Chelsea Handler is known internationally as a takes-no-prisoners comedian, best-selling author, and television host, but also as a vocal advocate for women, a cannabis aficionado, and world traveler. After ending her long-running E! talk show, Chelsea Lately, Ms. Handler embarked to Netflix, creating Chelsea and Chelsea Does… She returns to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium next month for a stop of her Chelsea Handler’s Sit-Down Comedy Tour. We spoke on the phone this morning.
Will Shutes: So, right off the top, I was watching video of your recent radio interview with The Breakfast Club and I loved when you said you’ve given guys twenty or thirty grand not to contact you again. Just so you know, for the right amount, I’ll end this right now and give you my checking account number.
Chelsea Handler: It involves a sexual transaction usually, so if you’re gay I don’t know what you’re going to want to get up to with me. I mean, it’s totally up to you because I’m an egalitarian, obviously.
Will Shutes: In your new book, Life Will Be the Death of Me… and You Too!, you candidly discuss the state of the nation, your love of Robert Mueller, and your deep-seated loathing for the Trumps. Do you miss not having your weekly show as a platform to vent during this shitshow administration?
Chelsea Handler: I feel like that’s not the only way to have a platform. And for me, it just wasn’t the right thing to do anymore. You know, I need to listen to myself when something’s run its course. It was a lesson for me to just, you know, stop. And I had a lot of work to do on myself instead of just hustling along and collecting one paycheck after another without any thought. It was wearing on me and I was like, “What am I doing?”
I had to take a real look at myself after the election. It was a huge wake up call, I think, to so many millions of people about what we have to be doing and the rights that we have to stick up for and the marginalized groups that we have to go to bat for. Because if you’re not doing something, that means you’re doing nothing. And if you’re doing nothing, then you’re complicit. And you did nothing while this happened. So for me, it was a big wake up call, in a sense that I had to stop, sit still with my own feelings, and think.
In order to be of use to other people you have to get your own injuries cleaned out. I had to get a little bit more self-involved to become a little bit less self-involved, ironically, by going to a psychiatrist, by sitting down every week, and just kind of hashing it out. But getting to a better place is totally worth it. And being on this tour has brought me back to stand-up. Because this is this is storytelling, these are all the stories of my life. They’re funny and they’re heartbreaking. For me, it was a coming back to myself in a big way.
So there are a lot of silver linings from this administration, even though it’s hell, and it’s awful, and, you know, hard to even watch the news anymore because it’s so devastating. But there are beautiful things that have come out of it. And it’s the coalition of people working together – of women working together – and finally uniting instead of, you know, having it be a zero sum game. It’s all marginalized communities realizing that we’re stronger together with each other than we are alone.
Will Shutes: Right? This past weekend was Pride here in Nashville and you had so many people walking around wearing t-shirts that said “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” It’s building a bridge to a marginalized community, just like you’re saying, and I don’t know that we’ve been good at that in the past.
Chelsea Handler: And that’s why I feel so passionately about having a platform and using it for a contribution, rather than just filling my own bank account. You have to think about what you’re doing moving forward. I wasn’t planning on writing a book. I wasn’t planning on ever doing stand-up again. I said so many times, “I’m never doing it again cause I burned myself out on it.” And through the process of writing this book, and kind of rediscovering my life and taking a good look at myself, all of my true passions came back. All of the things I thought that I was done with, for whatever reason, came back. And it’s like, “Oh, now I’m turning this into a stand-up tour because I have so much to share. Now, I actually have something important to say.” The response to the book has been so exciting because you think you’re telling your own story, and then you realize you’re telling so many people’s stories.
Will Shutes: So about your Robert Mueller fantasy… did it hold up in the wake of the report being released and not utterly eviscerating Trump?
Chelsea Handler: Yes, I was sexually attracted him for a very long time. I mean, my feelings are still on hold. I don’t want my love to be conditional. I’ve done that my whole life. If somebody did something wrong, I just cut them out. I don’t want to do that to him because I know he’s very sensitive, even though he’s also married and has a wife. But I do want to say that doesn’t prohibit me from having a sexual attraction for him. Obviously, I’m not going to act on it, but I want people to know that it’s there. I’m not the only one. As usual, I know there are millions of other people that feel the same way
Yes, yes, the crush is still there. It’s just in a little bit of a limbo.
Will Shutes: The line from the book about your first therapy session, “I am officially dehydrated from my life,” is a real hard-hitter. I think that’s a general feeling these days. Politically, I’m exhausted. Emotionally, I feel like my empathy runs dangerously low. What do you do to combat those feelings?
