Vaccinated & Horny

Some know Chelsea Handler as an ultra-woke liberal lady, who built comedy specials and documentaries around the partisan divides of the late 2010s. Some know her as a brash, politically incorrect talk show host who changed the demographics of late night TV. Handler herself probably wants to meet you somewhere in the middle: curious and introspective, brazen and unapologetic, but self-aware enough to draw a line in the sand before she trends for the wrong reason.

Handler’s newfound sense of self-awareness comes from a religious practice of therapy, meditation and smoking marijuana. Through this triad, she says she’s “debitched” herself and wants to be a nicer, kinder, gentler person in her everyday life. On stage, however, Handler strikes a balance between transcendence and raunch.

The comedian will be the first to admit her career has been one of ups and downs, evolutions in plain sight and luck. As with many comedians, she has had to navigate the treacherous new landscape of comedy: where one is often expected to be overzealous, but not punch down; have heart, but not be too mushy; and politically deft, while also staying out of serious policy discussion. In short: this is not the comedy landscape that grew your favorite Saturday Night Live sketches of the ‘70s.

For Handler’s part, she seems to revel in the challenge. Ahead of her show at the Times- Union Center, the comedian sat down with Folio to discuss life, her career and what people can expect from her new tour.

Folio: Tell me about the name of your tour, Vaccinated and Horny.

Chelsea Handler: You have to get vaccinated before you can legitimize your horniness … Vaccinated and horny was actually a title that one of my girlfriends came up with. I didn’t tell her I had chosen it, and so then when I had announced my tour she was all like, “Hey, you picked my name! I came up with’ vaccinated and horny’!” I had completely forgotten, of course. I think, you know, I just want this to be a joyous tour and bring life and laughter––I want to be the reason people are getting together again for the first time.

Getting together, for sure.

A lot of people are ready to rumble, in a sexual way also. So why not include that? A lot of us are sexually frustrated, especially those of us who have remained single and alone, and childless alone, as an intention in life. The pandemic was a real whoopsie-doodle.

First, I was patting myself on the back for not having children and having to say the words “homeschooling” or even participate in that. But at the same time I was like it would be much easier if I had a husband around. It’s not easy to meet people during a pandemic and trust that they are behaving in an appropriate way that makes you feel safe.

How has COVID changed the way you’re touring?

Well, we fly into the big cities, and we take busses in between the cities. I do three or four shows a weekend, depending. We have to keep it pretty tight on the road; you can’t screw around with this.

We’ll be doing all of the things: planes, trains and automobiles.

Any tour horror stories?

Oh God! The worst thing that ever happened to me on the road? I was once performing in New Zealand, in Auckland, and I had a guy come meet me. I thought that I was gonna like him. When he showed up I couldn’t believe his outfit and I couldn’t go through with anything. I spent the next four hours in Auckland trying to ditch this guy, just because I couldn’t be upright and say I wasn’t interested. I just kept trying to get rid of him.

I remember waking up in the morning and saying to my assistant at the time, I’m never lying again. If I had just said, ‘Hey, listen, I’m just really not that into you, I could have saved everyone a lot of time.”

You’ve talked a lot about “debitching” yourself and going to therapy and smoking weed. We’re meeting this kinder, gentler Chelsea. What can people expect from your tour?

Well, I mean it’s kind of a Chelsea 2.0, but standup is still standup. My “Evolution” [HBO] special was really about my experience I had during therapy. I wanted to do something profoundly meaningful within the medium of a stand up special. So when I did my most recent special for HBO Max last year, I really wanted to come back to stand up in a way that had meaning for me.

And by telling my story—and that whole special—was just a way for me to say something in this forum that had an impact. In the past I felt like it had just been weightless: cracking jokes, and cracking jokes and cracking jokes. Now, I’m in a different space too. There’s always an evolution happening. It’s like you want to get back to being rowdy and being bad and saying naughty jokes.

That’s who I am. Yeah, I want to bring that to the forefront, and I want to remind people how idiotic we all behaved during this pandemic and how embarrassing our behavior was. And how silly and small we became, and how easy it was to tell how big the world was.

But the number one role of being a stand up comedian is making people f*cking laugh.

Had you been existential before COVID?

I mean I gained a lot of that self-awareness during therapy. You’re basically paying for that transaction of self-awareness. You’re paying someone to tell you what’s wrong with you and what your shortcomings are. I’ve learned for a long time that my epicenter is not the world’s epicenter. My life is not the center of the universe … That’s why I try to not stay in L.A. for too many months consecutively before I lose my mind. You can get your head so far up your ass that you don’t know whose ass is where.

With your podcast and your tour and your last docuseries, you’ve been gravitating toward “normal people” not interviewing celebrities. Do you ever wish you could go back to before your celebrity?

I mean, I like my celebrity. It’s the perfect mix. I don’t get harassed––well, I mean I get harassed online but who doesn’t. I can take that like no problem, that’s a day at the beach.

But I think for me I’m just always more compelled––and Dear Chelsea, my podcast, is all about talking to normal people––because I just really wanted to talk to normal people. I like regular people. I like dynamics: sibling dynamics, family dynamics and interpersonal relationships, and I like to be kind of like your big sister or your best friend who’s gonna give you that kick in the ass and tell you to go for it when you’re too scared to make that jump yourself.

I kind of burned myself out on celebrity culture for so many years. I just don’t care. And now we’re in a different time, making fun of celebrities doesn’t end well. We learned that the hard way, just look at poor Britney Spears. We need to let those little kids be little kids and let celebrities just make asses of themselves on their own.

Staying on Britney Spears––do you think you need to cancel people to learn? Do you wish you could go back and not make those mistakes, or were they worth it?

I think mistakes are very fruitful to become the person you’re gonna be. Without those mistakes and without learning there’s no learning curve. You have to learn that something isn’t appropriate and you accept it, and then you apply it.

There’s all these steps to being made aware of a situation and then applying it to the way that you’re gonna act in the world. And then maintaining it. I think everyone has come to grips with the fact that things have gotten really insensitive, and people’s feelings were not being considered.

Do you think comedy will change—or is changing—with this reckoning? Not only with celebrity culture but also with equality and injustice. Will some comics be left behind?

Yeah, some comics are being left behind. But it’s a new era, I like the challenge of having parameters. I like being told you can’t do this, you can’t say that. Good! I will have to get more clever. And some people will be left behind, but those people were probably too far behind to begin with.

In the past few years your forte has been specials on equality and policy issues, why is it important for you to talk about those things?

I grew up in this world as a white, pretty woman. It was pretty easy to become famous and become a celebrity and a standup comedian that was pretty successful. It was tough work for me at the time, thinking in the narrow scope of my purview, but when you look at the larger scope of things like, wow, I had every advantage in the world to make my dreams come true.

And what is it like for someone who doesn’t have every advantage, and what are you gonna do about it?

Watch interview here

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