Someone Else Can Write About Smoking Weed: A Conversation With Chelsea Handler

by | May 24, 2022 | EVENTS

I remember hearing stories. Stevie Ray Vaughan said he’d dreamt that Jimi Hendrix showed him secret techniques to playing the guitar. When he awoke, he reached for his Fender Stratocaster, but couldn’t remember anything Hendrix had shown him. Then there’s Eddie Bond. In 1954, he passed on hiring Elvis Presley to sing for his honky-tonk band after Presley’s audition. Bond told Elvis to “stick to truck driving.” Oh yeah, then there’s Shel Silverstein’s poem “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda.” 

Many of us cringe in hindsight. Sometimes there are even visual aids to remind us. Proof of the fools we’ve been. It could be a disregarded phone call or an old prom picture or squandered opportunities in our professional lives. Without much effort, you can remember all kinds of things. Maybe it’s Gwyneth Paltrow dropping an earring in Sliding Doors that jogs your memory of a misstep. Maybe it’s the thought of Stevie Ray Vaughan getting into a helicopter on August 27, 1990. Maybe it’s hearing “Heartbreak Hotel.”

A lot of times, it’s not as heavy. Sometimes it’s divided down the middle.  

At 47, Chelsea Handler is mostly a household name. After being a correspondent for Scarborough Country and The Tonight Show, she hosted The Chelsea Handler Show for two seasons on the E! network. Soon after, Handler hosted her own half-hour late-night talk show, Chelsea Lately, which aired 1,048 episodes over seven years for the same network. Handler also published her first book, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands (2005). 

I couldn’t go anywhere during that time period and not hear Chelsea Handler’s name mentioned at least once a day. I enjoyed this, because I like Chelsea Handler. 

She’s still all over the place. Her books, Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea (2008), Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang (2010), Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me (2011), Uganda Be Kidding Me (2014), and Life Will Be The Death of Me…And You Too! (2019) were all New York Times bestsellers. Her series, Chelsea Does, aired in 2016, while another talk-show, Chelsea, ran for two seasons, both for Netflix. Handler and Netflix partnered again in 2019 for the documentary, Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea, in which she discussed white privilege with guests such as Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, W. Kamau Bell, and Ruby Sales. This was followed by the special, Chelsea Handler: Evolution for HBO MAX in 2020.

Currently, the stand-up comic, outspoken pothead, and veteran tomato-hurler (at Donald Trump) hosts two podcasts, Life Will Be the Death of Me with Chelsea Handler and Dear Chelsea. She is knee deep in her current US tour, Vaccinated and Horny, touching down at the Dominion Energy Center at the Carpenter Theatre on June 9, which will mark Handler’s first performance in Richmond. Prior to her two-night stint at The Masonic in San Francisco, Handler agreed to be interviewed about her upcoming tour. I figured we’d talk about smoking weed and it’d be a light, funny phone call. 

Then a bomb went off.

The interview with Chelsea was scheduled a day or so after the Supreme Court’s opinion draft to overturn Roe vs. Wade was leaked to the website Politico. There was controlled chaos everywhere, with immediate shots fired from both sides of our divided nation. Republicans and the Christian Right applauded the SCOTUS for the potential walking back of the 50-year-old decree, while Democrats and liberals voiced their outrage via social media and a stack of magazine and newspaper articles you can see from the moon. With marches for Planned Parenthood happening in Richmond and across the United States, a conversation with Chelsea Handler ignoring the abortion discussion would’ve been tone-deaf at best. Something only to be regretted in hindsight. A missed opportunity for RVA Magazine to deliver an important message from an important female voice in these trying times of our society. It’s not Stevie Ray Vaughan or Sliding Doors or your prom picture, but you can pick up what I’m laying down. Either you’re helping or you’re not. No one likes to look back and cringe.

Someone else can write an article about smoking weed. 

Ryan Kent: What can we expect from the Vaccinated and Horny tour?

Chelsea Handler: Oh, well, I got to just make fun of all of the behavior that we all participated in for the last two and a half, three years. From windexing our food to me getting my own at-home COVID health tests, where I was able to give COVID tests to potential penetrators in my backyard. After I went too long without sex, I just thought, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out a way around this pandemic.” I got my own kits, which was awesome, because that just opened up my world. Then I was able to test people. You get a nasal swab [and] plug it into this cartridge that was connected in my kitchen. It took about 30 minutes to run the diagnostics and during that time, I was able to interview them. If they said anything annoying, or I saw male jewelry, I would just tell them they were positive. That was my game plan. And it worked. It was awesome. It felt good to be controlling my own destiny in that way.

RK: Speaking of, “controlling your own destiny,” what are your thoughts about the recent news regarding Roe vs. Wade? You have a very important voice, and the opportunity to speak to you about such a heavy topic is not lost on me.

