Vicki Notaro chats to comedian and writer Chelsea Handler, as she prepares to launch the world’s first global streaming chat show.
If you’re not familiar with Chelsea Handler, that’s about to change.
She may look familiar to you; for years, she hosted a late night talk show on the E! channel called Chelsea Lately, a bawdy, comedic and totally non-PC take on the more staid and male dominated network television shows.
During that time, she was the only woman anchoring a late night show, but now, she’s about to become the only person ever to have hosted a chat show for Netflix.
When I call her at her Los Angeles home, she exclaims “Thank God!” when she hears my Irish accent.
“I have been talking to people who don’t speak English all morning,” she laughs.
I’m calling her at 9.20am; what time has she been up doing interviews since, I wonder.
Then I remember — her new show, just titled Chelsea, is going to stream to every territory the internet behemoth is live in, so that’s 190 countries.
This isn’t just any press junket — this is a global press junket.
Straight-talking and no nonsense on screen, Handler is exactly the same on the phone.
There are no airs and graces, and no phoniness.
When she laughs, it’s genuine and I’m thrilled, because she’s the type of woman that you just want to like you.
Acerbic and dry, she can be scathing. But I can sense her excitement about this new project through the phone line and across 6,000 miles.
“I went to Netflix and said ‘look, what can we do together?’ I had no intention of doing another talk show because I was sick of it. I thought it was so stupid, and after eight years, I just can’t talk about these people anymore.”
By these people, Chelsea means the celebrity guests that appeared on her E! show, promoting this and that.
“I wanted to really challenge myself, and do documentaries that I have no business doing! I wanted to work with great documentarians because I don’t want to be in charge any more, I want somebody to push me around.”
The result of this was a four-part documentary series on Netflix that premiered at the beginning of this year.
Entitled Chelsea Does, the docuseries saw Handler exploring the things that interest her — racism, marriage, technology and drugs.
Perhaps not for the faint hearted, Chelsea says that she did it for herself.
“In this business, you’re not saving lives anyway, so it may as well be interesting. I said to Netflix, ‘let me do something I want to do that’s interesting’.
"I’m very curious, love asking people 50,000 questions, and I love talking to regular people. Also I have no problem making a fool of myself.”
Far from it — Handler’s docuseries was incredibly well received, and it showed her what could actually be done on a platform like Netflix, one with a big budget and global reach. Thus the idea for the chat show was born.
“It will be, in a way, an extension of Chelsea Does — like, we’re keeping in the dinner party with famous people because I want to bridge that gap and see them in a different environment where they’re not just sitting there talking about their movies.
"So we have real dinner parties at my house, we eat and drink and talk, and they’re already amazing, it’s so much fun. We talk about everything from homophobia to parenting, and it allows you to see these people in a different way.”
I ask who she’s already had over for dinner.
“We did one with Kate Hudson, Malin Akerman, and Mayim Byalik, all actresses who have very different parenting styles. I don’t have any children and don’t understand why people do, so I find that really interesting.
“I also had the cast of Captain America, the new Marvel movie. But it’s not all celebrities, we’ll be mixing them with intellectuals, writers, scientists, correspondents. Whoever the group is, the main thing is that they’ll all be relaxed.”
Chelsea has been pre-recording these segments and more, because the streaming service allows for it.
The show will go out three times a week at 30 minutes per episode, and will feature a current studio set up.
However, it will also feature lots of inserts like the dinner parties, meaning it really isn’t your average talk show.
“I’ve been travelling around the world for this show. It’s showing in 190 countries, so I want to represent that. So we’ve been banking a lot of pieces, filming in Mexico City, Tokyo… I want to travel.
"I’m putting myself in situations I know nothing about. I never got a college education, so this is it, paid for by Netflix!
"So it’s a little like An Idiot Abroad in that sense, with lots of learning and questions.”
As we speak, she’s less than a month out from episode one landing.
“We’re intensely in to the process at this point, but I’m not a big rehearser. The team on this show is mostly new people, because I wanted it to be very different to what I did before.
"It’s a completely different experience, and much more challenging. But the basic premise is me asking questions and trying to learn something every night, with a sense of humour.”
Chelsea doesn’t mince her words — “We went to Russia, which was a waste of time” — but her honesty is refreshing in the heavily sanitised and PR managed celebrity industry.
She’s very honest about the things she loves — drinking, her family and friends, her work — and the things that frustrate her — people’s attitudes to her lifestyle, Donald Trump, the expectations we put on relationships. She’s a breath of fresh air.
“I’m very direct, so people either like it or they don’t. But I just want to change the conversation.”
I ask will she be doing any “bits” like James Corden’s viral Carpool Karaoke.
“Netflix is already streaming, so it’s viral by the time it goes online. But we’re not dealing with commercials and Netflix doesn’t release its viewing figures, so it’s not the same really. I’m sure I’ll hear about it if something isn’t working, though.”
She’s pleased it’s an election year.
“That will be great to talk about and there’s plenty to go on. We’ve shot so much stuff already that hopefully we’ll be ahead of ourselves, but once we get up and running, it will be really current.
"We have teams of translators working on everything I’ve ever done to pick up my nuances and how I speak, there’s a whole team working on how it will be delivered around the world.”
Did she miss the spotlight when she was away from it?
“It was nice to take a break. It’s always nice to have people miss you. But I’m so excited about this; of course there will be people who love you and people that think I’m obnoxious and annoying, but I have this opportunity so let’s go and fucking do it.
"I don’t expect it to be perfect right away, I expect that six months in it will hit its stride. One thing I know is that it can’t have a regimented formula or I’ll get bored.”
I observe that she seems to be in a good place, and that her honesty in Hollywood makes her a rarity.
“My life is pretty spectacular, and it has a very good balance of making sure I enjoy the shit out of it while working my tail off.
"I manage to spend time with the people I care about as well, and you need that mix of the two.
"A lot of people would never take a year off, but for me, it was really important to live a life, to get the hell out of this town and it all really informed what I needed to do next.”
For Chelsea, that seems to be world domination, at least from a broadcasting point of view.
Chelsea begins streaming on Netflix on May 11.
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