Netflix’s ‘Chelsea’ delves into politics in second season: An interview with Chelsea Handler


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Chelsea Handler describes herself as having always been a bit of a loudmouth. She’s rapid-fire and confident, occasionally coming off as abrasive to those less accustomed to her speak-before-thinking nature. But on the second season of her Netflix talk show “Chelsea,” she’s using her voice to call out the daily controversy of the Trump administration. In short, she can be a voice that many folks feel they need right now.

“I’ve always been kind of screaming about something, so at least now I have something to scream about,” Handler said in a virtual press conference. Each week, she and her writers are faced with the task of making the post-election political climate “easily digestible,” according to Handler, while not regurgitating jokes from talk shows and comic colleagues. But the writers are expertly crafting the White House goings-on into comedy material, and the new weekly format of “Chelsea” allows for time between episodes to churn out quality jokes. Ultimately it’s Handler’s self-assuredness and knack for hilarious conversation that pierces the show with a fresh, fast-paced tone.

Before she made her way to biting political commentary, Handler’s last popular talk show, E!’s “Chelsea Lately,” more often than not stuck with topics that E! audiences knew best: celebrity gossip. Of course, pop culture references still appear on her Netflix series, and Handler’s conversations with celebrities are like chats with old pals, but politics has taken center stage in season two. Her revamped opening segment is the best indicator of her shift in interests this season.

Her opening monologue format is a hybrid of Seth Meyers and Samantha Bee’s — Handler sits at a desk, accompanied by “Weekend Update”-esque picture inserts, and fires off uncensored (thank you, Netflix), no-fucks-given analysis of current events. In the season two premiere episode April 14, Handler convinces us of her suspicion that Trump’s reckless behavior is probably due to syphilis and dubs White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer “Shitty Shitty Spice Spice.”

Handler admits that dedicating 10 minutes per “Chelsea” episode to trashing the Trump circus has been a learning curve, but one she’s taking on gladly. “At the tender age of 42, I’ve decided to revisit all of the things I know nothing about — which is pretty much everything,” Handler said.

That’s not to say Handler has never been involved politically. She’s always been a feminist and has been a role model and ally to the LGBTQ+ community for years, but now she’s using her public image to speak out in such a crucial era. Only two episodes into season two of “Chelsea” and she interviews Congresswoman Linda Sánchez and CNN’s Van Jones, folks from vastly different circles as guests such as Kumail Nanjiani and Melissa McCarthy. Not only does interviewing politically informed guests allow viewers to get some insight into current events, but it also allows Handler herself to learn and grow in the process.

“The way you learn most about yourself is to get outside yourself,” Handler said. Even with the wild political transitions around her, Handler has found that it can be difficult to let go of self-concerned notions. Now when you’re in the limelight and have had multiple shows with your first name in the title, that’s all the more challenging. With fame, however, there comes a sense of responsibility to use one’s voice for good. Handler has taken every opportunity to put herself outside of her comfort zone and stick her neck out for those who have been affected by the 2016 election. Despite the times she may have felt she was too self-focused, her impact has shown otherwise. As a result, “Chelsea” has flourished as well.

Handler admits that her show may have gone in a different, more celebratory direction tonally, had the presidential election gone in Hillary Clinton’s favor. That’s probably a given for most talk shows on the air right now. It’s just impossible not to speak out, especially when you have the comedic chops and platform to do it.

Now, instead of discussing the latest celebrity breakups like she did on her E! show, Handler can delve into the Steve Bannon/Jared Kushner drama that’s unfolding in Washington, D.C. (Let’s face it: the drama can be just as juicy and entertaining.) She used to gossip on a panel of performers, and now she can hold her own in a one-on-one conversation with a political pundit.

But there’s one uncharted territory Handler won’t bring herself to go any time soon. When asked what she’d say to Donald Trump were she given the chance to speak to him, she responded without hesitation. “I don’t need to speak to him,” Handler said, holding up a wrapped Life Saver candy. “That’s like blowing through this Life Saver. What’s the point?”

Episode three of season two of “Chelsea” airs on Netflix on April 28.

Danielle Gutierrez covers comedy. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @dmariegutierrez.