June 14, 2019

Chelsea Handler

Comedian Chelsea Handler joins Firing Line to discuss how she channeled her anger and sadness after Donald Trump’s election into self discovery and activism. Handler shares her views on Robert Mueller, the #MeToo movement, and abortion rights.

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A comedian, television host, and vocal critic of just about everything, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

Forget already?

No, I’m so sick of you and your stuff.
This is why you’re dangerous.
[ Laughter ] Because you’re like 11, and you’re tricking me.

She rose to fame as the first woman to host a daily late-night talk show.

Please welcome Bill Maher… Emma Stone.
Rihanna!

This actually isn’t even a talk show.
It’s a therapy session.
[ Laughter ]
…making a name for herself for those brutal takedowns of Hollywood and celebrity culture.

Kim and Kourtney — there’s a bikini war going on.
Only people that can declare war are Congress and Brad and Angelina always said they wouldn’t get married until everyone could get married, and I always said I wouldn’t get married until they got divorced.

And then, Donald Trump became president.

I guess the message that I want to, like, spread out to other women is — is exactly what you’re saying is not to give up.
I went to a psychiatrist after the election because I couldn’t handle what was happening, and my reaction was so out of control.

After she wiped away her tears, she says she had an awakening and decided to devote herself to activism.

It is important to me, and I’m gonna use my show to add value and to bring awareness to topics that I don’t think are getting a big enough or loud enough voice of their own.

That is, when she’s not going off about her romantic feelings for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

I’m sexually attracted to Robert Mueller, and I — He’s in his early 70s.
From what I can tell, underneath his business attire, there is a six- to eight-pack, still.

What does Chelsea Handler say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by… …and by…
Chelsea Handler, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you for having me.

You are a very famous comedian.
You’re a best-selling author.
You have just launched a podcast, and you have just written a book — one of your many books — and this one is called ‘Life Will be the Death of Me.’
You talk a lot about how you went through a transformation at the beginning of the Trump presidency because Donald Trump was elected.

Mm-hmm.

As you look back on it now, has Trump been good for comedy?

No, I would argue that he’s not good for comedy.
I would rather not be talking about him at all.

But does he give you material?

He gave me a lot to think about.
Him being elected gave me a lot to think about, and I didn’t know — You know, it was the first time in my life where I was, like, an adult throwing a tantrum because I couldn’t believe the results of the election.

So, you mention a tantrum.
I want to actually show a clip from right after the election when you were sitting with Barbara Boxer, and it was new and it was visceral, and here’s how you responded to the news of Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

I guess the message that I want to, like, spread out to other women is — is exactly what you’re saying is not to give up.
It’s easy to say, ‘Throw in the towel,’ and that we’re gonna leave or I’m gonna move to Spain, because I want to move to Spain.
I really, really want to move to Spain right now.
And everyone in my office is like, ‘You have a responsibility.
You have a voice, and you need to use it, and you have to be here.’
[ Cheers and applause ]
So that’s what you were talking about.
That’s what you said.
You wanted to throw a tantrum for the first time in your adult life, but Trump gave you something to think about, and your book is really about this opportunity — if you want to give Trump credit for giving you an opportunity — to be self-reflective in a way that you hadn’t before.

Yeah, in a way that he never will be.
I realized that I could go — Yeah, I realized, ‘Oh, this anger –‘ For me, it was a trigger.
Like, the world became unhinged.
He’s kind of like a toddler, like an angry — You know, he’s a toddler.
He lashes out at people, and he’s vengeful, and he says really nasty things, and he — he’s a crybaby.
He’s like — Never in modern American history have we ever seen a crybaby of this nature serving as the president of the United States.
And so, when I talked to a doctor and was angry about Trump and going off about Trump and spending, you know, a lot of money for an hour, two hours a week, to bitch about our president, you know, he wanted to know about my childhood, and maybe something happened there that — And so, yes, when I unwrapped it all, I realized, ‘Oh, the last time I felt like this was when I was 9.
My brother told me he was never gonna leave me, and he died.’
So, those two things are the only times in my life where I felt completely out of control of a situation.
And so my anger now, I know, isn’t about Trump.
Trump doesn’t matter in the real scheme of things, you know?
My anger was about a lot of other things.
I’m angry that Trump is the president, but I have a lot more balance about it now, and I can be — I want to be in a place of action, not reaction.
And for the first year after the election, I felt myself — I thought I was giving myself cancer.
I could not stop with the news.
I could not stop with the — My outrage was at a 10 every day.
And I don’t want to be like that, and it was just — You know, it’s like — It’s kind of sickening to be that way.