CH: I mean, I think anybody who knows me knows what my thoughts are. The idea that men who have never given birth, haven’t been pregnant, carried a baby, or raise a child alone making decisions on what women should be doing is not a world that we want to be living in. So, unfortunately, this kind of stuff is really unsavory to talk about and even think about. We’re supposed to be expanding rights, not restricting rights.

RK: Regarding your podcast, Dear Chelsea, what advice would you give to young women in America?

CH: I think my advice is more directed towards men. Standing up. It’s not enough to just support women’s rights. You have to stand up with us and fight with us. The time is now, you know? We can’t just keep doing this by ourselves. We need men activated. And the men who agree with us, and understand that it is a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body, need to stand up. They need to fight with us in every way. To rally. To protest. To vote for the people that are going to perpetuate the sanctity of a woman’s choice — not take it away. We need activation. And if women are doing it, we need the help of the people that are in charge, and we need the help of men. Specifically, white men. So, that’s my message.

RK: Since your Netflix documentary, Hello, Privilege. It’s me Chelsea, in 2019, where are you at now? What have you learned as a result?

CH: I’ve just learned to be a better listener. It’s not important for [white] men to be chiming in about the realities of sexism or racism. Men aren’t the victims of sexism, and they’re not the victims of racism. So, when men call us hysterical, you know, [their opinions are irrelevant], because they’re the perpetrators, not the victims. It’s important to remember that in any dynamic, it’s not important what I think about racism, it’s important what I learned about racism, and the most important thing we can all do is listen. So listen, and say thank you for explaining this to me. Thank you for informing me about something that I didn’t know enough about. That’s the most active way we can all get a little bit smarter and a little bit more empathetic. To be better listeners. 

Instead of opining about your own opinion, listen to other people’s opinions. Find out what the real conflicts are and how you can be of use, instead of being some white savior who thinks you’re gonna go in and fix everything. That’s just not a reality, and it’s annoying to see. People — we have to be better together as a society. This is a really ugly time. We don’t have to disagree on so many things in such a violent, vitriolic way. It doesn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, we’re at this time [and] this is why it’s so important to have outspoken people. It’s important to have these kinds of comedy shows. It’s important to bring people together under the banner of laughter, and under the umbrella of enjoying yourself, and a togetherness that you can enjoy with another person and an audience when you’re seeing a live show. That’s a great reminder of humanity. You know, and what we’re missing a lot of these days.

RK: Since 2016 there was just this drastic change. Things that that were there — they just don’t even try to cover up anymore. It’s scary now. Where there was that boogeyman we always heard about, and now it’s really here.

CH: Yeah. Yeah, I feel the same way. And I think it’s important to think about your children and anyone who’s got a daughter. To remind people that your daughter is thinking about her future. Think about the safety of her future and what that means, and think about our children. I’m not a mother, thankfully. I worked very hard to prevent that from happening. But I value this generation of people that are coming into the world, and I’m so scared what we’re leaving behind. Whether it’s climate, whether it’s a political situation, whether it’s the deterioration of human rights… we’re going in the wrong direction. This is supposed to be America. We’re kind of losing the plot. I hope that’s not the case, but it certainly feels like that at various times.

RK: Have you noticed that problems in America kind of bleed into American things like baseball, for instance? You can look at how [the sport has] changed. Certain things that are American reflect America. Do you see that often? Or do you catch what I’m saying?

CH: No, I’m not catching what you’re saying. What are you saying?

RK: I think what I’m trying to say is baseball, to me, used to be something I really believed in and loved. Looking at it now, maybe it’s that I’m older, I can see things better. But it just seems very transparent and hollow to me. And there’s a lot of things like that. I’m just seeing that reflected. And then I think about the America that I thought I knew, or whatever, and then maybe it’s really just something I romanticized. I guess that’s what I’m trying to ask.

CH: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. I think that we’re looking at all institutions in this country, and kind of understanding how they’re built and who’s in charge of everything. And the limiting powers that anybody who’s working for any of these mass corporations have. We’re basically all being run. It’s turning into a plutocracy. We’re living in a world where there’s a bunch of billionaires who are controlling everything. Elon Musk just bought Twitter. That’s not a good thing, that’s a bad thing.  All of these things. If we don’t stop this pattern of all of this incredible wealth that people have accumulated. There’s a major divide happening and there’s a major gap happening. We need to be reminded that all ships rise with the tide. It works when everybody’s doing well, not just when a few elites are doing well. That’s not the way capitalism or democracy thrives.

RK: I’m kind of scared of everything going on. Maybe I was just younger and didn’t pay attention to [things I should’ve paid attention to]. I’m approaching 40 and I think of my dad when he was 40 and I don’t remember him being scared of anything. What do you suggest on a human level? What do people do?

