I love “Chelsea”
Are you familiar with Jerry Springer’s short-lived dating show “Baggage?” Three hot local singles would reveal secrets about themselves to a contestant looking for love in ascending intensity. It was sort of like “The Dating Game,” but everyone was talking about their fetishes, overbearing parents, and immense amounts of debt. Their first secret, their “small baggage,” would be in a little briefcase; “medium baggage” was a carry-on bag; and “big baggage” was a rolling suitcase they saved for the end of the episode. My name is Christine, and my medium baggage is that I’ve watched every available episode of Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show, “Chelsea.”
I’ve been quietly tuning in every week since the debut in May, and during that time I’ve also shyly come out to certain friends as a fan of what she’s doing. But as someone who generally considers herself not-an-idiot, this has been a complex preference for me to accept. In the early-aughts, Handler’s booze-fueled, sex-positive comedy was a sort of female answer to Tucker Max. She discussed race… insensitively. She had a shorter man named Chuy as her sidekick and almost exclusively referred to him as “a nugget.” It was as if someone was asking her to hinge a career on the question, “What if frat comedy, but pink?” And while she still “raps” on Snapchat, and sometimes reveals that her point-of-view is a little less informed than you’d expect from a TV host, she’s currently operating the entire talkshow with the mission of educating herself personally, and it’s brave as fuck.
The show is only a few months old, but one cause that’s been close to her heart through the entire run is insisting her viewers not vote for Donald Trump. She helmed a voter registration campaign, spoke openly about her own concerns, and made time to incorporate a diverse spread of experts into the show’s otherwise “reasons I love Xanax” and “I’m never having children”-style segments. This week, in the first episode after Trump’s election, she had California Senator Barbara Boxer on to try and make sense of things.
Here’s what I love about the clip: It is cool to care. It is cool to have skin in the game. It is cool to fuck up and feel embarrassed and stand back up and try again. It takes more than balls, it takes a respect for what lies outside of yourself—a fundamental acceptance that you are not now or ever going to be perfect, but that it is your responsibility to try in this world. There is no ego in Chelsea Handler asking these questions as far as I can tell, just a hope to connect with people and understand them in a changing social climate, which, same. For all of us. Same.
People also take for granted how special it is when someone can be comfortable being unknowing. We all have our ignorances and our blind spots, but not everyone has an easy time saying, “I am ignorant, I do not know everything, and I am here to learn.” It’s something that Handler has no problem with, and I’d argue it’s her greatest gift.
“I didn’t graduate high school!” she often laughs to her guests. “Explain this to me!” And then they do. Things like the electoral college, climate change, civil rights. She asks and she learns, and in watching her do that, I’m learning too. I’m learning what it looks like to take your work seriously and keep fucking going.
Anyway, watching Chelsea Handler cry with Barbara Boxer while asking where we go from here was a comfort to me this week. Watching Barbara Boxer know—like really know—that this is an opportunity for people to double down and continue advocating for their causes was a comfort. And I’m thankful for it.