Chelsea Handler: And I feel like a lot of us feel the same way. I mean, I don’t want to even talk about candidates right now. There’s an election in a year that we’re talking about. I can’t take it. I burnt myself out on the midterms. I just hustled, hustled, hustled. So many people did and it worked. But I also want to gather my strength for 2020 so that we don’t have the same thing happen again.
This tour kind of allowed me to take some time for myself and do my own thing. You kind of have to give into your own bank account and store some reserve up so that you have the stamina to go do stuff for everybody else. I’m learning about all the things that I used to make fun of: balance, meditation, being centered, being grounded. But I’m so much happier. And life is so much better when you’re paying attention to everyone you talk to you and you’re not on your phone all day long. It’s just fuller.
Will Shutes: And does a small venue like the Ryman help make the experience better for you as compared to a huge venue like Bridgestone Arena?
Chelsea Handler: The material from this book wasn’t appropriate, in my mind, for a bigger crowd. It’s intimate, it’s personal. The stories end up being just so ridiculously over the top. It’s just my brand of humor. I thought it was going to be conversations. I didn’t know I was going to turn it into stand-up. I had a different celebrity interview me for the first 22 shows in different cities. And as I did that, I realized, “Oh, this is a one woman show, this is a stand-up show. This should be me on stage telling all these stories.”
I just got my ‘zhush’ back and I want to use it. So I’m glad that it’s at a venue where I can have a conversation and connect with people. Because right now it’s really about the connection. I used to get on stage and just kind of be unconscious about it. I wasn’t mindful. I’d do my set, get off, and go have fun with my friends. And I don’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to be present for the whole show. And I wanted to connect with the audience, not just the people in the front row. The audience. So it’s nicer to have this; it’s more commensurate with what I’m going to be talking about.
Will Shutes: On the idea of mindfulness, I know everybody’s heard of her at this point, but have you read Brené Brown yet?
Chelsea Handler: No, I haven’t. I’ve listened to her podcast, but I haven’t read her books.
Will Shutes: I jokingly – but not jokingly – describe her as a professional life un-fucker because she just gets it. I think that mindfulness and the being in the moment approach is really where we’re heading today, trying to reconnect to the relationships that we’ve put down the tubes.
Chelsea Handler: Yeah, I think people are waking up to the idea that we’re all a little bit too far up our own asses. Everyone’s walking down the street with their head in their phone. And it’s time for a shift in consciousness. I want to talk to people. I want to pay attention in those conversations. I had such ADD before I started therapy. I could not even pay attention to a conversation I was having without thinking about a million other things. Now I can. Now I can go sit outside on my balcony and meditate for 20 minutes, no problem. You know, I mean, I get stoned before I do it. But still, it’s just a different shift and it’s a different way to go through life.
And either you want to wake up or you don’t. And I wanted to wake up. It wasn’t working for me anymore. I was too angry. I was too outraged by the election. I wanted to be in a place of action, not reaction. And what came of that was just this great opportunity. And when we really center ourselves all good things start to come to the front and you’re like, “Oh, okay, this is how I can live my life. This is a much better option.”
Will Shutes: Finally, in the “To England With Love” episode of your Netflix series Chelsea, you got up close and personal with a bunch of gorgeous rugby players. I’m not normally jealous of celebrities, but c’mon…
Chelsea Handler: Well, you know… yes, I understand your jealousy. I was attracted to maybe one of them in a way that I had to leave early because we were just doing too much touch football. Or however you call it. Touch rugby
Will Shutes: What has been your favorite travel adventure so far? And what’s the big one for the bucket list that you’ve got left?
Chelsea Handler: I do love it. There’s so many places I have to go. So it’s just a matter of figuring out when and how, but I love it. And I love being able to put that on TV, too. You know, I want to travel without the cameras, but then I’m like, “Well wait, bringing everybody on the adventure is part of the justification for taking it.” You know what I mean? It makes me feel better as a person when I can share it with people. When you’re just going on your own trips all the time, how am I helping anybody else here or edifying anybody? But you have to do all those things for yourself. So this year, I don’t know, I’m probably gonna go ski in Europe for a while this year. I’m into skiing right now. I work through the summer and then I ski through the winter.
Will Shutes: There are far worse fates, I think, than that.
Chelsea Handler: Yeah, exactly.
Chelsea Handler brings her Sit-Down Comedy Tour to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on July 26th at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available through Ticketmaster and the Ryman Box Office.