this entirely, and might well have, if not for the rules of thus challenge, dictating that I only get to quit if I can come up with 500 words on why the book was so bad. Repeating “Chelsea Handler. What a cunt” 100 times would too much like a cheap cop-out, unfortunately. So I persevered. And somewhere in the middle, I realized this was actually a masterful put-on.

Satire only makes sense if you know it’s satire. That has always been the case, going back to Jonathan Swift suggesting that babies make good eating. Take the suggestion seriously, and you’ve lost the argument before it begins. The same goes for more recent work too. Take Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Borat. Operating in a vacuum, it’s a hellish, reprehensible creation, vilely intolerant and repellent. But if you’re in on the joke, it’s absolutely glorious. I’m thinking that is the problem with this book. Lacking any background to Handler, I have absolutely no context into which to place these anecdotes, and so am unaware that in this book, she is apparently playing a character who just happens to have the same name – in a way not dissimilar, say, to Stephen Colbert. The quote at the top of the piece is absolutely key, given the entire book is basically proclamations about Chelsea.

Not that even figuring this out makes it great literature. It’s mostly strikingly unfunny, with about the only memorable chapter describing her interaction with an alcoholic midget, brought over to be a guest on one of the shows on which Handler worked. It’s a glorious exercise in non-PC. Otherwise, this is more a slog than a pleasure, since the character here is spikily unlikeable, and doesn’t have much to say. There are only two kinds of people who should write memoirs: those who have had interesting lives, and those who have enough writing talent, that they can make the humdrum interesting. Based on what we see here, Handler (the writer) doesn’t fall into either category, perhaps because Handler (the character) is not as interesting as Handler (the writer) seems to think.

Still, I can’t help but begrudgingly admire what appears to be a sublime piece of trolling, and on that basis, need to amend my original conclusion regarding the author.

Chelsea Handler. What a smart cunt.

“A homeless man with a dog approached us and put his hand out. This happens to be something I have a real problem with: homeless people with pets who approach you for food. How can they have the nerve to beg for food when they have a perfectly delicious dog standing right there? I didn’t care if this guy understood English or not. Tell me when you’re out of dog, buddy. Then we can talk about splitting a falafel.”