You never know what Chelsea Handler is going to say, but you know what she's NOT going to say: anything about Dave Chappelle, and that's fine with me. Whatever her private views on the matter are, she has wisely chosen not to tempt fate by speaking on it publicly, and it is the rare subject on which she has no comment. Beyond that, there were no preconditions. The interview was short, but sweet. She talks really fast, and she thinks even faster.
Her show at the Hard Rock on Friday night comes a couple dozen gigs into her latest tour, dubbed "Vaccinated and Horny." It's the third of four shows in Florida, including St. Petersburg, Miami Beach and Jacksonville. "It's been amazing to have crowds back, for the first time, so we can talk about all the idiotic things we've endured through COVID," she says, "and all the ridiculous ways in which we behaved."
Some things are more ridiculous than others, like dating in the COVID era, which I'm told has been challenging. "I had to get my own home COVID tests, so I could potentially have some sort of sexual relationship during COVID. I had to test my potential penetrators in my backyard, with a nasal swab, and then over the next 30 minutes, if they said anything annoying, or I saw a pinky ring, I could just come back out and tell them they tested positive."
The tour continues on through at least March 2022, before it assumes its final form as a special for HBO Max, which also produced her previous special, Evolution, in December 2020. Long tours can be a source of stress and fatigue for performing artists, especially when you're stacking a bunch of one-nighters in sequence. Handler's a pro, though, a veteran comic well-versed in the logistics of touring, so her process goes about as smoothly as possible. "The shows get more and more fun, because you kind of just find your groove," she says. "The travel, yeah, is tiresome, but it's basically a wellness gig when you're on tour. You're just taking care of yourself and trying to keep your energy up. There's a lot of sleeping, not as much drinking as there used to be."
Handler hit the scene hard three decades ago, making the kind of splash that larger men aspire to make at pool parties. She started doing stand-up around 1996, and was already hosting her own talk show within her first 10 years in the business. That show, Chelsea Lately, ran for seven years on the E! Network. It's hard to overstate how crucial that particular show was, not just to comedy, but to broadcasting in general. Things like streaming content and viral video were still evolving, and Handler was among the first to demonstrate the commercial appeal of women who speak their mind and have no interest in filtering their thoughts to soothe male egos. This makes her a crucial link in a chain that runs from Joan Rivers and Elayne Boosler to Nikki Glaser, Chelsea Peretti and Robby Hoffman (whose special I'm Nervous has no peer this year).
She has always excelled in the format, and odds are very good that she will return to it. With Handler, one gets no sense that she is ever kidding, even when she might be. Her tone conveys consistent sincerity; she is not the type to just say things to get a cheap pop, or to just provoke debate. Handler is almost entirely immune to scandal, because she can't be scandalized. To borrow a phrase from the late Margaret Thatcher, the lady's not for turning, nor does she care much for pandering or pitter-patter.
The pandemic did bring us closer to our families, while creating new ones over a year of stress sex, but Handler herself was of no such inclination. "I also want to give myself a pat on the back for remaining childless and alone during this lifetime," she says. "My whole reason for not having children was on the off-chance that we might be living through a global pandemic, and then I'd have to be at home, home-schooling a child. So, I have never been more confident in my decision-making skills as I've been over the past year."
Another smart decision was to downsize, selling her home near the market's peak (and that bubble will burst, sooner or later). "My sister came and invaded my house with her three children, and I didn't appreciate that at all. I sold that house, promptly, after they left, and now I'm looking to get a smaller house, so that no one can do that to me again."
It's kinda like Fran Lebowitz, who once reportedly renovated her NYC apartment to remove the extra bedroom, specifically to dissuade her friends from wanting to spend the night. We've all been there.