Chelsea Handler Is Here for Us
Comedy Powerhouse Kicks Off Tour and Santa Barbara Bowl Season
By Shannon Brooks | August 19, 2021
Comedian Chelsea Handler will make her Santa Barbara Bowl debut when she officially kicks off her national Vaccinated and Horny tour this Saturday, August 21. The fearlessly candid author, podcaster, and activist is no stranger to Santa Barbara — she has been frequenting our sandy shores, State Street, and Mexican eateries for years, and earlier this month, she escaped to the Rosewood Miramar on a girls’ getaway. But this show will be her first time gracing the hallowed Santa Barbara Bowl stage. And many in the audience will be attending their first, long-awaited live show in 18 months.
When I spoke to Handler last week, she was fresh off vacation with her extended family in Nantucket and very eager to get her tour started. More specifically, she’s “excited about being the reason people come back together and go to their first big outdoor event.” She added, “It’s time for good times and laughter. Let’s get this show on the road again!”
Handler relishes any opportunity to bring lightness and belly laughs to her fans — many of whom have been following her career since her successful seven-year stint as the host of E!’s Chelsea Lately, which wrapped in 2014. Notably, she was the only female late-night host on air at the time. “[The tour] is me getting back to stand-up in the way I started stand-up, which is making fun of what has happened to all of us,” Handler said. “How we all reacted in the last year. And how badly behaved some were, and how well-behaved others were.”
She didn’t have to dig deep to find comedy in what’s transpired recently to develop her new stand-up material. One issue she’s delighted to tackle is “how men are resisting this feminist movement; they feel like something’s being taken away from them; they think the party’s over.” She elaborated, “Watching that kind of reaction from all these old white guys, who are like, ‘Wait, what? What’s happening?’ We’re trying to explain to you that these are the changes that are going to have to happen, and you’re still resisting it. Like, you know, the future is happening!”
Handler has a particularly entertaining, unfiltered way of blending self-deprecation with insightful observations about society and human nature as she follows her own curiosity. Her documentary specials on Netflix have explored topics ranging from white privilege (starting with her own) and drugs (she tries ayahuasca) to the institution of marriage (she’s single and kid-free) and Silicon Valley (she’s far from tech-savvy).
In Chelsea, her follow-up talk show on Netflix, Handler went beyond simply hosting Hollywood stars for entertaining promotional chats. She curated a compelling rotation of guests and topical experts that provided insights on the timely political, social, and environmental issues that she personally wanted to learn more about. I was among the fans who enjoyed seeing this more “serious” side of Handler and respected how she chose to use her platform, as well as whose voices she amplified in the process. You could tell her heart was very much in it and a transformation had begun. (Plus, she rocked some very cool vintage band tees cleverly paired with glam pencil skirts!)
Prior to the pandemic, in spring 2019, Handler released her sixth book and first memoir. Life Will Be the Death of Me … and You Too! follows her life-changing experience going to therapy to deal with her anger and confusion in the wake of the 2016 election. As the book recounts, that journey of self-discovery opened her eyes to emotions she had not been aware of, and she realized she had never processed the devastating loss of her oldest brother, Chet, when she was 9 years old. She also discovered she had been lacking empathy.
“When I got out of therapy, [I realized], oh, people see me in a certain way that I had never seen myself,” Handler recalled. “Because I wasn’t really paying attention to what people thought of me, which is a great quality. Until you are ignoring what people think of you.” As she openly shares in her book and stand-up bits, she wasn’t afraid to face that truth and do the work to change, grow, and evolve.
Of therapy, she said, “I gained the gift of self-awareness, and that was really helpful to move through life in a more positive, grounded way. Not to be clueless, and to be mindful and to treat people with patience and kindness and understanding.” This new, more compassionate perspective made her realize that “everybody’s going through something, and we all have different experiences in life.”
Handler hasn’t gone to therapy since the pandemic but remains committed to her personal evolution. “I think the most challenging part of therapy is when you leave and start to apply the things you’ve learned into your real life. That’s when you make a change.”
While she might be more empathetic and emotionally intelligent, her frankness and candor haven’t changed. Handler’s ability to tell it like it is is one of her comedic superpowers. “People have been thinking I’m intimidating before I could even open my mouth, so I don’t even know how to respond to that, but all I can do is be myself. If that’s intimidating to so many people, my apologies!”
During lockdown, she turned the experiences and “aha” moments captured in her memoir into an HBO Max stand-up special, Chelsea Handler: Evolution, which she filmed before a live audience outside of a train station in her home state of New Jersey. The Vaccinated and Horny stand-up hour will build upon Evolution and eventually become its own taped special when she feels like it’s as perfect as it’s going to get.
To prepare for the tour, Handler has been making the rounds to refine her new material at comedy clubs, and she recently wrapped up a week of testing the waters in Nashville. She’ll continue to tinker with the set throughout the tour, which features 40 stops between Santa Barbara and the end of the year, with more 2022 dates yet to be announced.
Fans can also tune in to Handler’s new advice podcast, Dear Chelsea, which launched on iHeartRadio in the fall. She credits her sister with encouraging her to go with the advice format. “My sister was like, ‘Why don’t you give advice to people?’ She goes, ‘You’re great at that. And you do take yourself seriously enough to think you’re like a medical person.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’” Plus, Handler enjoys helping people connect with their bravery to find the courage to go after what they want. It’s something she naturally does with all of the people in her life. “People need a little kick in the ass. And who better to do that than someone as unqualified as myself?!”
All joking aside, the podcast has become so much more serious and impactful than she anticipated going into it. “People actually call with real problems. It’s made for emotional conversations with people who’ve made big life changes and then called and told us how amazing things have turned out.” The podcast is fulfilling for Handler on many levels and gives her an opportunity to act like a big sister to her fans, a role she aspires to. “I like real people, so I like to interact with real people. I don’t want to ever get so carried away that I can’t do that.”
Between her podcast, stand-up, and social media presence, Handler is an open book. Along her wellness journey, she gained a deep appreciation for cannabis, and she is currently in the process of developing her own cannabis product line. “It’s been a long road,” she acknowledged. “It’s a male-dominated industry, and we’ve had a lot of hurdles. But we are working on it and hoping to announce something very soon.”
When asked who she would invite to her dream cannabis-infused dinner party, Handler chuckled and quickly said, “Oh, well, I need Wiz Khalifa there with me for any cannabis dinner party. He and I had a weed dinner party once with Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons, and Dan Reynolds got up to use the bathroom, but he was so stoned because I guess he had never smoked weed before, and he certainly hadn’t smoked Wiz Khalifa’s weed. He got up and walked right into the glass window in my house and ricocheted off of it! And I looked at Wiz Khalifa, and I mean, the smile on his face was just one of the funniest moments, and I’ll never forget it.”
Joining Wiz and Chelsea at the table would be former First Lady Michelle Obama, the author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Jon Favreau from the Pod Save America podcast. The dinner would be a family affair, with her brother Roy in the kitchen. “He’s a chef, but no one’s dream,” she teased.
In terms of continuing along her own wellness path, Handler says she benefits from meditating every morning and focuses on cultivating mindfulness. “I read a lot of books about being mindful and conscious of what you’re doing with your free time and how you’re contributing in ways to your community, to your society. It all adds up. You can’t just be sitting here mouthing off about things — you actually have to show up for things.”
Right now, her first order of business is to show up for her fans and put smiles on the faces of those of us who have deeply missed the singular pleasure of going to a live show. Chelsea, we are vaccinated and ready for you to take the mic!