I think there were a lot of people that had that response, and I think your journey through those times and I think your book has given people a lot of food for thought because it’s actually provided many women who probably had a difficult time being able to put a barrier between the news cycle and their own feelings about the news.

Right.

Has that been your response with the book, that people identify with your experience?

Yeah.

And they realize that it’s more about them than it is about the news?

Yeah, I think what — That’s been so surprising for me, as well.
I’ve never done anything that’s been so well-received.
You know, I’ve never gotten accolades like this or notes and messages all day long about — and positive ones.
I’m like, ‘Whoa!
I guess this is what it’s like to be popular or do something good.’

But it’s not like you weren’t successful before.

No, but, I mean, I always have people — You know, for every good thing you do, or something you think is good, there’s critics, and I get a lot of criticism, and I’m fine with that.
I can handle it, so I’m happy to take it.
But this is an instance where it’s not being criticized and everyone saying, ‘Oh, my God.
This is my life.
This is your anger issues or my anger issues.
I might have something I haven’t looked at.’
So, hopefully, it’ll be a huge boon to the therapy business.

I mean, you had thought that you would get through life without going through therapy at all.

Yeah.
I hoped I didn’t have to sit around and talk about myself to a professional for hours on end.
I hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

But isn’t that just part of the journey of understanding?

Yeah, I think it is part of — But not everybody, A, can afford to go see a psychiatrist, not everybody has the time to see a psychiatrist, and not everybody has the time to think about themselves in a deep way.
You know, if you’re raising families and you’re raising kids, like, you have other priorities, you know?
I have a luxury to do this, so I wanted to share it with people because it was so impactful and it changed my life so much, it was like a gateway to a whole different world and a whole different way of looking at things.
And waking up and having something to share that’s optimistic, that’s powerful, and putting your best foot forward in that way, I’ve seen such a big change in myself, and I’m so proud of it.
Like, I’m so proud that I’m stable, and I’m like, ‘Okay, if I’m talking to you, I’m here, I get it.’

And you weren’t like that before?

No, I was just — Everything was like 100 miles an hour, ‘Fast, go this, do this!’
You know, everything was mindless.
Like, I wasn’t being mindful about anything, just running through life at 100 miles per hour, and that catches up to you.

You say you feel more grounded, ironically.
Like, ironically, because of the Trump presidency, you feel more grounded in yourself and who you are.

Yeah, I’m much more grounded.

So, there’s that.

Yeah, there is that.

You can thank Donald Trump for that.
You’ve also written about some of the more personal and tragic experiences in your life in the context of not just your brother’s death but the two abortions that you’ve had.

Mm-hmm.

And you wrote about Roe v. Wade.
I want to ask you about one part of an article you wrote about Roe v. Wade, because you said that you’re not worried about rights being whittled away, that you’re not worried about the future of Roe v. Wade, that once you have rights, they can’t be taken away.
Do you believe that?

Not as much as I used to.

Why?

Because of what’s happening, what’s happening in Texas and Ohio and abortions.
So I’m not as confident about what I wrote then.
I feel that that law, specifically Roe v. Wade, is a concrete one, and it’s very long ago, so the idea of revisiting it, I don’t know what state we are in with the Supreme Court.
I think we’re all waiting to find out exactly how this works out.
But I do believe that it is our responsibility to rise up to the occasion and to stick our necks out when it’s called for because so many people fought for us and that’s the reason why we have all the rights we do, so we need to keep that torch going.

When did you become mobilized towards political activism?

After the election.

Nothing before?

Yeah, I was always politically active.
I voted, I campaigned, I did stuff, but not like I was in the midterms.

How are you thinking about 2020?

I’m excited.

Are you gonna campaign for a candidate?

Yeah, probably.

Have you picked a candidate?

No, not yet.

Are you gonna wait until there’s a nominee?

Yeah.
No, I might get behind somebody before that, but I don’t know.
It’s too early.

Do you think it helps when a Hollywood celebrity helps campaign for a candidate?

I don’t think it hurts.
I mean, I don’t think — I’m sure — It just brings awareness.
And you’re bringing — you know, with social media now, I think you need all the people you can get to amplify.

Do you think there’s a chance that the Democratic party could nominate somebody who wouldn’t win against Trump?

Yeah, there’s a chance that — Anything’s possible.
Donald Trump is the president, so… Anything’s up.

Do you have a sense of, like, which candidate would be better to take on Trump than others, or do you have an opinion about that?

