Nights at the “Chelsea Lately” Round Table
By Tim Parks
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! If you gather ’round the television at 11:00 p.m. on weeknights to watch E! you might want to check the floor to see if your ass has fallen off; because there is more than a distinct likelihood that you have laughed it off viewing “Chelsea Lately.”
Celebrities end up shredded, diced and pureed by the dish served up by the likes of Round Table regulars Heather McDonald, Loni Love and Guy Branum.
TV viewers are as familiar with the faces of these comedic people as they are with “smartcastic” host, Chelsea Handler, who holds court over these jesters.
Fear not loyal subjects, I got it all out on the table (so to speak) regarding behind-the-scenes doings, on-air embarrassing moments, and which celebrity needs a career makeover.
When Handler began airing celebrities’ dirty laundry in 2007, she had a stringent criteria for staff members and the creed show would follow.
“[I expect employees] to show up sober and to not have red hair,” she quipped via e-mail. “Nothing is off limits, except for gay or ugly babies; they have no way of defending themselves.”
Guy Branum joined the “Lately” team after working for videogame-related network G4. He had previously given up a career in law because as he put it, “I did not like being around lawyers and working with them.”
“I’d been watching it and enjoying it, and thought it would be way more fun to talk about celebrity gossip than video games,” he said of his “Staff Homosexual,” ahem, position.
Being featured on the program does have its fair share of perks – like free cupcakes, being recognized at gay bars and enjoying a stimulating workplace.
“Working in an office environment without a Mexican little person – how will I ever do it again?” Branum exclaimed. “There’s nothing cuter than Chuy (Handler’s assistant) trying to make copies.”
So, what does a typical day behind-the scenes look like at “Chelsea Lately?”
Staff writer and comedian Heather McDonald had the answer on exactly what is entailed. For a show that seems very loose – there is a great deal of structure in getting it prepped five nights a week.
In a nutshell, nine a.m. morning meetings are designed to go over must-see TV moments, stories sent from the E! news desk for topics discussed on the show, which are then pitched and divvied up among writing teams and Ok’d by their TV boss. The show opener and closer are also decided upon, and jokes are honed for review prior to their debut during the 3 o’ clock taping.
“What’s so great about writing on ‘Chelsea Lately’ is that it is so collaborative,” she explained.
Still, it’s not all work-and-no-play, there are those infamous “Margarita Fridays” talked about on-air.
“The margaritas don’t come till later, but we definitely do have the drinks going on Friday,” McDonald expressed about another group effort.
“There’s a surprising amount of drinking and sleeping that goes on at the office,” Guy Branum added.
Handler joked that the pair, who work as a team behind-the scenes, still maintain a certain amount of work ethics during the end of the week festivities. Well, sort of.
“She is a sloppy cougar drunk and Guy is gay,” she wrote about their ability to work during and after the tequila starts to flow. “They work in the same office, so they get the same amount of work done. Thank God.”
Another fringe benefit for McDonald is she also met her “gay husband” on the job.
“It’s the perfect relationship because you get to be with a guy, and you’re not going for the same people,” she stated. “But you can still admire good-looking guys together. I feel badly for people who can’t experience it.”
“The best part about working in the office is that, at a moment’s notice, I can tell Heather I need to talk to Geri Jewell or Sylvia Brown. Heather is clearly the most passionate about sketches,” Branum remarked about their two-fold friendship.
McDonald’s hilarious celebrity impressions are just one of the many elements that help set “Chelsea Lately” apart from the late-night pack.
Now, before you’re mind wanders off to Lesbian-Ville for the next answer – the “doing” McDonald is referring to is of an imitation she’d like to trot out more on the program, and not gettin’ freaky with the star of “Grey Gardens.”
“I do Drew Barrymore in my act, and I think I’ve only done her once on the Round Table and I haven’t done her in a sketch,” she replied. “I just love doing her.”
Someone else who makes a great impression on audiences is Loni Love and the word sassy immediately springs to mind when describing her brand of humor, which she has perfected on VH1 clip shows such as “I Love the ’80s” and her current gig as host of the E! show “Wildest TV Show Moments.”
Love is also a proponent for gay rights when she appears on the chat fest, and no, it’s not because we look and smell better – it’s because we make her look good, ok?
“They put on my makeup so well. I have fallen in love and need to keep my queens happy” she laughingly said. “You can’t help but say, hey, I want them to be happy. I want them to feel like they have rights just like everybody else.”
