Ask Chelsea Handler what’s pissed her off the most in the last year and it’ll take her only a microsecond to respond: “Donald Trump’s personality — if you can call it that.”
Rather than helplessly stew in the anger that overcame her following the 2016 election, the outspoken comedian walked away from hosting her Netflix talk show in October to fully commit herself to political activism and thereby “be better informed, raise my voice, and participate in a more meaningful way.”
Since then, she’s been busy schooling herself on the ins and outs of American politics, and speaking to as many of her fellow citizens as possible in hopes of learning how our country arrived where it is today ― and how she can help change it for the better.
Handler, who is slated to appear in Pittsburgh on Wednesday at a benefit for the LGBTQ organization The Delta Foundation, hopped on the phone with HuffPost on Thursday afternoon for a chat about what she’s been learning in the last six months, why she loves Stormy Daniels so damn much and what she’d tell the Parkland kids if she got the chance to meet them.
How has your life changed since you officially dedicated it to political activism last year?
I’ve been educating myself on who’s running, what is running, what’s a primary, what’s a run-off, what’s a general [election]. I know more about politics than I ever wanted to know and I could probably teach a civics class. But I’m really into it and I feel like I’m doing something of merit and important and I’m finding all of the candidates that represent all of the values and ideals that I want this country to be about. I’m really doing something I’ve never done before and it feels great.
Were you surprised at how much you didn’t know, or did you go into this new chapter thinking, Jesus Christ, I have a lot to learn.
I’m surprised by how much I don’t know all the time. Everybody thinks that politics is like the North Wall from “Game Of Thrones” — it’s actually so easy to learn more. I just dove in and learned more and read more and found out more. So, I feel like I still have a long way to go, but it’s really helpful to have open conversations with people with different views and different opinions, and to be able to have a healthy conversation without screaming, “You’re a fucking moron!” I’d never been able to not be reactive before.
How did you stop being reactive? Did you actively have to train yourself?
Absolutely. I had to talk to a psychiatrist — are you kidding me? [The 2016 election] gutted me. I couldn’t believe what happened.
You’ll be in Pennsylvania next week at a benefit for The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh. How did you get involved with the organization?
I’ve always been involved with [the LGBTQ] community and bringing attention to that community. When you have a lot of privilege — which I do — and you have a lot of luck — which I do — you better stick your neck out for people who are marginalized, and these people are more marginalized now than they were before. These are groups that need people like me. These are groups that need people to advocate for them and to say, “This is unacceptable,” and who will go the extra mile. So it feels good to show up in that way.
What has changed — if anything — about how you’re thinking about President Trump and his administration since you started traveling around the country and speaking to people?
I still have my same feelings about him. I just have a better understanding of why people would vote for him and feel compelled to not vote in their best interests. One the first colleges I went to [on my speaking tour] was the University of Florida, and this woman got up and she was a lesbian and had a partner of 10 years and two kids, and she said she couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. She couldn’t vote for Donald Trump either — she said she couldn’t vote for either of them. I didn’t get that. I didn’t understand what that is. She was like, “I just couldn’t vote for them,” and I said, “But you’re voting against yourself.” And she said, “I know, but I just couldn’t vote for her.” I didn’t realize how deep that sentiment was. I now have a better understanding of that. It’s more about letting people get educated about what I’ve learned, how easy it is to get involved on the local level — in your local communities — to be a part of politics and to be a part of your local elections to elect superintendents and elect supreme court and circuit court judges in your state and in your community. These people all have an impact on the laws from state to state that aren’t federalized, so you have to get involved. And it fucking feels good to make a difference! It feels good to back a candidate and then watch them win.
When you meet queer people at these events, is there a common refrain you’re hearing from them?
A lot of people are saying, “Thank you — thank you for doing what you’re doing and putting your money where you mouth is.” That means a lot to me because I am taking the year off to focus on this. Hopefully after November I can not talk about politics fucking 24 hours a day.
So November is the goalpost?
Yes. But I’m sure it’ll be extended. Now that I know how much power you can have and how much you can get involved, I’m interested in staying involved. But, yes, my goalpost for now is November, so we can get all of these women elected and all of these first-time runners that are qualified elected and veterans elected, and just help everybody that we want to get into office to make it there so we can have a more optimistic outcome.
I’ve seen you tweeting your support of the Parkland teens who have taken up the fight for gun reform in this country in a truly awe-inspiring way. Do you have a message for them?
Keep fighting. They’re not going anywhere. They’re like Stormy Daniels — they’re here to stay. They’re going to be leading our country in five years, so we should be respecting everything that they’re saying.
Speaking of Stormy Daniels, what are your thoughts on her?
I’m into her big time. She’s relentless. She’s destigmatizing porn stars in front of the entire world. She’s not stupid. She’s not an idiot. She’s not a bimbo. She’s focused and she’s relentless and she’s honest and you know what? It’s great. This is the year of the woman and she is that. She’s representative of the year of people starting to respect porn stars and people understanding what that means — myself included. It’s enlightening. Everyone is fucking pissed off. That’s undeniable. People are angrier than they’ve ever been no matter what side of the aisle you fall on. You need to harness that anger into something constructive. That’s what I’m doing and that’s my advice to anyone who is looking to get more involved: Don’t ignore your anger. Harness your anger and outrage and do something that makes a difference.
Despite how pissed off you are and have been about what’s happening in this country, your social media feeds are actually incredibly upbeat. Has the journey you’ve been on over the last six months given you hope for the future of America?
Yes! It’s an evolution. I’m 43, so I care about different things — I don’t just care about myself anymore. I did for 15 years straight. It was all about me — “When am I going to make it? I want to be a celebrity! I want to make more money!” It was all very single lane. And eventually you grow up and you’re like, “This is not all about me — it’s about other people and what are you going to do about it?” So, what are you going to do about it?
This interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.