The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chelsea Handler stopped yelling at Republicans. She still has opinions.

Chelsea Handler backstage at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., on June 3. (André Chung for The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Chelsea Handler looks happy and hydrated.

“That’s my new thing: water drinking,” the comedian explained from her Warner Theatre dressing room about an hour before the Washington, D.C., stop on her Vaccinated and Horny tour. But H2O is hardly the most exciting development in the 47-year-old’s life. There’s also her Instagram official “lover,” fellow comedian Jo Koy, the man filling up said water bottle and offering more to a reporter.

“You’re going to leave here as happy as I am,” the headliner predicted.

Okay, this is definitely a new Chelsea Handler, known for decades as a stand-up, talk-show host and author who approached every jabbing punchline with a “too cool for school” air of annoyance. “I was always slightly angry.” That, she said, was before therapy, water and Koy — in that order.

“There’s more buoyancy and more ebullience,” Handler said about the way she walks onto the stage and into her life these days.

Therapy is the subject of Handler’s 2019 book, “Life Will Be the Death of Me,” which tackled the antidote to the intense rage she felt during the Trump presidency — “the gift of self-awareness.” That personal work allowed her to be “open-minded enough” to see Koy, a friend for years who regularly appeared on her E! late-night show “Chelsea Lately,” as boyfriend material.

Her dealbreakers were legend. There’s the guy who showed up to a date with an obnoxiously large Hermes belt. “He got up to go to the bathroom and I left the restaurant.” Or basically any man wearing flip-flops anywhere other than the beach. Nope.

“I just had all these kind of judgments about people in general. Going to therapy really helped me take that all apart,” she said. And when the walls came down there was Koy on the other side, whom she described as “an upper.”

“He’s just such a positive vibe, and that’s what I want to be is a positive vibe,” Handler said.

Take the time that Koy, who is currently on his own multi-city comedy tour, took an Uber 2½ hours from his gig in Missouri to kiss his girlfriend good night after her show, only to immediately turn back to make it to his gig.

“I just thought, ‘I would never do that for anyone,’” Handler said with a laugh. Well, she would now.

Her next book (her seventh) will be all about the two comedians finding love. Mushy stuff. But if it seems like a sharp turn for Handler, whose first book “My Horizontal Life” was a recollection of one-night stands, it’s not. “My whole shtick has always been oversharing, good or bad. It’s always been true to what I’ve been experiencing.”

Her advice for any people out there who are single but don’t want to be? Make use of your time alone. “You have to prepare yourself for the person that’s coming. Just get yourself in the most healthy place. It takes a healthy to attract a healthy,” she said.

Comedian Jerrod Carmichael doesn’t have the answers

The road to getting healthier is what led the comedian, who quit her Netflix talk show “Chelsea” in 2017 so she could be more politically active, to reevaluate how she engaged with the news.

“While the situation we’re in I find very harrowing, I try not to let that guide my day. I try not to be like I was when Trump won the election,” she said. “I was spinning out, watching MSNBC and turning to CNN and then back to Fox. And, you know, you’re just basically filling up your body with toxins.”

None of that is to say she can’t tackle a hot topic or two in that particular Handler way — fast, loud and angry, especially when it comes to the way women who speak up for themselves are vilified.

Most recently, comedian Mo’Nique spoke publicly about a headlining conflict between herself and comedian D.L. Hughley, who Mo’Nique said refused to appear if she closed the show. The two comics have been going back and forth on social media about the dispute. Handler is unequivocal in her support of Mo’Nique.

“Of course, she should be talking about it. I don’t know her personally, but I think it’s bull---- that she gets treated in this way. And it is because she’s Black and it is because she’s a woman. You have to be loud about it,” Handler said.

In the case of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, Handler is equally indignant.

“Why are we lauding Johnny Depp? Can you imagine a woman doing coke with Marilyn Manson? Any woman would be vilified for that behavior. And everybody loves Johnny Depp. Like, come on, there is a very uneven balance here,” Handler said. “In terms of women’s rights and women’s equity and equality, we all have to be barking a little bit louder. And it would be nicer to have men doing that with us instead of us doing it alone.”

So yeah, she still gets mad. She can still spout off about redistricting and gerrymandering. But there has been a shift.

“When I meet a Republican, I don’t start screaming at them. I still am doing all the things I was doing. I’m just not screaming about it,” she said. An acquaintance recently brought up the high price of gas in polite conversation and blamed it on President Biden. Handler somewhat calmly explained that there was, in fact, a war going on and the global supply chain was a mess.

“Five years ago, I would have like pinned that person down and duct-taped them until they understood what I understand,” she said.

So what makes her really angry now? “Guns,” Handler replied instantly. And what, if anything, makes her hopeful?

That answer took a beat, or two or three.

“Children,” she said. “The next generation. I think this is just kind of like a death cough of old White men.”

With that, Handler continued to get ready for Friday night’s show, which she hoped would “bring light and laughter and let people forget about what happened in the last couple of years.” That’s the gift the comedian wanted to give her audience: jokes about her rescue dogs, her pre-Koy pandemic dating tales and how men in captain hats are a no-go.

“I don’t take [my time onstage] for granted,” she said. “I take that really seriously now.”