It’s another Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles, and Chelsea Handler has just finished recording a new episode of her podcast. Her housekeeper, Mabel, a frequent presence in Handler’s Instagram skits, is packing Handler’s suitcase so that after her Variety photoshoot, she can jet off directly to the airport for a standup performance in Chicago, the latest in her 117-date “Vaccinated and Horny” tour, which launched during the pandemic and comes to a close this month.
Casually hanging with her glam team at home, Handler has ordered a dozen boxes of Domino’s — thin crust cheese — for the crew on-set. “Do you want a piece?” Handler asks, greeting me in her kitchen where she opens the fridge and lifts up a tub of grated parmesan. She also grabs a weed chocolate bar for one of her team members, and then casually asks if anyone wants some Ozempic from her fridge. Is she joking? Not at all. Well, maybe: Handler tells a story about how she recently tried Hollywood’s new weight loss drug — which is really meant for diabetes patients — when a doctor gave her the medication under a different name, she explains, without her realizing it was actually Ozempic. If you haven’t heard of Ozempic, it’s the latest worst-kept secret among the most vain and elite inner circles within showbiz, and Handler is obsessed with talking about it. If she had a talk show, that would definitely be one of her nightly hot topics.
“Apparently, it makes you lose your appetite,” Handler says, devouring her pizza. “But I like having an appetite. It made me nauseous, and I don’t like to be nauseous. Only in this fucking town.”
Not that she’s really a fan. Handler wouldn’t live here if she hadn’t put down roots for her career. She especially can’t stand Beverly Hills, where she’s currently renting a house while she builds a new home for herself. “Every corner you turn, you see the same face, and you don’t know if they’re 40 or 80,” she says. During the pandemic, Handler fled California for her happy place of Whistler, Canada where she day-dreamed about becoming a ski instructor. “I tried to skedaddle and wanted to get the hell out of dodge, just in case Donald Trump got elected again,” she says. It was during this time that Handler became inspired and wrote for her tour — which was filmed for her latest standup special, “Revolution,” coming to Netflix on Dec. 27. Her recent breakup from her ex-boyfriend, comedian Jo Koy, also contributed to her continued revolution of self-reflection.
“What I really discovered about myself during that time was how much I enjoyed the pleasure of my own company,” Handler says. “COVID taught me there is a lot of value in being able to spend time by yourself. “I just allowed myself to be in my house alone and I did whatever the fuck I wanted – and what I like to do is take drugs and read books.”
In her recent standup, Handler, 47, discusses the importance of therapy and mental health. From this conversation, it’s clear she has done the work. “Until I spent time alone, I didn’t have a lot of self-awareness,” she says. “Now, I spend my time wisely. I know when I need to be alone, I don’t infect other people with my shitty moods and I know how to remove myself from the situation if someone is annoying me. I have a lot of self-respect. I feel very much like a woman now, whereas up until I was like, 42 years old, I felt like a girl.”
She’s also rethought her material. “My stand up now always has meaning. There’s always a message that I’m not just telling jokes about my pussy, you know what I mean?”
I’m hanging out with Handler two days after the midterm elections. Sitting in sneakers and a jumpsuit in her backyard, she’s feeling optimistic that the red wave was only a cable news myth, which voters stopped.
“I don’t think this country is going to hell in a handbasket, which is what I thought for so long,” she says. “I’ve always been politically aware, but Trump sent me over the rafters. It is my responsibility as a well-known female to make sure I am standing up for women all the time.”
When asked to name the biggest threat to women, Handler responds simply: “Republicans.”
If Handler still had a talk show, no doubt, this would be great fodder for an opening monologue. She shattered a glass ceiling with her own late-night talk show on E!, “Chelsea Lately,” from 2007 to 2014, that made her into a household name and proved she could grill a celebrity with more sass than any of her male peers. She also proved to be a streaming pioneer when she launched “Chelsea,” a talk show on Netflix, that was swiftly canceled after only two seasons.
“Netflix was too nascent a platform to have a talk show work,” Handler says, not at all concerned about dissing the home of her new standup special. “I think that all of these streamers have had a lot of trouble launching any of these talk shows.” Looking back, she reflects, “I didn’t really want to be working at that point, but I left E! and then Netflix was like, ‘Come over here.’ It’s a good life lesson. When you need time off, honor that and take some time off. Now, the way I feel about it is I have an appetite again.”