I don’t know.
You know, if Donald Trump — If Barack Obama resulted in Donald Trump, then Pete Buttigieg seems like the right antidote for Trump.
If that’s what we’re doing, if it’s a pendulum situation, then great.
We’ve got this guy.
But he’s 38 years old.
Can he win? I don’t know.
I hope so.
That’d be awesome.

Do you think Biden’s too old?

I think Biden is too old, but, again, I’d vote for him.
I mean, at least he’s a good person and a decent person.

And Bernie Sanders, also too old?

Bernie Sanders — I think they’re both the same age, aren’t they, Biden and Bernie Sanders?
I don’t know.
Everyone over 70 in government re-running… I feel like there should be age limits.
You know what I mean?
And term caps — Age caps or term limits.
It’s just too much.
It’s a career in politics.
Politicians were meant to be representing their constituents, just to go in for two years, to be a regular layperson, and speak for your community.
And now we’ve got these long-term politicians, and we have the highest level of corruption we’ve probably ever had in this country.

You’ve been very outspoken about Robert Mueller.

Mm-hmm, I’m attracted to him.
I mean, I’m currently very attracted to Robert Mueller.
I understand that he’s married.

I was gonna say, have you heard from his wife?

I haven’t heard from his wife, but I have heard from people that have said, ‘Bob Mueller is aware of you.’

What do you think of Robert Mueller now?
Have your feelings changed?

No, my feelings are strong.
They still remain strong.

And, you know, you’re not one of these who is disappointed —
I think he — No, I’m disappointed, yes, of course.

Are you disappointed in the Mueller report and the results of the Mueller report?

I’m disappointed in the way it’s been handled.
I’m disappointed in William Barr and the way that he decided to summarize a report.
I’m disappointed in the corruption.
I’m disappointed in the treatment and the amorality of everything in that administration.
I’m disappointed, but they — It is an opportunity to rise to the occasion, and it’s made me better, and it’s made me brighter, and I’m informed, and I know what’s going on, and I’m actually an actionable person now, and I think it’s done the same for so many people, you know?
Because he’s only temporary.
He’s terrible, but he’s only temporary.

How temporary do you think he is?
I mean, if he were to —
Hopefully more temporary than he is now.
I don’t know.
I don’t know how long — I can’t predict anything.
Clearly, no one knows anything.
I mean, I just — I’m at this place where, you know, I want to wait until there’s six months left and we have a big election and then get — throw myself back in that and get involved, but until then, I’m really gonna take care of my own kind of neck of the woods and the people that I need to stick my neck out for.
I think focusing on the people that need voices to — I’m not voting for myself at this point.
I’ve got everything I need for the rest of my life.
I’m voting for people who don’t — who are scared to vote, whose rights are being threatened.

You mentioned the therapy differential.

Yeah.

How has it changed your comedy and the way you think about comedy?

You know, therapy is funny and messy and silly, and so are all things in life, so to shine a light on the ridiculousness, like, you know, you think you’re doing well, you start meditating, and then, all of a sudden, you’re finding — I walked out of my psychiatrist’s office one morning, and I’m like, ‘All right, I’m getting this.
I know how to be a better version of myself.
I’m gonna be patient –‘ And then I got into a screaming match with the parking-lot attendant.
So you’re always like, ‘Oh, God!
I thought I had this!
I thought I was getting better.’
You know, you take two steps forward, and sometimes you take three steps back, and then you keep trudging through it.

Well, what has come from the pain?
‘Cause there’s a lot of pain you had to work through, and you write in the book that the only way to deal with the pain is just to go through it.

I feel liberated.
I am free of it.
Like, I am not in pain.
I’m so happy now.

You’re gonna be doing a documentary on Netflix that will be focusing on white privilege.
That has also been one of the things that you have awakened to in this period of reflection in the post Trump election era.

I had a friend today tell me that I was being too political, that I was being too aggressive.
And what I want to say is this.
I am a white woman.
I have a lot of privilege.
I make a lot of money, and I don’t have a lot of problems.
I’m not Muslim, I’m not Mexican, I’m not black, I am not gay, or I’m not transgender, but I know that this country is based on inclusiveness.

Can you tell me more about that?

I think it’s just — You know, I think a lot of — I thought privilege was one thing.
I thought it was you were born into a trust-fund family and you went to — You know, a part of the Rockefellers or whatever, and you went to Harvard.
I didn’t know that privilege is just walking around the city with white skin.
That is a privilege.
It’s a privilege when other people aren’t getting the same benefit from having white skin, and that’s something that’s not ignorable — that’s not a word, but I’ll use it.
And I had to wake up and look around and say, ‘Wow.
Look at your life.
Like, you didn’t really work that hard.’
I work hard, obviously, but it’s not — It always came easy for me, almost everything.
I was rewarded for bad behavior.
I was — you know, talked about drinking, and people loved it.
I talked about sleeping around, I wrote a book about one-night stands, and people loved that.
Like, I really had to look at myself and say, ‘It’s not just talent.’
You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m so amazing.’
No, you have to look at the circumstances and the fact that, look at the other people who look like me, and look at the people who don’t look like me, and what are their experiences.

