Chelsea Handler on her new show and the blending of politics and comedy

Chelsea Handler is known for never holding back. Her fiercely honest critiques of public figures, which used to only target celebrities, have now shifted to prominent politicians in her new Netflix talk show, “Chelsea” (2016–present).

To introduce the second season of the show, which premiered earlier this month, Handler begins the first episode with, “Thank you! I’m back! The last time I was sitting here, I was sitting at this desk, and the president of the United States was a hot young parasailing novelist named Barack Hussein Obama. And now we have a new president, whose name is Donald Putin Trump.” What is fascinating about the show’s political coverage is that the show is more than just an outlet for political commentary, but also about Handler herself. In the same episode, Handler gets involved with a local political campaign, calling potential voters for Los Angeles Council District 9 candidate Jorge Nuño.

During a press conference last week with several college news organizations, including the Daily, Handler explained the reasons behind her switch to more political coverage in “Chelsea” as compared to her former show, “Chelsea Lately” (2007–2014).

“Since the election, I’ve been motivated to get more people involved with politics, especially when it’s not a presidential election,” Handler said. “The things I cared about, I wasn’t able to talk about on my old show. So I wanted to have more of a spectrum of conversation and be more well rounded. As a person, you’re not just interested in one thing … so I wanted to incorporate that and feel like a fish out of water, because that also lends itself to being really stupid and funny.”

Compared to her last show, “Chelsea” allows the comedian to more easily be herself. Her political asides and personal quips throughout the show give viewers a look into Handler’s world. What makes “Chelsea” stand out from other political talk shows like “The Daily Show” (1996–present) or “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (2016–present) is that Handler’s comedic personality is the show’s strong point, rather than her political commentary.

“I’m not a journalist,” Handler said, “First and foremost, I’m a comedian.”

Many comedians today struggle to deliver funny jokes without making light or making fun of certain groups of people and identities. Handler, however, believes that it is possible for comedians to make jokes about the Trump administration’s policies, even though these policies have real impacts on the lives of marginalized peoples. In fact, she sees comedy as a vehicle for healing and rumination.

“I think there are certain groups of people that humor resonates [with] more than actually watching CNN or watching the news,” she said. “The rotation of the news cycle gets exhausting. So … I think comedy is the best way to make fun of things because you can have serious conversations about stuff and you can also make jokes. The two don’t preclude each other.”

During her show, Handler frequently pushes people in the entertainment world to recognize that they have a responsibility to give voice to people who do not have the platform they have as members of the public eye. Her guest lineup is striking. On what other show will you have the highest-ranking Hispanic congresswoman speak on the same episode as Charlize Theron? While the political and celebrity spheres may seem unrelated, on “Chelsea,” Handler illustrates the similarities between the backgrounds of comedians, celebrities, politicians and political commentators. She also encourages viewers to recognize the similarities they share with her, as her brutal honesty places her in a vulnerable position.

It’s no coincidence that Handler’s comedy has the power to bring so many people together and show how everyone from celebrities to politicians, as well as ordinary people, can have a positive impact on the world around them in their own unique ways.


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