After wrapping up seven years on E! with her late-night talk show "Chelsea Lately" in a star-studded finale back in August, Chelsea Handler knew that she was tired of celebrities and wanted to try something different. That itch led her to negotiate a multi-year partnership with Netflix, which kicks off today with "Uganda Be Kidding Me Live," the comedian's first-ever taped stand-up special.
Filmed on the final stop of Handler's recent international tour in support of her bestseller "Uganda Be Kidding Me," the special sees the comedian share tales of her African safari (among other subjects), all in her signature uncensored style. But it's just the beginning for Handler and Netflix: next up will be a series of four "docu-comedy" specials releasing in 2015, building towards a new talk show debuting in 2016.
So, with her new stand-up special premiering on October 10, HuffPost Canada TV spoke to Handler about how she landed at Netflix, what it was like getting back into stand-up, and why she's looking forward to moving on from celebrities.
HuffPost Canada TV: What was it about Africa that made you think it would be a good place to go for new comedy material?
Chelsea Handler: I just love to travel; I've always loved to travel. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to go to Africa. So when I found the time, I thought, we should do this. I planned the trip in about two weeks, I just grabbed five of my girlfriends, I said, "We have to go to Africa, we have to go on safari." And they said, "We can't plan a safari in two weeks." I said, "Sure we can. Let me take care of it." We did it and it ended up making me write another book, which I didn't go there with the intention of doing. So it was a great trip for a million different reasons, but it's a place I would go back to time and time again. Africa is beautiful. It is literally like being in another world.
How did this deal with Netflix first come about? Did they approach you, or did you go to them with ideas for things you wanted to do?
No, I went after my lover. It's like dating anybody: if we're gonna hook up, you're gonna know about it because I came after you, and not the other way around. I don't like people hitting on me. I was going to take a year off, actually. I was deciding what to do and I said, I just want to travel, I don't want to work at all, and then I took a few meetings and I wasn't really intrigued by any of them. People have some ideas about what I should do, and just nothing really interested me. And I was really into Netflix. I thought, Oh, maybe we should talk to Netflix. And somebody told me Netflix isn't interested in doing anything late-night, and I said, well, let's sit down and have a meeting with them.
And we did, and then we made a deal. So it was a very obvious choice for me because it was the only choice. They were very like-minded and they're so super-smart, and when I sat in that room, it was a room full of peoples' opinions that I knew I could respect. So there was no other option really. If I was going to continue to work, I want to do something very different from what I was doing. Tonally it can be the same, but I want to obviously broaden my horizons. Because there's only so much you can talk about this stuff -- meaning, the stuff I've been talking about for seven years.
You're a comedian who's known for not having much of a filter. Does working with a company like Netflix allow you to explore that side of yourself even more than you already have?
I mean, obviously they know what they're getting. I'm not an unknown entity, so they know what my personality is like. [Laughs] So hopefully we can use that in a really positive way and do things that I think are a little bit more responsible. I'm not a journalist, but I have a lot of questions. A lot of them are really interesting, a lot of them are really stupid. And I want to do some sort of show where I'm getting those questions answered, not just for me, but also for the people who watch my show. I want it to be a show you go to where it's cool and it's interesting and it's different every time. I don't want to do a late-night show again the same way, like where you have a guest on and you're interviewing some stupid celebrity about a movie. I'm not interested in that. Some celebrities are interesting, but not that many.
For a long time, I haven't been excited about working, I've been excited about vacations. I'm like, "Oh gosh, when do I get to go away?" So I want it to be entertaining. Whatever I bring to the table for anybody who's a fan of mine or who appreciates me, that's what you're going to get. There should be some seriousness and there should be some comedy. But it's not going to be a comedy show, it's just going to be my personality. So if you find that funny, then you should find the show funny.
How'd you decide what material to include in this special?
I hadn't done stand-up in a really long time, so I was very nervous for this tour. People think that I'm not scared of anything; I'm scared all the time. That's what feeds me. And I was really scared. For the first seven shows, I had to take a beta-blocker. I like to get over my fears, so that's my motivation. I'm like, OK, in a week, I'm not going to be scared anymore. Then you kind of hit your sweet spot. And I had never done a special, so it had to be brand-new material for me to even be interested in doing stand-up. Because you get really sick of your own voice, especially when you're on TV five nights a week, or seven with re-runs on E! [Laughs]
I'm very self-effacing and self-deprecating, so I really am annoyed by myself. But I just tried to think of the most personal and the most humiliating situations that have happened to me. Because there's always humour in that if you're a comedian and you have a perverted perspective. The story in there where I speak about an accident I had in the Bahamas in a kayak, even while that accident was happening, how awful it was and how humiliating it was, I knew at the time, this is going to be a great story if I get out of this alive.
Are your friends and family ever scared to go on these trips with you, since they know that everything they do is potentially fodder for a future special or book?
I mean, they should know by now. And sometimes when they don't, they're like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you doing?" And I'm like, you know the deal! I would never reveal really personal, embarrassing information into a mass medium. I would never do that, but I will embarrass you. And my friends are pretty clear on that. They know that they shouldn't be going on these types of trips with me if they don't want me to talk about them. I mean, that's just another strike against them if they do.
Speaking of which, you've gotten a lot of attention for a picture you recently shared on Twitter...
Oh, that's my special move. I send photos like that to my friends all day, so I eventually just decided to start doing it to the regular world. But people always act surprised by it. It's like, it's not a surprising move for me. It's for comedy, it's not like I'm trying to show off my sexy body. [Laughs] Although in the special, I do show my boobs a lot too, just because that's my special pose whenever I'm travelling abroad. Or not even abroad, whenever I'm travelling, period. When my friends, when we get together for a group picture, I always just pull my boob out as my signature move so that when they get their picture back, they can't put it on their wall. No one ever knows I'm doing it. I mean, they should know by now, it's been like 10 years.
You've mentioned that you want to move on from celebrities, but will interviews still be a part of your eventual talk show for Netflix?
Not a huge part of it, but I think there's a healthy mix, and I think there are some really interesting people out there. There are some really interesting celebrities. I'd like to talk to people about real things, not necessarily when they're just promoting a movie or a television show. It becomes just a little bit repetitive and redundant when you're speaking to someone like that, and in the time span that you have, or that I had, 8 minutes isn't enough time to really get into a conversation that can be anything other than funny or silly.
Have you started to figure out what the show will look like yet?
You know what, right now, we're not there yet. We're just focusing on these specials that we're going to do, and I think doing that over the next year will inform how we're going to move forward for 2016. But really, I wouldn't have any way to describe what that's going to be right now.
What about the four specials? What will those be about?
We're going to do kind of documentary-style, where I go to Silicon Valley, where I talk about what streaming is. Now that I'm on a streaming service, I should be a little bit more technologically sound, or debriefed about what's happening. I'm going to possibly go to either Wall Street or DC. I want to do fish-out-of-water stuff, where I'm asking stuff that regular people really don't know the answers to. Because a lot of times, I find myself in a conversation thinking, "I should really know the answer to this." And when I ask that question, if I ask something as simple as how a bill is passed or how an app is made, people seem kind of taken aback: "How could you not know that?" Or with certain questions, then you get away from the table and three people will say to me, "I didn't know that answer to that question [either], but I was too embarrassed to ask it." And I think that's really important. I mean, obviously, I don't have a problem making an ass out of myself, I've made a career out of it. So if I have to be out there asking the stupid questions, I'm happy to do it.
"Uganda Be Kidding Me Live" is now streaming on Netflix and Netflix Canada.