When you talk about white privilege and you think about white privilege, one of the other areas of policy and also part of your life you share with is that you are comfortable with cannabis, with marijuana.

Yes, I love cannabis.
Do you?

I — I don’t.

Okay.

Yeah, but —
You should try it. It’s fun.
It makes everybody a lot less annoying, also, so that’s, like, a huge benefit.

But — So, here’s my question about it.
Like, as you think about privilege, do you think about how white privilege interacts with cannabis and marijuana legalization and some of the issues around drug legalization and communities of color?
‘Cause there are some people who argue that white privilege is very wound up in sort of a legalization of cannabis since many communities of color have been really subjected to disproportionate treatment in the criminal-justice system.

Yeah, well, that’s a fact.
I mean, people are put in jail.
My ex-boyfriend from high school, who is black, was arrested three times for marijuana, for having a dime bag this big.
And I was with him every time, and I was let go.
And then, he spent 14 years incarcerated.
He had a full scholarship to UNLV, and because he got on the wrong track and ’cause he got put into the system, then all eyes were on him.
So, his chance of having a real life were already quelled, you know?
I mean, to fight — They’re looking for you to screw up.
They saw me, they weren’t looking for me to screw up, and they let me go back to my white neighborhood.
That is all you need to know.
It’s different.
And you need to — And we’re doing a disservice — As long as you are receiving — on the receiving end of privilege, then you’re part of the problem and not the solution.
And I want to be part of a solution.
The disproportionate amount of people who are caught with this kind of thing, and we have companies now, Coca-Cola or Pepsi, talking about putting cannabis and CBD in drinks, in cokes, in sodas, while these people are in jail doesn’t match up.
We can’t legalize marijuana without helping all these people get out of jail.

So, do you think as a — you know, as a progressive woman who stands — I don’t know if you call yourself part of the resistance, but, you know, kind of disagrees with the President, do you think there’s still opportunities and that it’s morally acceptable to work with an administration you disagree with on issues that you care about and you think could still change lives?

Yes, I think it’s important to be — work in a bipartisan way for people.
You have to help people.
That’s what everyone’s job — That’s what they’re supposed to be doing there, so, yes.
Doesn’t matter who you have to deal with.
You have to try and get the right thing done.

There’s a way of expressing your opinion that some people call brash, some people call loud.
You’ve said you’ve been accused of being a loudmouth, and you’ve said, ‘Yeah, I probably am a loudmouth.’
But parts of that are also emblematic of Donald Trump’s style.

Mm.

Do you —
Yeah, I hate myself.

[ Laughs ] Sounds like you don’t, but, again, you go to campuses, you deal with activists.
I’ve heard you say you’re not into trigger warnings or — You strike me as somebody who’s been very unapologetic about saying what you think and saying what you mean.
But campuses have become places that are perhaps oversensitive.
As you’ve gone through this transformation, how do you think about sort of PC culture and the campus space, which is a very sensitive space?
And college campuses can be very unwelcoming.

Well, I think there’s hateful speech, and then there’s free speech.
Hateful speech is — Why — Why would that be — You know, I don’t think we need to give people platforms who are spewing hate and racism.
And I think when that’s demonstrated — yes, we’re in a sensitive time right now.
Colleges are very sensitive right now.

Do you ever worry that people cross the line too much on college campuses or offend people, or do you think people are just oversensitive?

No, I think people cross lines, and people are overly sensitive.
I think it’s everything.
It’s a combo platter of all of it.

Have you ever crossed the line?

I’m sure I have.
I mean, I don’t make lists about it, but, yeah, I don’t live in the past.
I try and move my — You know, put your best foot forward and actually take the baby steps to get where it is that you want to go.

I want to talk about the #MeToo movement.
Obviously, it’s something that’s swept the country, especially in your industry, and… you even had an experience — you write about it in your book — where you had just started your Netflix series, and you slapped a lady on the booty.

