How Chelsea Handler Overcame Her Fear of Returning to Stand-Up Comedy

Chelsea Handler has a reputation for being strong, fearless, and often times cynical. Recently, however, she’s been gathering a lot of attention for the big shifts she’s made in her life and in her world view, thanks to a few years of therapy.

Handler originally got her start in stand-up comedy but has been away from the game for years, instead, focusing on her string of TV shows, as well as her successful writing career. Now, she’s back to her roots performing stand-up again, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make for Handler.

Why was Chelsea Handler scared to do stand-up again?

Stand-up comedy may be one of the most nerve-wracking types of performing a person can do. Every performance type is not without its difficulty but when it comes to the possible hits to the ego, comedy is at the top of the heap for most risky.

Unlike, say, an actor who is usually performing a character among other actors using words written by a third party, a comedian is all alone on stage as themselves with their own story to tell. If a joke doesn’t land well, or the audience just doesn’t like what they are dishing out, the comedian has no one else to blame as they stand on stage with only the faint sound of crickets lingering in the air.

Additionally, like any skill, comedy skills need to be kept fresh, and Handler hadn’t done a set in years. She was rusty, doubtful, and unsure if anyone even wanted to hear what she had to say.

She told Health magazine: “I had a fear about going back to stand-up. I had taken such a long break from it. I didn’t think I ever would want to do it again. Then I thought, ‘If I do go back to it, is anyone going to want to see me perform?'”

What made Chelsea Handler decide it was time to return to stand-up?

Chelsea Handler attends the premiere of "Atomic Blonde" at The Theatre at Ace Hotel.
Chelsea Handler | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

On tour for the release of her 6th book, Life Will Be the Death of Me… and you too! Handler was regularly telling stories from the book and, she explained, they were funny, moving, and resonated with audiences.

Those experiences got her thinking. She said: “‘Oh, this is a one-woman show.’ And then I thought, ‘No, this is a stand-up show. This is what you’ve done your whole career. This is exactly what you should be doing with such serious material.'”

The serious material she references is her sorting through grief, in particular the loss of her brother, who died on a hiking trip when she was just nine years old. Rather than mourning his death at the time, she bottled the sadness and anger up for years.

She carried on well into her 40s with a tough, cynical exterior, ignoring her issues until she finally reached a breaking point.

Chelsea Handler’s big transformation through therapy

Originally starting therapy due to her frustrations with Trump and the 2016 US elections, Handler started to process through her childhood issues. With the help of a therapist that was once a guest on her talk show, Handler was able to finally cry in front of another human and really face just how much her brother’s death affected every aspect of her life.

When asked to sum up what therapy has done for her, she said: “I’m calm—and that leads to being more decent and being kinder. That calm is what I needed. I was always at a 10. Initially, with therapy, I overcorrected. I went to a zero. But eventually your personality creeps back in.”

She now is navigating through this new way of existing in the world; a way that is more connected, present, and happy. Fans can expect her new stand-up to be distinctly different from her early material, and yet still decidedly “Chelsea.”