CH: You know, I think you’re right. I think it is really scary. It’s right to be scared, but you can’t let the fear dictate your behavior or your actions. I think it’s really important, always, during these times to remember to act with love and kindness, in an extra way. Not just to the people that are in your world, but like, when you’re walking down the street. To be extra kind. Extra loving. Smiling at people. Helping people. Go out of your way for other people. And that goes a long way towards changing society and actually having a positive impact. Those kinds of good vibes are so important right now. [It] may seem like a small thing to do, or it may seem like, “Well, what’s that going to do?” It makes a difference. You can make differences. You can’t change the world, but you can change people slowly over time with acts of love and kindness and caring. In times like these, you have to remember to be that person that you want to meet. You want to be that kind of caring person that goes out of their way for a stranger, or that goes out of their way to help somebody cross the street or help somebody get a meal that’s homeless. Whatever you can do, do it now. This is the time to be showing up. And I think that can never be underestimated, or overestimated.

RK: You’re right. It’s a good time to embrace the golden rule. That always made sense to me, yet I fail all the time. 

CH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We could all be a little bit better at that — why not start now? That’s what I do when I just feel hopeless or helpless. And those feelings don’t last forever, because everything is ephemeral. So, it’s important to remember that your feelings of despair or hopelessness aren’t forever, and there are moments of hope and there are bright spots. We just got the first Black [female] Supreme Court Justice confirmed. We just got the first Black White House Press Secretary confirmed, who is a member of the LGBTQ community. These are important milestones. Good things happen at the same time as bad things happen. It’s important to remember that and keep perspective. When you need a time out, you take a time out.

RK: We have moved forward a lot in some respects, but it’s still scary out there. There’s so much information out there now. I think it blurs everybody’s perspective and makes us kind of a lost people sometimes. But, on the brighter side of things, congratulations on falling in love.

CH: Aww, thank you. 

RK: That’s good stuff. I had it happen about a year ago, too, and it’s been pretty great. Do you believe in those invisible, universal hands [that guide us], or how do you think you got it?

CH: Yeah, I do believe in the universal hands. I think that things happen. Jo [Koy] has been around me for many, many years and I just never looked at him in that way. And I think that there’s a lot of my mother in Jo. My mother, who passed away a long time ago; she passed away right before Chelsea Lately started. There’s so many things that he does for me that my mother did for me, that you could only get from a mother’s love. I just am so shocked. And I always think, “Oh, that’s my mom. That’s my mom.” She put him in front of me so many years ago, right after she left this world, and I didn’t see him. So, she just kept putting him back in front of me. And it was a slow burn and took me a long time to see him. You know, to really see him in that way.

RK: I saw you mentioned the pillows under your knees [on Instagram}. Yeah, that’s a that’s a sweet thing.

CH: Yeah. And so, I was ready. I was good. Listen, men have just been so disappointing in the last few years. I really had just lost all hope. I’m like, I’m just probably going to be single unless I transition into a full-fledged lesbian. I’m going to just be a single person. I’ve got enough going on. I have my friends I have my family. I have a pretty good life, you know? Fine — I don’t get that. I wasn’t gonna be desperate about it. So, to get that on top of all the other lovely things that I’ve been lucky enough to experience in this lifetime really makes me believe that everybody has somebody coming. All you can do is try and get to the best version of yourself, to prepare yourself for that person when they do come, because you don’t want to miss that. And my life was full before, but it’s bursting now. And he’s a huge addition, instead of a subtraction. A lot of my show, I talk about Jo and our relationship and how I got to where I got with him, and I think it’s really inspiring for so many people who haven’t found that person yet. Like, you don’t have to worry about how old you are, or freaking out about your age. Your person is coming, and the time is not when you know it. The time is when it’s right. When the universe decides you’re gonna find that person. So, don’t stress and don’t settle and don’t think you’re running out of time. “Fuck it. I’ll just be with this person.” No, no, no, you just hold out until the person [who] comes for you is the right person.

RK: It makes you a better version of yourself.

CH: Definitely. He brings out the best in me for sure.

RK: I found that on my end too. She leads by example. She’s just had a lot of heavy stuff happen in her life. She’s a lawyer and has twin teenage girls and had to raise them by herself. I look at all the things that have happened in my life and I feel ashamed that they made me buckle as much as they did, knowing what she’s overcome. It’s made me want to do things in my life like, “I’m going to do this,” and my life is better in a year of just knowing her. 

CH: Aww, I love that. 

RK: I believe you have that with Jo. Somebody that just makes you a better version of you.

CH: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. I feel the same way that you’re talking about, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I want everyone in the world to experience that kind of love.

RK: How do you think we will get you back in Richmond after you come here?

CH: How do you think you’ll get me to come back [laughing]? Well, first, I have to get there and then you guys have to figure out how to get me back after that.

RK: Should we meet you at the plane with weed leis? Would that work? 

CH: Yes. That’s a great opener. 

Chelsea Handler’s Vaccinated And Horny Tour comes to the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center on Thursday, June 9. Doors open at 7 pm. Tickets are available from Dominion Energy Center’s website.

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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