Chelsea Handler is ready to fight for your rights. After two seasons of hosting her Chelsea talk show last year, the author and TV personality has spent her time traveling the country to meet the marginalized communities she’s advocating for in the Trump era.
As dramatic a departure as it may seem for the woman who brought a bold brashness to late night on Chelsea Lately years ago, it’s a natural fit for the outspoken comedian in the aftermath of the election. Think her docuseries Chelsea Does but, instead of vomiting from Peruvian ayahuasca, she’s left the cameras behind to get down and dirty with America.
With the 2018 midterms looming in the distance, Handler put her money where her mouth is and jumped into political activism with organizations like EMILY’s List, a nonprofit dedicated to electing women into public office, and the Delta Foundation, Pittsburgh’s leading LGBTQ organization.
For Handler, her goal is simple: leave Hollywood’s elite hills and use her platform for change. “I think it’s important for people of privilege, which is what I am, to stick their necks out for marginalized communities,” she explained. “I think anyone with a platform should be doing the same exact thing.”
While she prepares to headline “An Evening with Chelsea Handler” on Wednesday night at the Benedum Center to raise money for the LGBTQ community, we caught up with the activist to talk about why she left her TV show behind and why it’s time to “fucking hop on board” a gayer, browner world.
OUT: You’re headlining an event this week for the Delta Foundation to raise money for the LGBTQ community. How did you get involved with this organization?
Chelsea Handler: They reached out to me and they know I’ve done a lot of work for the LGBTQ community, so they asked if I’d like to do an event with them. There’ll be a discussion and then a Q&A. People can get up and talk about what issues matter to them. Whatever your issue is — whether you want women to have the right to choose or DACA or anything — all of that stuff is important, but you need to get involved in your local elections to elect someone who is looking out for your best interest. It’s a night focused on having a fun conversation and talking personally about our experiences so we can enlighten each other.
What sparked the decision to end your show and focus full-time on activism?
The election. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. It felt like an emergency situation and I had no other choice. I realized how ill-informed I was — to the point where I never thought a Trump presidency was a possibility. When it became a reality, I decided it was in my best interest to harness my anger and outrage into something a bit more productive.
Well, you used your Netflix show to have a lot of really informative discussions. Why end the show and move into activism rather than bringing more activism to the show?
Because of the whole message of elitism. Everyone says that these people from Hollywood don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t know about the rest of the country. I thought that wasn’t true, but it is true. When I was doing standup touring all over the country, I saw different ways of life than I was accustomed to.
The idea is to lean outside of your own experience and figure out what other peoples’ experiences are so you can be better informed. For me, that involved actually putting my money where my mouth is and spending time with different people. Being in more intimate settings where I can have this kind of discourse in a healthy way. Not everyone has to have the same opinion, but it’s good to be able to have a healthy conversation about different issues, but in a fun way because that’s what I’m good at.
Do you have any end goal in mind?
I think it’s important for people of privilege, which is what I am, to stick their necks out for marginalized communities and I think anyone with a platform should be doing the same exact thing. Right now, I’m in one lane until November and trying to do more to help elect women candidates in the midterms and help marginalized communities. You know, it’s a terrible time —it’s hard and it's odious.
It really is terrible lately. I know you’re very aware of your privilege, but I want to ask if you try to navigate LGBTQ activism in a careful way as a straight, cisgender person?
I’m not careful. It’s not about being careful. It’s about being bold and sticking your neck out. I don’t really care about that.
On your Chelsea Lately show, Ross Matthews brought visibility to late night as an openly gay man. How do you think television has changed in terms of representation?
It’s all changing now. The more we dive in, the more change we make. Television represents all of that. People can piss and moan about television and celebrities and elitism, but everything that’s represented on television helps every community. It’s important to put those stories on the air. The world is getting gayer and browner so everybody should just fucking hop on board.
Click here to buy tickets to “An Evening with Chelsea Handler," a one-night-only event at the Benedum Center on Wednesday, April 4 at 7:30 PM.