INTERVIEW

‘Fake news is anything Donald Trump relies on’: Chelsea Handler on liberating the talk show

The long-time talk show host, comedian and writer was in Mumbai to shoot an episode for the second season of her Netflix show.

In 2014, after hosting her popular talk show Chelsea Lately for seven years, stand-up comic Chelsea Handler quit to pursue other interests and “get a real job”. Handler, who captured her hilarious escapades in her trilogy of memoirs My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands (2005), Are You There, Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea and Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, began her partnership with Netflix with Chelsea Does, a series self-described as “the college education she never got”.

In the four-part series, Handler spoke with celebrities about issues ranging from marriage and drugs and travelled to places such as Silicon Valley and Peru. Her talk show Chelsea made its debut on Netflix in May 2016. The first season, comprising 90 episodes, ended in December 2016. Handler is in Mumbai to shoot an episode revolving around India and its politics for the second season, which will air in April.

What will you be shooting in India?
We shot a dinner party last night with Freida Pinto and some comedians and two Indian directors. I’m taking a self-defence class today, I’m going to an Indian wedding, meeting a Member of Parliament. We’re also on the street talking to local people about the culture, the food and the political climate, you know, just kind of covering all the ends of the spectrum that people would be interested in seeing on my show.

Play
Chelsea.

What aspects of Indian politics are you covering?
We are talking about how it works here versus how it works in America. The relationship with England, the prime minister and the president, it’s a different system here. I am interviewing a Member of Parliament at some point in Delhi and I think all of those things are interesting to people.

People have such strong feelings about India that it was really exciting to come here. When I was telling people I was going to come here, they were like, “You’re going to India, it’s going to change your life”.

Did you read or watch anything in particular before coming to India?
I read Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things. Everyone said I needed to read that. Very descriptive writing, a little too descriptive for me, for my tastes. I’m like, “Oh my god! The smells, the leaves, everything was describing the smell of the pickle factory.” I had one of those pickles I think the other night and I was like “Aah! This is way too spicy!” Then I read Winston Churchill and Gandhi and then I read information about present-day India.

In your Priyanka Chopra interview, she warned you not to offend anyone in India. Has that happened?
I don’t know. No one has said I have offended them but I’m sure I have without knowing.

Play
Priyanka Chopra on Chelsea.

You also said you want to “free the talk show”. Is that possible within the framework of a celebrity interview?
Mine is more of a conversation. It’s a back-and-forth, how I would talk to people at a dinner party. I could do a whole show dedicated to India. I could do a whole show dedicated to Mexico, to Tokyo and then you turn it on and it’s a bunch of celebrities at a dinner party talking about religion or talking about parenting.

Sometimes I bring people on the show to explain things that are an edification for me and my viewers. I didn’t understand the electoral college when I started making my show. Lots of people don’t know all the information that you expect yourself to know at a certain age. It’s embarrassing to admit that you don’t, but I am not embarrassed to admit I don’t know, so let me ask for everybody.

You quit your previous talk show ‘Chelsea Lately’ to ‘get a real job’.
Yeah, I mean, I am interested in talking about broader topics and a broader range of ideas. Not just about celebrity, I want to talk about politics. You know Netflix is an international network, and I want to highlight all the different cultures and also the sameness. We have so much more in common than we don’t. And it’s important for people who necessarily don’t get to go on trips like this because I feel a responsibility to film it and show that we are all human beings. When you land in any major city, you are in the same kind of airport.

I didn’t think Donald Trump would be elected, so I have even more of an obligation to continue to do, you know, to make sure that the world knows that is not our president, that most Americans don’t want him there.

You have observed that reality television played a part in Trump’s election.
I think there is a problem with reality television in our country. It’s bad and gross and disgusting. Its advent has done a lot of harm to young girls. Looking at these people as role models is sad. It’s not real, it’s fake, everything is fake about it. It’s fake news, it’s all bad. It’s not truthful, and it’s not honest and it’s not realistic. So I think it has a real bad influence on our country.

Since you air your opinions, you also get trolled a lot. Does that affect you?
I don’t care about any of that. I’m not interested in the people who hate me. I’m interested in the people I’m speaking up for. I don’t read all of that garbage. There is so much hate. Trump has brought out so much hate in the world and I won’t participate in that. I’m happy and I continue to be that way. I mean I am fighting and am sad for all the people that are being treated so poorly, and that’s who I am going to fight for.

People who aren’t speaking out on social media, are posting selfies of themselves looking pretty without discussing the topics, should be ashamed of themselves because this is an emergency situation. And it’s so important to say so he knows that this is not okay. I want Muslims to come to my country. They can live in my house if they want. And anything less than that is disgusting. Syrians have nowhere to go. Kids are dying, and people are closing their borders? To refugees? I don’t understand. It’s like Nazi Germany. It’s sickening.

Chelsea Handler and Ashton Kutcher. Courtesy Netflix.
Chelsea Handler and Ashton Kutcher. Courtesy Netflix.

How do you interact with someone who has completely different political opinions from you?
I think you have to find the people who aren’t racists or bigots. You have to find the people who have a common ground. Or the people who just didn’t know better, they were working three jobs, they don’t have the time to read the paper and find out. Or they were just voting against Hillary Clinton because they didn’t like her. So those are the fringe people that will come back to the right side of history, the humane side of history. And I focus on finding common ground with those people.

More talk show hosts are getting involved with politics. There’s John Oliver. And David Letterman came to India last year for a show on climate change.
I think it’s hard to ignore right now, we were in such a nice place with Barack Obama, it made us feel safe and people got lazy and millennials got lazy and didn’t think they had to participate in an election, if you don’t participate, this is what could happen. And it’s a big lesson for everybody. So the silver lining is that it’s going to be a galvanising movement, and I will hang my hat on that. You have to get informed. You have to go online, get informed from a real news source, which is not fake news. Fake news is anything Donald Trump relies on.

Do you have a preference between hosting talk shows and doing stand-up comedy?
Stand-up is kind of like my life before this show. That was part of my old show. In stand-up, you are on stage all by yourself with a microphone, that’s like a very strange position to put yourself in. I just did so much of it for so many years that I burnt myself out. And then I thought, once I am 40, I really don’t want to be standing on stage with a microphone anymore.

There are more men than women hosting late night talk shows.
I think that’s changing. I think women are getting somewhere now. They have been for many, many years. It just takes a long time for a movement to really take place. You can make the rules and enact the laws but it takes a long time for something to actually happen. But now there are so many powerful women in our country. In any country, it takes a long time to catch up with modernity.

There’s a growing Right wing movement around the world. Are you seeing this too during your travels?
Yeah, people are really, really racist right now. It’s bad all around the world. It’s scary. I think we have to try really hard to fight that. I have to have hope and be hopeful, otherwise I will kill myself because I am so upset.

What’s the next step for the show?
After this, we are filming in London so we can examine their political system and their culture, and their class system. We’re going to France because they have an election coming up and maybe try and help that not happen.

I don't know what I'm doing in a market. #mumbai season 2 #chelseashow

A photo posted by Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) on

Chelsea Handler in Mumbai.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.