As a comedian, Chelsea Handler flaunts her own sybaritic overindulgences and physical flaws as well as those of anyone who crosses her path. Her fourth memoir, an exuberant account of exotic travel mired by First World problems (like feeling fat while in the Botswana bush), is rife with Handler’s trademark R-rated humor. A self-described “immature/adolescent adult,” the thirty-nine-year-old author and, until recently, host of the late-night talk show Chelsea Lately, opens Uganda Be Kidding Me by taking herself and five female friends on safari. Handler picked Africa, she deadpans, because she wanted to see where rappers come from.
Uganda Be Kidding Me depicts the trip as a group of American women, in pigtails and wielding assault rifles, parachuting in and then asking clueless questions like, “When do we start shooting the animals? Where is the freshest sushi?” Handler describes her companions as colorful, outrageous characters who share her own penchant for alcoholic beverages and firestorms of witty one-liners. One woman, for instance, is “the type of person who upon finding herself with a bottle of pinot noir and no available glass will gladly empty the contents of the bottle into a bowl of cereal and then proceed to ingest both the wine and the Frosted Mini-Wheats with a soup spoon.”
Despite the inanity of that image, it’s not far off the mark. The most persistent problem plaguing these women is liquor—specifically, it’s unclear whether the airplanes, luxury lodges, and safari Jeeps can possibly offer enough cocktails to satiate Handler and company. The collective need for attention and pampering wears a bit thin, but Handler is adept at rendering portraits and scenes with a jolting, if lowbrow, absurdity.
While the majority of Uganda Be Kidding Me is devoted to Handler’s time in southern Africa, the book also includes stories of her jaunts to other places, including Switzerland and the Bahamas. No matter where she travels, her behavior and experiences remain over-the-top. In a desperate effort to lose the ten pounds she’s gained during the first three days of the safari, for example, Handler attempts to exercise in the outdoor gym at the lodge only to find the entry blocked by a lion, which proceeds to kill an impala in front of her. And while she is swimming in the Bahamas, she is overtaken by an urgent, unfortunate need to go to the bathroom before she’s able to arrive at one.
Superficial as the book may be, Handler’s self-deprecation and ceaseless capacity to turn banality into comedy offers readers a light, hilarious escape. Even at her most offensive, Handler is an undeniably spirited narrator, and her obsessive determination to laugh at everything makes whatever and whomever she’s focused on appear funny. By virtue of her humor, Chelsea Handler’s long list of vices has become her saving grace. Wherever she goes.
Sarah Norris holds an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and has reviewed books for The Daily Beast, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and Village Voice, among other publications. She lives in Nashville.