Step by step, Chelsea Handler is moving up the Hollywood ladder. The razor-witted bombshell provides the inspiration for the upcoming comedy Are You There, Chelsea?, on which she also holds rank as executive producer and plays a minor role. Born and raised in Livingston, N.J., Handler spent over a decade on the comedy-club circuit before she landed the E! series Chelsea Lately in 2008. The new sitcom is adapted from her bestselling book, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, and stars former That '70s Show regular Laura Prepon as Chelsea Newman, a thinly-disguised version of Handler in her 20s. Handler also has a recurring role as her TV self's self-righteous born-again sister. She spoke to The Globe from Los Angeles.
What's it like watching someone play you on TV?
Oh, it's great. It's a dream come true. I'm so sick of playing myself I can't even tell you.
How close is the hard-partying sitcom version to you in your 20s?
I had a really good time for a really long time, and then it just turned into a different kind of good time. It's about what's important to you at the time. On the show, her life is about the here and now and having as much fun as possible and enjoying life and not being judgmental. She's taking everything in stride.
Does hosting a daily talk show in any way prepare you for half-hour comedy?
It's very different for me, because I come from the cable world. In cable we don't take notes, and we tape Chelsea Lately in 22 minutes a day. With a sitcom, it takes four hours to tape one show. And then you get notes from the network and the studio. It's much more of a collaboration than anything I'm used to, but it's a really fun process.
How do you explain the title switch-around?
Well, you can't put "vodka" in the title, for network purposes. So I thought Are You There, Chelsea? was a funny play on the fact I'm not playing myself. It was a cute way to keep to the book. Although there is plenty of drinking on the show, you just can't have it in the title.
Was it your idea to play a support character on the show?
I wanted to do something a little more challenging. It's fun to dress schlumpy and have a different appearance and attitude. I'm still sarcastic on the show, but I'm very kind of buttoned-up. And it's nice to play against someone who's playing me.
You recently renewed your E! contract. Why keep the daily grind of a talk show?
I realized I was in a position at E! to make the show into whatever I wanted to make it into. So if I want to get more serious about topics or talk more about politics or sports or whatever, I kind of have the audience already in place. I figured I would rather stay in a place where I've built a loyal fan base. With the sitcom, I have three shows going on, which is all I can do at this point. It just made sense to stay.
Has your creative involvement on this show finally made you feel like a Hollywood insider?
I've accomplished and experienced a lot in this industry, and I've had amazing highs and big lows. I don't feel like an outsider, but there's always those times when you think: Do I really belong here? They're few and far between compared to 10 years ago or my childhood, but I'm pretty good about not letting that get the best of me. And to let fleeting thoughts fleet.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Are You There, Chelsea? debuts Jan. 11 on NBC and Global.