Chelsea Handler's early work as a memoirist and stand-up comic focused largely on things she and her audience were thinking about: dating, sex, drinking, friends, sex with friends, money, celebrities, sex with celebrities.
The set-ups to Handler's jokes were candid, and punchlines landed with the force of a hatchet being buried ... into someone's neck.
Handler's original audience has changed, as has she. The generation of young women, liberals, and gays and lesbians that came behind them grew up fast. Now, they're all going through and thinking about the same thing: Saving the country. Maybe the world.
Before that can happen, a little organizing is in order. That's why Handler's staging a series of "town hall"-style chats in cities across America. Next stop: Minneapolis, where Handler will be onstage with (thoroughly City Pages-endorsed) KARE 11 host Jana Shortal at the State Theatre on June 5. (Some tickets still available; click here to buy 'em.)
Their chat is presented by Twin Cities Pride, and is likely to feature at least some discussion of LGBTQ issues. But there's really no telling what's going to come up. That's what Handler wants out of these nights: an open-ended conversation, with no plan and lots of audience participation.
Drinks will be served -- this is still a Chelsea Handler show -- but the people sipping might wind up learning something between laughs. Their gain is Donald Trump's loss.
City Pages spoke to Handler about the event, what audience members should expect, and what she's already learning on the road.
City Pages: What is this series of events you’re doing and why did you want to do it?
Chelsea Handler: It’s a fun night. It's talking about activism, how you can get involved in your community, voting, politics, social activism, and having people get up and share what’s important to them. What’s changed for them since the election, and how everything’s going -- not only for them, but in their communities.
My priorities really shifted since the election, because I realized what matters to me, what’s important to me. So it’s kind of threading the notion of that, and having open conversations with people, opening your minds a bit more to having a fuller spectrum of what different people are experiencing, what different people’s struggles are. I feel really passionately about this, and about being involved on a granular level. I wanted to keep it intimate and do venues where we could actually converse with each other
CP: You did one of these in Appleton, Wisconsin, and you’re coming to Minneapolis. What is it about flyover country that’s appealing to you?
Handler: I’m going to all the parts of the country that I don’t spend enough time in, so I can have a better understanding of the things that I’m not familiar with. After the election, everyone was calling everyone in L.A. and New York an elitist, and, they’re not wrong. For me, it was like, I’ve worked really hard for my career, but I realized, “I am an elitist, that’s exactly what I’ve become.” So, I wanted to be sure I put my money where my mouth is, and show up, and have real, temperate conversations with people. I can learn more, understand better, and gain better knowledge of the different experiences people have in this country. Because, they’re not like mine. Obviously, I benefit from a lot of privilege and a lot of luck.
So, I wanted to spend this year doing something kind of like boots-on-the-ground, and have conversations. When I did stand-up, you get to go to all these different incredible cities around the country. But you don’t get to spend more than 24 hours there, and you certainly don’t get to have conversations with people.
CP: The event description says some of the things that might come up include “gun violence,” “EPA policy,” and “infrastructure.” Are those things you can be funny about? Is that not the point?
Handler: Obviously, gun violence, I don’t think there’s anything funny about that. But these are fun nights. These are things we touch on, talking about social issues, so everyone can leave with a little more knowledge than when they came. But it’s definitely not, like, a serious, serious night. It’s a bit of everything, and it’s important for me to inject humor into everything I do, because it helps me understand things, so I assume it helps other people understand things better.
CP: It’s surprising how short it’s been, but we’re 14 months in, now, to a Trump presidency. Is it funny? Or is it too upsetting to be funny?
Handler: No, everything can be funny. Tragedy can be funny -- not right away -- but you have to have some levity to it, because otherwise, if you feel really passionately about it, it can make you crazy. I think the important thing is to figure out how to be active, how to harness that anger or outrage you have, into something prosperous and positive. You can make a change, your voice does matter. And it’s so important that we all are involved in politics -- and voting.
We have to vote. If we all get out there to the polls and vote, Russia can’t interfere with our vote. They can only fuck with us if we don’t show up! We have to show up in droves. That’s what this is about, motivating people and galvanizing people to participate. You can’t just shut your eyes and say, “We hope someone else fixes it.” We tried that, and look what happened? So, it’s our turn.
CP: When you first got started in comedy, your material was obviously more inward-focused: personal life, things you were going through. Did you always have this interest in politics, or has that grown?
Handler: I’ve always had an interest in politics, for sure. But it’s definitely grown. I feel like we’re in a state of emergency now. I feel like a lot of things are being unraveled right now that this country stands for. I know Minneapolis has a huge Somali population. I’m hopeful we get a lot of those people out there, to hear their thoughts, how they feel about this administration. And how they feel about their lives in general, having moved here, to America.
A lot of people don’t come here because they want to, it’s because they have to. It’s about us all having a bit of compassion, and understanding the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, and the contributions they make. I know the Somali community does contribute to our society, and is a great standard-bearer for why this country is a great home for people who have to leave their country.
I’m very supportive of that, and I’m very interested in learning more. It’s not like I’m coming and teaching everybody. It’s like, we’re all just coming and having a big conversation. And, you know, with alcohol.
CP: There’s a thought out there that liberals hurt themselves acting smug and superior. It kind of sounds like this tour, these events, are an attempt to do something differently. Do you think some of that is true?
Handler: Absolutely. I’m guilty of that very thing. This is all about me edifying myself. I have the ability to take some time off, talking to real people, go campaign for candidates with values I believe in. At first I was like, “I’m not an elitist. I’m from New Jersey, my father was a used car dealer. I don’t have a trust fund.” But, it’s like: Of course I’m an elitist! I live in a mansion in Bel Air. I have a TV show, I can do whatever I want whenever I want it.
So I wanted to spend my time doing something that I hope is going to make a difference this coming election cycle. If it does, great, if it doesn’t, then I’ll be really, really devastated. But I’ll have done everything in my power to have a voice in this, and try to help anyone who’s interested have a better understanding. I feel a lot more powerful because of my knowledge, and I feel a lot more humble, too.
CP: Close to 18 months out from the election, what do you think of Hillary Clinton?
Handler: I’m over Hillary Clinton, I’m over that. I get why people didn’t like her. I didn’t get why until I started doing these talks, and then, they told me why they couldn’t have voted for her. People who were Democrats, and who also couldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. Actually, a lot of gay and lesbian people said they couldn’t vote for her, because they had no trust in her. After hearing it enough times, I get it. She represented the establishment.
I also think there’s an issue with women supporting women in this country. And that now we’ve had the #MeToo movement, and the “Time’s Up” movement, it’s a direct referendum on the fact we elected Donald Trump as our president. And women are now seeing how much stronger we are when we’re fighting for each other.
We’re learning that when we make a movement, something needs to happen.