Although this particular panelist is not a staff member – she may want to consider hazard pay to ever appear on the Round Table again with Bai Ling.
The “actress” once appeared alongside Love and waxed philosophical about being from the Moon, which made Love stop the discussion to ask Handler what the “eff” the quote unquote was talking about. Maybe all she needed was a Bai-Ling-to-Earth dictionary, which I gladly suggested may help.
“I’m gonna bring a book, How to get Bai Ling to the Earth,” she countered. “I think they put us on the panel together just to see what would happen. I was trying to ride with her.”
While that incident proved more of a faux pas for ole Bai, Love said her most embarrassing on-air moment came courtesy of a reach-out-and-touch-someone occasion delivered by the hand of the host.
“She said, ‘I think you have something on you, let me fix it’ and then she grabbed my boob,” she answered.
Speaking of boobs…Handler often introduces McDonald to viewers as “Long Boobs,” and she explained how that nickname came to be.
“I definitely think that audiences believe that it got started because she’s obviously seen me naked, and they’re really fucking long,” she commented. “But that is not the truth. She just said it once in a sketch, it was really funny and she said it a couple more times. The fact that it totally stuck is fine with me.”
With those somewhat uncomfortable moments occurring on the set as frequently as Angelina Jolie adopts from other countries, Branum shared that his happened off-camera in preparation for a show opener about the dangers of not wearing underpants.
But it still managed to be a close encounter of the anatomical kind.
“I was on our office meeting room table in just a pair of tighty-whities,” he described. “Chelsea wanted a different pose on me, so I swung myself around and one of my balls came out! My boss saw my balls. That’s showbiz!”
When pressed to give her writers a check plus/check minus evaluation, Handler showed that even when the cameras aren’t rolling that staffers need to be on their toes. In the area of promptness, both received a check.
“Heather always seems to hit some sort of traffic because she lives in San Bernardino, and Guy has sleep apnea because of his weight – so misses his alarm quite frequently.”
As far as their collective creativity is concerned, their boss gave them individual merits.
“Heather gets a check – because she’s stuck in 1997,” she said. “And Guy gets a check +, because he once ordered a guy on craigslist to clean his floors, while Guy yelled at him naked.”
The category of neatness and appearance garnered the McDonald/Branum team their lowest marks.
“Check double minus,” Handler wrote. “Heather has camel toe on most days and I can see the crack of Guy’s tushy from my car before I even walk into the writer’s room.”
The guest stars that may get a third-degree burn from the grilling Handler doles out during interviews can prove to be somewhat intimidating to the panelists, except one.
“When Betty White was on the show, everyone was pretty much in awe,” Branum reflected. “She was throwing down with Chelsea dirty joke for dirty joke.”
“Florence Henderson,” Love responded. “When you see a person you grew up watching, you’re hoping they’re not going to be mean. She was totally sweet and hugged all of us, and that’s why she’s been working for 8,000 years.”
“If Marlee Matlin ever came on the show, then I’d be nervous – she must be aware of it (her impression of the actress) by now. She couldn’t hear me, but still, someone may have signed it to her,” McDonald quipped.
Speaking of celebs…who would they like to give career advice to?
“I think I could help Beyoncé so much,” Branum explained. “She’s totally on top of her game, but she just doesn’t have a personality. I feel like, with my teaching and possibly Heather helping, we can turn her into the actress we all know she can be.”
“I love this girl, but we get it – Beyoncé,” Love echoed. “When she was on the BET Awards singing “Ave Maria” in a bathing suit, I was like, seriously, “Ave Maria,” in a bathing suit? So unnecessary.”
Guess that’s what happens when you let your mom dress you.
Two out of three comedians agree that Beyoncé will never be the triple threat she wants to be – while McDonald felt that some of “The Real Housewives” (minus the ones she has befriended, of course) “think they’re bigger shit than they are.”
“Look ladies, you’re totally replaceable,” she expounded. “It’s like when you go to a fast food restaurant, and you order Diet Coke, and they say, ‘Oh is Diet Pepsi alright?’”
But, one thing this trio definitely agrees on is that sitting down has proven to be an effective method in their stand-up professions.
“Chelsea is doing so much for comedians,” Love proclaimed. “She is doing so much for comedy – there’s not a show that provides every night where you can see stand-ups that are actually on a panel. There’s no other show.”
Well, there have been a few “Comedians of Chelsea Lately” specials airing Friday nights on E! The next one is scheduled for September 4 at 10:30 p.m.