Fans of Chelsea Handler who have been waiting for her return to TV since Chelsea Lately ended its seven-year run in August 2014, have come to the end of their vigil. Handler will be back on the tube in four documentaries for Netflix, under the umbrella title Chelsea Does, which will be available for streaming beginning Saturday, January 23.
"It's been a really amazing experience for me work-wise because it's obviously a lot different than anything I've done before," says the New Jersey native, who elected to cover the topics of marriage, technology, drugs and racism in the films.
When Handler left her late-night talk show, she did it with irreverence, calling it "seven years of ridiculous stupidity." The consequence, though, was the desire to do something different, which Handler felt required a fresh perspective. In order to get that, she took time away before tackling her next project.
"It was not that I was working that hard, but it's just so tedious when you're working on something that you don't like," she says of the end of her run at E!. "I bopped around the world. I got to see a million different places, I bought a house in Spain, and I went to China, Japan, and French Polynesia. I got certified [scuba]. I learned Spanish. Everything I wanted to do, I did, and I'm proud of myself."
Now in hindsight, Handler acknowledges that Chelsea Lately took her to a different level of success than she had had previously, so when she met with Netflix and they asked her what she wanted to do, she chose to do something completely unexpected, which was to produce and star in the four documentaries.
"It's been a really transitional year for me and a lot of different changes have happened," she says. "To have this come together in a way that I'm so proud of, I don't know that I've ever been able to say that about something that I've done before. I've always thought, 'Oh, that's funny,' but I've never been like, 'Oh, that's amazing; that's a great documentary.'"
The transformation actually began for Handler when she moved to Los Angeles. She says it was never really about fame, although she did try her hand at acting, but more about having the chance to be heard.
"I thought being an actress would be good, like, 'Oh, that will be a way to get myself out there,'" she says. "I didn't realize when you're an actress, you're reading other people's lines, and you are not writing your own material. I quickly turned to standup comedy because at least that was a way I could get on stage with a microphone and not get interrupted. So sadly, to be honest, I think I just wanted people to know who I was."
While fame per se might not have been a goal, obtaining a little bit of fortune was, because Chelsea saw her career as a way to change her mother's life. She considers her greatest personal accomplishment the day she bought her aunt a house, because she wasn't lucky enough to make that dream come true for her mother, who died from breast cancer in 2006.
"I wanted to grow up and get my mother away from my father," Handler says. "I'm like, 'He sells used cars. I can give you a real life.' That was my goal from a little girl. And then things don't work out exactly like that, but you get to do amazing things for the people that you love. And for me, that's been great. Those are the best days that you remember, that everybody remembers."
Handler's deal with Netflix also includes an upcoming talk show, which is still in the works. One thing she does know is that it won't be nightly like Chelsea Lately. But until she locks in the format, she doesn't want to say too much about it.
"I think you go in there trying to be different," she says. "I think you go in there trying to figure out what you want to do and what resonates. Doing all of these documentaries has given me a glimmer of exactly what I love to do, the situations in which I like to put myself, which is a lot of fish-out-of-water stuff, and I feel like that's a great example to set. Not a lot of people do that on television, so instead of figuring out how not to be like people, I just think about how not to conform to formats. I like to think about what I can do, what I want to do, and what I would watch."
Chelsea Does is a four part docu-series featuring Handler exploring four topics of personal fascination: marriage, racism, Silicon Valley, and drugs. Following, Handler gives her thoughts on each of the four Chelsea Does documentary films:
CHELSEA DOES MARRIAGE:
"Marriage has always been a really interesting topic for me because I've never felt compelled to be married, and now that I turned 40, I'm totally open to the possibility even though I have absolutely zero prospects. So I thought we should examine that. We talked to my family. We talked to my ex‑boyfriends. We talked to people in my life, married couples that have been together for 65 years, people that are in a thruple [people that are in a relationship with three people]. We did a really broad scope of it, which was really compelling and really personal for me. I felt very vulnerable doing it, which is a good exercise for me because the way I am thought of is, obviously different than that. So it was nice for me to open up, and be open to the experience, and talk openly about all of those kinds of things."
CHELSEA DOES RACISM
"The racism film is obviously a situation that's happening right now, worse probably now than it was ten years ago for some reason. There's something going on, and so that's always interesting. And not just racism on the black/white front. I'm talking about racism within all different communities all over the world and the little subcultures that exist and the echelons that exist everywhere. We were on a reservation with American Indians, talking to them about how they've been marginalized. Nobody ever sticks up for those people, you know? They don't have anybody defending them. So that's an interesting topic. That's obviously more serious than the marriage."
CHELSEA DOES SILICON VALLEY
"And, then, Silicon Valley is great and light and fun. It's rooted in the fact that it's on Netflix and I don't know what streaming is. I don't even understand how that works. I can barely use the things in my house. Everything is on iPad, and I'm so frustrated all the time. I have a Tesla that I don't know how to use."
"Technology makes me so irate that I was, like, 'I need to talk to the people because is this is making our lives easier, or is it making it harder?' Nobody can even pay attention to each other. It's all rooted in that. Interestingly enough, it's the one I'm the most passionate about because, at the beginning of all of these docs, I meet with a psychologist, and we talk about my issues with each subject matter. With technology, he's like, 'All right. Calm down. You need to, like, take a sedative.'"
CHELSEA DOES DRUGS
"Chelsea Does Drugs is something that I thought would be nice to illustrate how irresponsible people are with prescription medication and combining that with alcohol. I know I've done it, and I know a lot of people that do it, and you just don't think it's ever going to happen to you, anything dangerous. It starts with a marijuana‑infused dinner with a bunch of friends. We had a chef come and this catering company. So, by the end of the night, you see what happens to your brain. Then we experimented with different pills with a neuroscientist, who gave me mental acuity tests and physical tests after Adderall, after Ambien, after Ambien and alcohol, those kinds of things. Then, we're flying to Peru and doing ayahuasca, which I'll do on camera."