Comedian Chelsea Handler is best known for her raucous late-night TV show, "Chelsea Lately." In her fourth and newest book, "Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me," Chelsea's friends and family reminisce about their most humiliating experiences at her hands. Read an excerpt.
Chapter Eight: Sisterly Love by Shoshonna Handler
My name is Shoshonna and I am Chelsea’s older sister. My parents told me that before Chelsea was born I was a cute, good-natured, happy-go-lucky kid. Then came 1975 and my blissful little five-year-old world was turned upside down. I had been the baby of our large and dysfunctional family for five years and had loved every minute of it. I didn’t know what to make of the new addition to our family, or why they would have named her Chelsea. Every time I heard her name, it reminded me of seafood stew. I cried all the time.
Chelsea had an all-consuming presence. It felt like being hit by a train. My father has told us all many times over that when she was born, she came out with such a strong cry that the nurse said to him, “You’d better watch out for this one.” Over the years, I became more quiet and pensive as Chelsea’s boisterous personality took center stage.
She was full of piss and vinegar from day one, and could throw a tantrum that would put any toddler to shame. This kid was a force to be reckoned with, and my parents were already exhausted with their other five kids. They were in no way prepared to handle raising this particular child, and their feeble efforts were of little consequence. Besides, our mom was always napping, knitting, or cooking, and was too soft-spoken to really stand up to Chelsea.
By the time Chelsea was three, she had the street smarts of a nine-year-old, and I may as well have been born yesterday. We were complete opposites, like oil and water, and never agreed on anything. If I was watching a TV show she didn’t like, she would say something like “A package just came for you at the door, Shana,” or “Mom just took some brownies out of the oven,” and then take over the television. I fell for it every time. I would come back in the room and wage war in the form of a wrestling match.
I would be the one to get yelled at or sent to my room because I was “older” and “should know better.” We fought constantly and wanted to rip each other’s throats out for most of our childhood. Physically I had the upper hand, but verbally I was no match for her. By the time she was eight, she had the debating skills of a seasoned politician, and I am being completely serious.
For many years we shared a bedroom, and we agreed to place masking tape down the middle and not cross territories. This was pretty much a joke, unless we were both in the room. Raids occurred when the other person was not there. Chelsea would regularly steal my clothes when I was in high school. (Yes, it’s true, she’s five years younger, and we were clearly different sizes, but this did not deter her. She would just knot the shirts at the waist or cut them in half.) At one point I installed latches to hold a combination lock on my closet door. A week later I came home from school to find her wearing the brand-new clothes I had just purchased with my first paycheck from my new afterschool job at the mall. I went nuts and ran upstairs to find that she had taken a screwdriver to the latches. And because she was so angry I wouldn’t share with her, she decided to tie-dye all my underwear.
Years later, when Chelsea was about fifteen and I was twenty and home from college, it was with great joy that I picked up the phone and heard a police officer tell me that they had Chelsea down at the station for shoplifting underwear at Sears with a friend. Underwear has always been a big theme in our family. Not wearing any can and has resulted in humiliation, in the form of photographs, e-mails, and/or having you and your genitalia chased around the house with salad tongs.
My parents weren’t home the day I got the call, and if I went and picked Chelsea up and kept it under wraps, she would owe me big time. I drove very slowly down to the police station with a big old grin on my face. I had had a good time at college, but this would definitely be the highlight of my life since graduating from high school. I was still smiling when I got to the police station and Chelsea got in the car.
It didn’t take her long to pronounce, “I know what you’re thinking, and I’d rather tell Mom and Dad the truth than be beholden to you for anything. So if you think you’re going to pull something over on me, you’re mistaken. I would rather lose my virginity to Craig Slass than owe you a favor.” Craig Slass was our next-door neighbor, who would easily have had sex with any one of us, if we had permitted it. He spat when he talked, was always drooling, and had what Chelsea referred to as a “woman’s ass.”
Our parents had a modest second home on Martha’s Vineyard, and every summer, as soon as school let out, our mom would head up there with all of us six kids and whatever dog we had at the time, in our awful van with blue vinyl bench seats. We would spend the entire summer there each year. Our father would come up every ten days or so and stay four or five days and then return to his bustling used-car business in New Jersey.
One summer on the Vineyard, I told Chelsea we were setting up a lemonade stand at the end of our dirt road so we could make a little extra spending money. I was twelve and she was seven. Things at the stand were hopping for an hour or so, and then sales fell flat. Chelsea, clearly bored, thought we should spice things up with a big sign for a raffle to meet Carly Simon, who lived on the Vineyard, too, but whom we did not know.
“It will get things moving around here,” she said.
“But that would be a lie, Chels ...”
“So what? No one is going to actually win the raffle, retard.”
“But what if the police come around? I don’t know about this.” I was always a big worrier.
She looked at me with disgust. “The Martha’s Vineyard Police are not concerned with the two of us, Shoshonna. They have bigger problems than a twelve- and a seven-year-old selling lemonade and fake raffle tickets. Why are you such a Debbie Downer?” This was what Chelsea called me, and still calls me to this day when I bring up a point she doesn’t think is necessary to discuss.
Things did pick up a little with the raffle sign prominently displayed. We found ourselves fielding a lot of questions about Carly Simon, but Chelsea was always fast on her feet and had an answer for everything. I let her handle it. Of course, some of her answers were ridiculous, but who was going to challenge a seven-year-old?
At one point, a lady on a bike stopped and bought a lemonade and a raffle ticket and asked us if we thought Carly might sing for her if she won the raffle. Chelsea replied, “Not too many people know this, but Carly has very bad stage fright. You have to catch her on the right day. Some days she’ll sing and some days she won’t. It depends which way the wind blows.”
Another woman asked when she would be able to meet Carly Simon, since she was on Martha’s Vineyard for only a few weeks. “It’s not a problem,” Chelsea assured her. “Carly and I are very tight. She’s on tour right now, but I am in constant contact with her manager, and I am sure we can set something up.” The look on this woman’s face was priceless.
After another hour went by, things were dead again. It was then that Chelsea “accidentally” knocked over the change jar, pocketed most of the money when I wasn’t looking, and said she had to go to the bathroom and would be right back. She did not return. I ended up having to cart the table, chairs, signs, and pitchers on our red wagon solo down the very long dirt road back to the house. I later found out that Chelsea had hightailed it with our money into town on her banana-seat bike and treated herself to a buttered bagel and a Coke and then blew the rest of the dough at the arcade. You might think that no parent would have allowed their seven-year-old to ride into town alone on a bike and hang out. Well, with my parents it was pretty much a free-for-all, and it was 1982 and things were pretty loosey-goosey on the Vineyard. We hitchhiked all the time and it was no big deal. We never would have dreamed of doing this back in New Jersey, but for some reason, on the Vineyard, it was okay.
From "Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me" by Chelsea Handler. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.