At this moment in her life, Chelsea Handler has no desire to stand up. All she wants to do is sit down.
"I didn't just want to sit on a stage with a microphone in my hand," the comic, author and talk show host said by phone recently. "I don't feel like that's the right medium for me right now. I like conversing more, just talking back and forth with a person with their own story, so that there's a compare and contrast. I just want it to be more intimate. Standup is big and loud, and I want this to match the material."
She's talking about her new tour, which comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday. Rather than an hour of live comedy, it will be a night of conversation with author Glennon Doyle about Handler's new book, Life Will Be the Death of Me, which she calls "the most real memoir I've written thus far."
Choice words from a woman who has never been known for holding back — about her vices, her sex life, her opinions on pop culture and society. But Handler, 44, has experienced a life epiphany — or, as she calls it, an "identity crisis" — over the last few years. Ending her E! and Netflix talk shows was part of it. So was the 2016 presidential election. And so was turning 40, starting therapy and realizing she hadn't honestly dealt with life traumas like the deaths of her brother and mother.
"My whole career is based on oversharing, and making people feel like they're not alone," Handler said. "Finally, I found something to overshare that was actually important, which was unlocking my childhood trauma, the unlocking of grief and being able to sit with a therapist and cry in front of somebody, which is something I've never been able to do. It was a huge wakeup call for me, and I'm so much more grounded and normal now. I can actually pay attention without picking up my phone 15 times."
Before coming to Clearwater, Handler talked about personal growth, her distaste for Donald Trump and her foray into the weed business. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
I'm surprised you didn't do serious therapy until turning 40. Wouldn't becoming super-mega-famous be one of those things that would rock your world?
I mean, I always thought I was famous. I had that childhood arrogance, and adolescent arrogance, and adult arrogance. I looked at therapy as another way to sit around and talk about yourself. When you have a TV show named after you that's on every night of the week, and you have books that all have your name on them, and everything you do says "Chelsea," the last thing you want to do is hear the sound of your own voice. I thought therapy was navel-gazing. I thought it was narcissism. I didn't realize that, no, until you clean out your own injuries, you're not going to be at peace to anyone else.
I turn 40 next year. What can I expect?
I don't know that it hits us all at the same time. We all have grief. We all have trauma. We all have things that we haven't dealt with and we've brushed under the rug. Sometimes that's fine for people. For me, I just was really looking for something more meaningful in my life, like: This is all I'm going to do, is host a TV show? This is my whole identity, is that I'm a loudmouthed woman? What IS my goal? What is my contribution? So after the election, I started to really get real about what I wanted to do with my life, so I wrote this book. Through this, I'm feeling more present and more real than I've ever felt — even though I've been real my whole life. This is like my apology tour. (laughs)
You're going to get out ahead of it and do an apology tour before you say something career-ending?
(laughs) I'm apologizing for my previous 43 years.
It sounds like the 2016 election was a big turning point for you in all of this. A lot of comedians had that reaction to Donald Trump, where they stopped being funny all the time, and became more activist. Why did this election have such an introspective impact on comedians?
Most comedians — most people in the entertainment industry — are typically progressive. They want to move forward, not backwards. Trump being elected represents unjustness and marginalized communities being targeted. For a liberal-minded person who wants the world to move forward, who wants people to have health insurance and wants to be nice to immigrants, it's really offensive. Comedians fall into that category, and we're loudmouths and we have points of view, so we're not going to be shy about it.
Do you ever wonder how much of your fan base doesn't agree with you politically?
I don't wonder. It's the difference between right and wrong. This man is wrong. He's sick. He lies constantly. There's no discussion anymore. I understand if you voted for Donald Trump, and made a mistake, sure, but to continue to support a man who treats people like this and lies to the American people daily? I could go on and on. But why? I'm so over talking about politics. Until we're close to 2020, I'm not going there, because I can't. I've devoted a ton of effort into the cause, and I'm wiped and burnt out. (laughs)
Are you already thinking about 2020?
I'm not thinking about it until there's a candidate. I'm not paying attention. I no longer watch the news. I don't pollute my day with that anymore.
Medical marijuana is legal in Florida, and you just invested in a cannabis company. What's the future of weed in this country?
Oh, it's happening. Get ready. I'm coming out with my own marijuana line in the summer, for girls. Now, with all of the educational components that are on the label of everything you buy, microdosing is where it's at. It's not about being blottoed. It has helped my life. It has helped me sleep. It has helped my friends who have anxiety. And it's fun to laugh.
What do you mean when you say marijuana "for girls"? What is that?
I want to reintroduce women into the marketplace. Women are not as empowered or emboldened as men with the use of marijuana, and I want to make it user-friendly. I want my brand to come out and say: "Hey, you're okay with me. I'm going to show you how to start, I'm going to show you how it can make your life easier." For me personally, my drinking has cut in half, just because of cannabis. If that happened to me, there's another million girls that are like, "Oh wait, I don't want to be bloated when I'm 40." We just have to look around for natural, homeopathic things. Marijuana is growing out of the ground for us. So let's use it.
Do you think the world will ever harness ayahuasca for recreational use?
Yeah, probably. I was just at a conference about microdosing and psychedelics, and between LSD, MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca, everyone is talking about it. It's not going anywhere.
Contact Jay Cridlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.
In conversation with Glennon Doyle. 8 p.m. Thursday. Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $37.50 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.