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Chelsea Handler: She's a multimedia laugh attack

Chelsea Handler chose a career in stand-up comedy for one simple reason.

"It's the only job I could do while I was drinking," she says.

What about being an overnight parking-lot attendant? Surely that would allow her to sip from a flask while on the job?

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"I could, but that really wouldn't bring in the money," says the 35-year-old.

And bring in the money she has. Handler is one of the most successful female comedians in the United States. Her books, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea and Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang have all been huge bestsellers.

She's such a publishing phenomenon that it was announced this month that her publisher, the Hachette Book Group USA, has given Handler her own publishing imprint, called Borderline Amazing/A Chelsea Handler Book.

She's also got a multi-city stand-up comedy tour that will be coming to Toronto and Vancouver, and her late-night talk show, Chelsea Lately, which will premiere in Canada on E! Television on Monday, regularly attracts close to one million viewers.

The success of Handler's acerbic humour, however, hasn't led to any overblown narcissism. Nothing much makes her any different, or better, than other late-night hosts, whether it's Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno, she says. Well, one thing does.

"I stand out probably just because I have breasts," Handler says.

Boobs aside, Handler is often able to get guests to open up more than they might on other shows.

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"Some people are more relaxed on my show than on other shows, I think, because it's a less serious show and it's not such a rigid format," she says.

As much as Handler can skewer celebrities on Chelsea Lately, the relaxed vibe of her interviews also gets them to dish on topics dear to Handler's heart. She recently got Gwyneth Paltrow to talk about being "a lush" and in an interview with Justin Bieber earlier this year Handler told the young singer, "You do a lot of flirting for somebody who's 16 years old" only to have Bieber ask her out on a date. Hardly fawning over the offer, however, Handler mocked Bieber's trademark haircut with a straight-faced, just slightly mean tone. "What happens with the hair? When are you going to show us your forehead and what's underneath that hair?"

That ability to switch from pleasant to prickly in an instant has helped the ratings.

Growing up in New Jersey, Handler wasn't a natural comedian. Very few people, if any, can get up onstage for the first time and wow an audience, she says.

"It takes a while to get really good at stand-up. You do badly for a long time before you get good. It's a long process," she says.

Being in front of a crowd, however, is much more enjoyable than cranking out books.

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"I like performing better," she says. "The actual writing can be a bit laborious."

That in part explains why Handler is so happy to have her new imprint, which already has three books lined up. It's a chance for her to take a break from penning jokes.

"I'm just trying to figure out a way not to write my own book again for a while because it's so time-consuming," she says.

And considering how much Handler has skewered her family and others who are close to her over the years, it also gives them a chance to enjoy a little payback.

"We have a new book coming out next year called Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me, in which all my friends and family wrote about different ways I've screwed them over," she says. "I wanted the people in my family and my friends to get an opportunity to make some money off of everything I've done to them."

The second book published under her imprint will be "written" by her dog, Chunk.

"He's pretty talented," Handler says.

You know you're successful when you're being paid for your dog to write a book.

But Handler's success doesn't end there. It was also announced this month that NBC has picked up a pilot based on Handler's books.

For now, though, she's focused on her stand-up tour and Chelsea Lately.

Will typically reserved Canadians be drawn to Handler's no-holds-barred humour?

"We're about to find out."

Handler's Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang Tour comes to Massey Hall in Toronto on Dec. 11 and the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver on Feb. 19. Her late-night talk show, Chelsea Lately, premiers on E! Television on Monday.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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