The comic and talk show host wants to help people laugh right now, and she does so with a very personal stand-up special.


Chelsea Handler, like so many this year, needed to connect with others beyond video calls and social media. When she had the chance to get back on the stand-up comedy stage — COVID-compliant, of course — she took it.

"I really wanted to put something out that could bring people together and make people laugh," she recently told EW — via one of those video calls, which you can watch above. Her way of making people laugh is in the form of a new special, Chelsea Handler: Evolution, streaming Thursday on HBO Max. An adaptation of sorts of her 2019 memoir Life Will Be the Death of Me, the special — which she was able to test on live audiences in some "really dinky comedy rooms" that were at "30-percent capacity" after re-opening this year — covers everything from her trip to a California wellness retreat (where she recounts a hilarious tale of finding the person with drugs and then taking those drugs, which had effects she'd never experienced before) and her attraction to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to the major — and shocking (she's not ADHD, it turns out, but lacks empathy!) — discoveries she made about herself.

Handler calls it the "most personal" special she's ever done. "It's me coming to terms with going to therapy, finding out I was a raging bitch and having no clue that's how I was coming across," the 45-year-old says, laughing.

Chelsea Handler
Credit: Zach Dilgard/HBO Max

While she acknowledges President Trump's 2016 election win as a, well, huge contributing factor to that rage, don't expect her to get political in the special. Instead, she's incredibly self-deprecating — as the best comics are — but relatable in a way that we haven't really seen from her before. Especially as she recounts her older brother Chet's death when she was just 9 years old and the profound impact it had on her family and herself into adulthood.

Citing as inspiration a scene in the movie Steel Magnolias — when, after her daughter Shelby's (Julia Roberts) funeral, M'Lynn (Sally Field) breaks down, screams that she just wants to hit something, and friend Clairee (Olympia Dukakis) jokingly offers up their cranky friend Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) as a punching bag — Handler says it was important to help people laugh through their pain. "That moment when you’re crying and you’re feeling so much and then you just go right into the laughter is a moment I’ve always wanted to be able to achieve in stand-up," she explains. "I really wanted to be able to ring that bell a little bit and bring people through a real, true emotional experience but make sure everybody leaves laughing."

And she does — here, with her books, her Netflix talk show, and on social media. And perhaps in a more meaningful way than when she was a daily presence on E! as host of the talk show Chelsea Lately, which wrapped up in 2014. A job she is quick to say she doesn't miss. "I just don’t miss the responsibility. It felt like I was weighed down and I had to be in one place all the time, and I don’t like that feeling — I move around a lot," she very frankly admits. "The things that I’ve done since I’ve left doing a talk show have more heft, and have more weight."

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