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#BornThisDay: Activist, Chelsea Handler

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Photo from CNN via YouTube

February 25, 1975Chelsea Handler:

”There are two kinds of people I don’t trust: People who don’t drink and people who collect stickers.”

Handler is the author of five NY Times bestselling books. She has worked as an actor, writer, late night television host, and producer with her own company, Borderline Amazing Productions, making millions of dollars in an industry dominated by men.

In 2012, she was on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People, the era when she hosted the talk show Chelsea Lately (2007-2014) on the E! Network from 2007 to 2014. In January 2016, she introduced a more serious, but still funny, documentary series, Chelsea Does, on Netflix, taking on four different subjects: Marriage, Silicon Valley, Drugs and Racism, with discussions between Handler and her friends, family, and experts on the topic at hand.

In May 2016, she began hosting Netflix’s first a talk show, Chelsea, again funny, but taking on serious politically focused subjects, sometimes with a group of guests sharing dinner at Handlers house in Bel Air. They were provocative and often touching, including a segment where Handler interviews her elderly father about his marriage to her mother, or when she talked with the family of Walter Lamar Scott, who was shot eight times by a police officer, or when she experienced, on camera, the hallucinogenic drug Ayahuasca in Peru.

Last fall, Handler announced that the show would be ending when it wrapped at the end of the year, and she would instead be turning to political activism full time:

”Like so many across the country, the past presidential election and the countless events that have unfolded since have galvanized me. From the national level down to the grassroots, it’s clear our decisions at the ballot box next year will mark a defining moment for our nation.”

She is, by all measure, extremely successful. But, she didn’t start out that way. Her first job was as a food server. It was during her restaurant gig at 23-years-old that she learned her greatest life lesson. Handler says was not a particularly good at the job, but she claims:

“I was always the person people called when they needed a shift covered because I would always say yes…it was wanting to be dependable and reliable after years of being the opposite, I just wanted people to feel that they could count on me. So, I still say: When you make a commitment, keep it.”

Galvanized by the 2016 election, Handler entered the national political conversation, partnering with groups like Emily’s List, the organization that works to elect Democratic female candidates to office. She said that she would use her celebrity to push for causes she’s passionate about.

Handler uses social media with much less restraint than just about any other person in showbiz, and she isn’t afraid to target anyone and everyone, from the National Rifle Association (NRA) to POTUS. Handler:

“Republicans’ platform: child molesters, sexual assaulters, child murder, voter suppression. Good fucking luck in November when we will elect a record number of women to replace all of you. I’m really sickened by Republicans, especially the state legislature in Florida. They think that porn is a public health risk and a danger to children, but guns aren’t. They simply aren’t willing to listen to the kids talking.”

”But, I think this time is going to be different. This has just happened too many times, and now there are too many children who are using their voices in a powerful way and teaching us how to use our voices. It’s a signal for all of us to get behind them. If nothing else, if Republicans are too afraid to lose money from the NRA, at least we know school shooting victims are one day going to be old enough to vote them out of office. That is the new price you will have to pay if you’re in a leadership position and you think it’s OK for children to go to school and have guns there.”

Handler, an ex-Mormon, has long been a champion of LGBTQ Rights. Handler:

”I’m like a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. We have the same attitude, which is ‘fuck everybody and let’s say exactly what we think’. I understand somebody who doesn’t exactly fit in, somebody who’s struggled or felt embarrassed, ashamed, or not confident in who they are. Growing up, I got tortured and made fun of, but that makes you a lot stronger. And now, obviously, I’m very popular.”

Handler was born in Livingston, NJ, a town where 48% of the population is Jewish, making it one of the highest percentages of Jews in any American municipality. She grew-up the youngest in a family of six kids, with a Jewish father and Mormon mother, a good source material for a comic. When Handler was 10-years old, she lost her oldest brother. His death devastated her family, but it made Handler want to strike out on her own as soon as she could.

She moved to Los Angeles when she was 19-years-old, hoping for a career as an actor. But like so many hopefuls, Handler ended up waiting tables, before she tried stand-up comedy. She played the comedy clubs and got small roles on television shows, before turning to writing. When she was 21-years old, Handler received a DUI. She had to take a special class as her sentence. During the class, Handler got laughs from the other students for her depiction of her arrest. This experience led to a more brash and honest version of her stand-up act.

Her first book, My Horizontal Life: A Collection Of One-Night Stands (2005), is about her sexual encounters and misadventures. Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea (2008) is a deliciously skewed collection of essays, where Handler mines her past with stories about her family, relationships, and career that is both singular and ridiculous. She went on a worldwide tour in support of her third book, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang (2010), where she takes aim at herself. Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me (2011) gives a chance for her coworkers and family members to discuss their experiences with Handler. Uganda Be Kidding Me (2014), is about a trip to Africa. It was was adapted to a stand-up special for Netflix.

I discovered Handler in 2007 when I caught her late-night talk show on E!. I became an instant fan because, for me, her comedy is so smart, and different, and the show was refreshingly only a half hour long. Her round table panel was always amusing as her three guests would spar with Handler over celebrity gossip. Her sarcastic, blunt delivery, and earthy wit brought me much pleasure. I also was amused by After Lately (2011), a nutty scripted series about the backstage maneuverings of Chelsea Lately.

Handler does love her gays. She lives in that six bedroom, seven bath home in Bel Air with two lesbian pals. She has the hosted the GLAAD Media Awards and served as Grand Marshal of Los Angeles Pride Parade. In 2012, she hosted the Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles. The HRC also gave her their Ally For Equality Award, recognizing: “The outstanding efforts of those who dedicate time, energy, spirit and whole-hearted commitment to better the lives of LGBT people.”

On the day after Trump’s innaguaration, Handler led 1000 people through the slushy streets of Park City, Utah for their Women’s March, and was one of the speakers at the rally, speaking out for solidarity and support of Women’s Rights.

Handler has always been open about her cannabis use, and now that California’s legalized marijuana, she is getting into the THC market. Handler posted a photo of herself at a pot farm on Instagram, saying she was doing her ”due diligence” on the stuff. Handler:

”I am going to come out with my own line of weed. I want people to understand that you don’t have to get blottoed. You can just get a little, nice buzz to take the edge off.”

I have always found her to be funny, but Handler has had her share of critics, even among my friends; she has made widely criticized remarks about fat people and small people, and some think she is insensitive in her attitude toward alcoholism. And, her original talk show, Chelsea Lately, focused on celebrity gossip.

Now, she says that Trump energized her to become more politically engaged and informed:

”I’ve become a better person, and I’m more informed. I’m learning. I have the Trump family to thank for that.”

 


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