Truth be told, Handler does miss late night, and she’s ready to return. She made headlines when she filled in for Jimmy Kimmel last summer, and roasted the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. She’s bubbling on a reboot of “Chelsea Lately” that she would call “Chelsea Later,” which she envisions as a more elevated version of the original. “Rather than just focus on gossip and Lindsay Lohan, it has to be a broader, wider spectrum of topics,” she says.
In February, Handler will guest host on “The Daily Show,” filling in for Trevor Noah, who announced his departure after seven years.
“I definitely see room for a female voice in late night comedy,” says Jimmy Fallon, the long-tenured host of “The Tonight Show” on NBC. “It was Chelsea’s choice to leave. She wanted to do other things. And she did. And she did them well. I think the audience is still there for her.”
Fallon calls Handler “effortlessly funny and honest” and says “she is relatable, she is smart and she knows how to land a joke.” He adds, “As a father of two intelligent, creative and curious girls, I think there should be more women in as many places as possible.”
Handler agrees with that assessment. “I need to get back in because where are the women? Every head of every network should be ashamed that they haven’t given a female a talk show,” she says. “The fact that Samantha Bee is no longer on the air is unacceptable to me.”
After TBS canceled “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” over the summer, only Amber Ruffin (on Peacock) and Ziwe (on Showtime) helm their own shows. Handler is aware that there’s room for at least two new faces in late night. Aside from Noah’s “Daily Show” departure at Comedy Central, James Corden is leaving his “Late Late Show” on CBS next year.
“I don’t know if they’ve reached out to us, but I’ve had conversations with my team about both of those situations,” Handler says. “James Corden’s show is like 12:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., so that doesn’t really interest me. I definitely would be open to talking about the Trevor Noah slot. I don’t know what their plans for it are, or if they’ve already chosen somebody who’s on the show.”
As Handler looks at the late-night landscape, it “doesn’t look optimistic,” she bluntly says. “Talk shows are a dying art, and there has to be a new iteration of them. They’re not fresh. They’re stale. I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m definitely willing to be part of the solution.”
Handler isn’t only looking to do a traditional format. She’s eying the Bill Maher model as a possibility. “It doesn’t have to be five nights a week. Ideally, it would be once a week. But it depends. Nobody gives a shit about watching celebrities be interviewed over and over again every night. They care about the monologue.”
She ponders how her show would be different. “It has to be joyful,” she says. “Everything is white and old and boring.”
After her talk show was dumped by Netflix, there’s no bad blood between the streamer and Handler. Her last standup special, “Evolution,” streamed on HBO Max in 2020. But Netflix is now the best home for comics and standup viewers, she says, and she told her agents to make a deal with the streaming giant.
“It has become clearer, especially the last couple of years, that specials belong on Netflix,” Handler says. “That’s the best place to be. I have a long history with them, and I have a lot of stuff on that platform, so it’s a pretty natural relationship to go back.”
Handler says she did not talk to Netflix’s CEO Ted Sarandos, who greenlit her streaming talk show in 2016, about her new special. She worked with Robbie Praw, Netflix’s vice president of standup, who oversees the comedy division. “We really value our history with Chelsea,” Praw says, “and the range of work we’ve produced together because we take pride in offering so many different formats and genres for comedians to work in.”
Netflix has emerged as the platform of choice for comedy, with a roster that includes Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and Pete Davidson. The streamer also stood by Dave Chappelle, who became the subject of controversy for making transphobic jokes in his 2021 Netflix special “The Closer.”
“I don’t really have a feeling about that,” Handler says when asked about Netflix’s handling of Chappelle’s special. “Listen, I’m not a corporate person. I’m an individual, and I guide myself on what I believe to be true and what I believe to be inspiring, so who knows how these corporations operate. That’s not really my place.”
“This world is a hot mess,” she continues, “So let’s bring light and joy and creativity and humor. Our job is to provide humor without targeting anybody. That’s how I feel.”
And when it comes to political correctness, Handler has some advice for her fellow comedians: it’s not hard to not be canceled.
“You can still be funny without being sexist or racist. That’s not a tall order,” she says. “Don’t discriminate against people that are marginalized. That’s it. Those are the only parameters. And so, everyone could stop bitching and complaining about it.”
Handler earned her first Grammy nomination last year for best comedy album, for “Evolution.” She lost to Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct by masturbating in front of women.
What did she think about his win? “Um,” she says. “I mean, I would have preferred to lose to someone that I love a lot — like Kevin Hart.”
The least he could have done, Handler says, is taken accountability for his actions. “If Louis has done that, that’s great. I really don’t know if he has. But to pretend that you haven’t done anything when what you did was repeatedly wrong is not okay. It just shows you that old white guys are in charge. And that’s it.”