“I’ve been here before, but I’ve never been invited. I’ve crashed,” said Chelsea Handler. She wasn’t referring to an exclusive party per se but rather the Sundance Film Festival (which, truthfully, could be considered one big Hollywood powwow). It’s a festival-cum-schmoozefest that’s not usually inclusive of mainstream television material but this year several buzzy television projects, including the comedienne’s four-part docuseries for Netflix, “Chelsea Does,” have premiered during the festival to harness media attention. “This is already so fun and I’ve been here for less than 24 hours,” said Handler shortly before “Chelsea Does” went live on the streaming entertainment channel Saturday. “I don’t have to wear high heels, I love the cold, I love to ski. This is like the perfect environment.” She seemed just as tickled to pose for outdoor photos sans coat and chat while zipped into a down jacket as she is by the documentary-meets-talk-show hybrid.
“I pitched the idea to Netflix because I didn’t want to start another show right after I had ended one,” she said, referring to “Chelsea Lately,” her talk show on E! Networks until 2014. “So I thought, ‘Let me do something that’s completely out of my comfort zone.’” Along with director Eddie Schmidt and co-producer Morgan Neville, Handler takes on marriage, racism, drugs and technology with her own brand of humor, and clearly stretches her range in the process. In the race-centric episode, she sat down with figures such as former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and the Rev. Al Sharpton, for which she gives her production team full credit. “I had producers and researchers who did that for me thankfully, because I would be terrible at that job. I just show up and do it. I was surprised that certain people like Walter Scott’s family were willing to sit down with me,” she said, referring to Scott, who was fatally shot by a white police officer in South Carolina last April.
But Handler wants to make it known — she isn’t doing a total about-face, “I didn’t want anyone to think I think I’m Barbara Walters,” she said, going on to say she does want to “grow up” in a way. “I want to do more worldly topics and maintain my personality and not have to stiffen up. Sometimes people want to get their information in different ways so if you want to get your information with me, you know what you are signing up for.”
She was also surprised how, through doing the show, her own opinion changed on certain topics, including marriage, an institution she’s poked fun at and denounced for herself over the years in many monologues. “I came out of that one definitely different. I felt very vulnerable and very exposed and I’m not used to feeling that way on camera. It was like a great exploration of all the things you are capable of. I’m a late bloomer. I’m very immature. So now at 40, I’m like, ‘Oh, I like people. I could be in love,” she reflects.
While Handler won’t reveal any details about the new talk show she’s starting in the spring, the themes in “Chelsea Does” could be an indication of Handler gravitating towards more weighty topics. “This is a bridge to show people the direction I’m headed,” she said. Still, she’s not ready to rein it in, at least not in Utah. “This may be the only premiere I ever have. I have to enjoy it.” If she does do anything embarrassing off-camera during the revelry, she notes, “You can blame everything on the altitude.”