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Comedian Chelsea Handler has the world of celebrities in her sights

If you've never heard of either the series or its star, this is probably because Chelsea Lately airs four nights a week on E!, home of such highbrow fare as Girls of the Playboy Mansion, Dr 90210 and Best and Worst Celebrity Plastic Surgery Stories, and channel of choice for people whose reading habits rarely extend beyond the pages of Hello! magazine or the price tag on a pair of Jimmy Choos.

But don't let any of that put you off. Though Handler (35) may look like your generic dumb-blonde autocutie, and once posed (though not nude) for Playboy, she's actually one of the spikiest comic talents working in American television.

She's variously been a stand-up comedian, an actress, a contributor to The Tonight Show and a bestselling author.

Two of her humorous books, My Horizontal Life (a history of her one-night stands) and Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (about her devotion to the hard stuff), shot to number one in the New York Times bestseller list.

Born in New Jersey, Handler has a tongue like a docker's armpit -- imagine a ladmag cover- girl genetically spliced with Joan Rivers -- and her speciality is a malevolent line in scorching celebrity put-downs, all delivered deadpan and with the smile of a barracuda. Take her reaction, during a 2008 episode of Chelsea Lately, to a leaked recording of Charlie Sheen bizarrely calling his then wife, Denise Richards, the N-word: "That's offensive! There are so many better words to call Denise Richards."

The fact that Handler is nightly roasting C-list rehab wreckage on E!, the very channel that specialises in building tawdry reality shows around them, is a wonderful example of biting the hand that feeds.

So far Handler has resisted the urge to go mainstream or let anyone else shape her career or material. But that probably can't last for ever.

Catch her now, before one of the big networks snaps her up and tones her down.