Chelsea Handler

Get a Handle on It

Comedian, author and TV personality Chelsea Handler performs in Eugene

It’s clear what’s on Chelsea Handler’s mind based solely on the title of her current tour. 

Her Chelsea Handler: Vaccinated and Horny Tour stops by Eugene Feb. 5 at the Hult Center, and what the standup comedian, bestselling author and TV personality is likely banking on is, after two years of pandemic life, that those two things are on our minds, too — and she’s probably right. 

Handler, who at one point offered the only female POV on late night with her E! Channel show Chelsea Lately, released her latest standup special Chelsea Handler: Evolution on HBO Max in 2020. And while she was not available for an interview prior to her Eugene show, you get a sense of her comedic style via Evolution. In it, Handler plays the acerbic wine mom in the age of not-so-recreational pharmaceutical use. She famously experimented with the plant-based South American psychedelic concoction ayahuasca on her 2016 Netflix series Chelsea Does. She also hosts the weekly advice podcast Dear Chelsea.

For Handler, exotic drugs and prescription meds like Xanax are a salve for anxiety, depression and 24-hour doom scrolling — “I feel spiritual on mushrooms,” she says at one point in her special — and what Handler does or does not put in her body, for fun or otherwise, are recurring themes for the star. 

But what’s got Handler down? (Gestures broadly.) The usual suspects: Donald Trump, new-age Los Angeles health and wellness culture, white privilege and other woke topics with which she mostly aligns. There’s something of Joan Rivers in what Handler does, with a Lululemon update. 

The no-filter, Jersey transplant stuck in a land of sand, meditation and sunshine; but where Rivers mixed another vodka martini, Handler chews a cannabis edible and remembers to breathe, tackling mood-altering compounds much more like Michael Pollan than Cheech Marin.

Otherwise, Handler’s insights cleave mostly toward the predictable platitudes. You are part of the problem, or part of the solution; or the future is browner and gayer, so get used to it. Some truth is spoken in both those things, but there’s a sense halfway through her Evolution special that a few decades ago, Handler’s sexually voracious “Yass queen!” sensibility about topics like hotel room service and awkward massage therapy appointments seemed fresh. In our current environment, though, they seem a little Karen. 

Nor, I imagine, did Handler’s I-got-the-hots for the now-disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo bit make it from the special to Handler’s current set. Ah, 2020. It was a different time. 

About 30 minutes in, something changes in the tone of Handler’s latest standup special, when she opens up about loss in her family, a lesson learned about empathy — for herself, for a flatulent Trump supporter on an airplane, for the long list of average folks she skewered earlier in her set. Tears well up in Handler’s eyes, and they may well up in your eyes, too.

The special is called Evolution, after all, and the perspective continues into her new material, which she’ll be performing in Eugene.

In a recent interview with CNN, Handler says standup — which she considered quitting at one point — is her life.

“It’s a great way to express what so many of us are feeling, and not everybody’s sitting around writing it down and then telling everybody. You’re getting this messaging across in a really profound way.” Much of her new material was drawn from the 2020 quarantine experience, and a reckoning with white-male patriarchy. 

“My sister moved in with me, with her oldest son and her two girls,” Handler tells CNN. “The world began to have this conversation about the white-male patriarchy, how every system is built on that. It’s not men’s fault, either. We’re all products of our culture. When I saw the way my nephew took up space in my house versus the way my two nieces, I was like, ‘Oh, this is what everyone’s talking about.’”

Chelsea Handler performs 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Hult Center; $49.50. All-ages with adult content; masks and proof of vaccination required.

Handler’s performance has been postponed to March 4.