Chelsea Handler on the Louis Farrakhan Backlash and How Robert Mueller Broke Her Heart
On this week’s episode of “The Last Laugh” pod, Chelsea Handler opens up about her white privilege and apologizes for sharing a controversial video of Louis Farrakhan.
Chelsea Handler’s most recent book, Life Will Be the Death of Me, is dedicated to her “future husband.”
But as the comedian and bestselling author tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, dating has been tougher than ever under quarantine.
“I haven’t been hooking up, no, nothing going on here,” she says from her Bel-Air estate. “Not unless you count Andrew Cuomo, but that’s just online harassment.” When I ask if she’s slid into his DMs, all she will say is, “There have been some exchanges,” assuring me that it has been entirely “professional.”
Handler moved on to the New York governor after her previous crush, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, let her down by failing to take down President Trump with his Russia probe.
“He’s 62, so he still has a few good years left in him,” she says of Cuomo. “Robert Mueller was like 75 or something. So he was a little bit too old. I mean, even Andrew Cuomo is a little bit on the line for me, but you’ve got to admire what he stands for.” Handler adds, “It’s nice to see somebody meeting the moment in that way. It’s like, oh wait, old white guys can be cool. Let's not forget.”
Until about a year ago, Handler barely considered her own whiteness and the privilege that had allowed her to loudly share her opinions on her talk shows Chelsea Lately on E! and later Chelsea on Netflix. Then, last fall, she released a documentary on Netflix called Hello Privilege, It’s Me Chelsea. It not only exposed her own blind spots on race but could also serve as a template for white celebrities struggling with how to respond to this moment of reckoning with systemic racism.
“That was for white people about white privilege,” Handler says of the film. “That was a big wake-up call about how asleep at the wheel I was. Here I am thinking I’m woke. It’s like, no, you’re not.”
“What I learned, for me personally, was that it’s always important to ask a question,” she adds. “Don’t worry about being an idiot. Who cares? That's your ego. It doesn’t matter.”
And yet as much as she learned in that process, Handler is still making some unfortunate missteps.
Last week, she posted a video on Instagram of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan denouncing white supremacy. Handler, who is Jewish, was taken aback by her followers who demanded she take it down due to Farrakhan’s disturbing history of anti-Semitism and homophobia.
“I thought his message was really powerful,” Handler says. “I wasn’t thinking about the anti-Semitic thing, but I don't want to take down the post because I felt the message was powerful and a lot of people did.” The post was shared or liked by celebrities including Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Aniston and Michelle Pfeiffer.
“It was powerful for me the way he spelled it out,” she continues. “That Black people don’t have a history of killing white people. White people have a history of killing Black people, for hundreds of years. Over and over again, we kill Black people in this country. So everyone needs to remember where the violence came from. It's not from the Black people, it's from the white people. So I thought it was powerful. So whatever, you know, everybody can go fuck themselves.”
Shortly after our conversation, however, Handler decided to take the video down.
“I want to sincerely apologize for posting the video of Louis Farrakhan,” she wrote in an email statement following our podcast taping. “I didn’t consider the context of his Anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric, that is of course contrary to my own beliefs and values. Part of the process of educating ourselves during this pivotal time is recognizing and working through our mistakes. This was definitely one of mine. I was wrong. It was offensive, and I apologize.”
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
On her Trump-induced midlife crisis
“I just got bored with my life. It was an awakening, like, oh, I have to be better to the people around me. And that involves being involved in politics. It involved standing up for something and using your platform for something other than self-promotion. I just was kind of angst-ridden. And so when I went to therapy, after Trump was elected, I had something to be angry about. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that asshole.’ I went into therapy because I honestly felt like my anger was becoming unmanageable. I’m like a completely different person now. I don’t have the same temperament. I’m just so much more relaxed and calm. I mean, I’m stoned most of the time. So that plays into it for sure.”
On her ultimate disappointment in Robert Mueller
“I fantasized and I believed Robert Mueller was going to deliver, even when people were forecasting that it wasn't going to be all that it was cracked up to be. I was like, no, no, no, you don't understand my baby. He’s not going to disappoint us. He’s just too filled with valor to do that. And then I was just… ugh. If William Barr hadn’t been in that position, if someone else had been in there, somebody who cared about democracy, then obviously the outcome could have been different. But yeah, it was so disappointing. I mean, honestly, he was going to be an American hero and then he wasn’t.”
Why she doesn’t need to drink on stage anymore
“I had never toured and not been drinking during tour or by the second show being totally buzzed. I had never behaved myself. I had never had a set list and did everything in the right order. I would just go out there and do whatever I felt like. And sometimes that was great. And sometimes it wasn't. But this time, I was super-focused. I’m not partying like that anymore. You realize you were drinking so much when you were younger because you were numbing. And I don’t need that anymore. I’ve come face-to-face with my demons in a way. That's not appealing to me anymore. So it’s deeper, but it’s much sharper. The comedy, to me, is so much funnier.”
How she’s preparing for her upcoming HBO Max stand-up special under quarantine
“We’re looking for outdoor spaces to do the special. It’s the safest way to shoot a special. So I think I’ll shoot it this summer. I want to shoot it before the election and I want it out before the election, because it’s just about changing your mindset and putting your mind to better use. It’s all about waking up to life. The important thing to talk about is first of all, taking stock of your accountability, having self-awareness, dealing with any of your grief or your trauma and not putting it away and shoving it aside because it always comes back to bite you in the ass. Whether you like me or not, nobody can say that I’m a liar. I’m always sharing my authentic experience. I’m oversharing, people would argue.”