Mm-hmm.
That’s in my documentary.
That’s in my documentary, actually.
I — I — She gave me a h– I gave her a hug, and then I went like — You know, it was like a sisterhood thing.
That’s what I thought I was doing.
And she was not happy with it, and she did not want me to touch her butt and explained that to me in a phone call the next day about how she felt violated and that black women have been defined by their hair and their asses for so long that she did not want me to touch her body.
And I got that.
It is not about your intention.
Somebody could hear that and go, ‘Oh, come on.’
I heard it the first time.
I went, ‘Excuse me.
I’m not sexually –‘ But it doesn’t matter what the intention is.
It’s about how it’s received.
I had no boundaries for a long time.
You know, I didn’t like that word.
And I don’t want anyone to feel that way after having spent time with me, so, yes, I apologized, and I learned a big lesson.
It’s not your intention.
People could say, ‘I didn’t mean it like that, I didn’t mean it like that.’
That’s how it was received.
So your intention is invalid.

You have interviewed Al Franken about his book.
You have defended Al Franken.
You’ve also defended Joe Biden in the context of accusations that they endured of sexual harassment, of crossing the line, of groping or touching, in the case of Joe Biden.
How do you think about those accusations in the context of the larger #MeToo movement?

I think that sexual assault is sexual assault.
Someone blowing on your hair is not sexual assault.

And do you think that there has been overreach by the #MeToo movement?
Because sometimes you see these movements on social media that just take people out.
And that’s really what happened with Al Franken, isn’t it?

Yeah, yeah, I don’t like what happened to Al Franken at all.
I know Al Franken, and I love him and respect him.
You know, I don’t know what he was doing in those pictures.
But that’s not a rape, and that’s not a sexual assault.
It’s inappropriate, and it’s not right.
So, he had to leave, but it sucks, yeah.
But there’s a lot of — You can’t just — We’re kind of now going after each other in a way that feels like a bunch of sharks in the ocean, and we shouldn’t be doing that.
We need to stand together.
And, also, it diminishes women who have experienced something that they have had to go to a therapist for, that they can’t recover from.
So every woman that comes forward with a non-story about someone blowing in her hair, please don’t take away from other women who really have stories.

Do you consider yourself woke?

Yeah.
I’m awake, for sure.

And what does that mean to you?

It means being conscious about everything I do.
It means showing up when I’m supposed to, engaging with people, learning about things I don’t know anything about, and being, like, humble and being grateful.
You know, we get to live this life.
I certainly have an incredible life.
And so it feels a lot better to wake up every morning and go, ‘Wow. I’m really lucky.’
Like, let me go do something good.

This program aired for 33 years on public television, and in 1967, William F. Buckley Jr. invited Groucho Marx to debate whether the world was funny.
Is the world funny?

I would agree with him.
Yeah, I would agree with him.

That the world isn’t funny…
Comedians can be dark people, for sure.
I think that the world — I think you have to look for the funny.

Is that — That’s the service of comedians is —
Yeah, to sparkle it up.
Well, it’s the service of comedians, but it’s also something good to do in your own life is to look for the funny.
Everything’s funny.
Death can be funny.
I mean, it’s not ultimately funny, but there are moments of funny in everything.
And I think it’s tapping into that and just being, like, you know, there’s sparklies.

The part about your biography I think that some people who watch this program may not know is that, maybe in a not sparkly part of your life is when you discovered that you were funny.
You were in DUI class.

Mm-hmm.

Can you tell us that story?

I got a DUI when I was 21, and I had to go to DUI school, where you get up and tell your story about your DUI, but I was so scared to publicly speak that I didn’t — I just kind of dodged the instructor the whole time, and I just tried to get out of his way, and, finally, on the last class, the very last class, he called me to the stage, and I told my story about how I got a DUI, and I — and everybody was laughing because my story was ridiculous.
I called the cop racist, and he was white, and I was white, so I don’t know what the hell that was about.
But I, uh… Yeah, I got up there, and I couldn’t get off the stage.
I loved it.
Finally, I had an audience and a microphone all to myself.

And that was the beginning.

That was when I was like, ‘Ooh, this is good.
I like this.
No one can interrupt me, and I can just talk?’

Most people who come from families of six end up realizing that when they’re the youngest, that’s the only way of getting a word in at the dinner table, but it didn’t happen in your family.
It happened after you got in trouble and after you left home.

Mm, yeah, yeah, yeah, it did.
I got — Yeah.
I mean — I mean, I am the one in my family who’s the loudest and the brashest and the whatever, but I mean, that’s always been a part of my personality, so it’s not going anywhere.
But it’s just about tinkering with it and making it at the right volume when it needs to be.

Chelsea Handler, author of ‘Life Will be the Death of Me,’ thanks very much for coming to ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you.

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