Chelsea Handler closes out SeriesFest at Red Rocks
In her roles as a stand-up comic, talk-show host or documentary series guide (not to mention podcaster and best-selling author), Chelsea Handler has been to Moscow, Mumbai and Cartagena, and has tested material in Nashville, Tenn., and Irvine, Calif. Last weekend, she was onstage at the Hollywood Bowl as part of the starry 90th birthday celebration of fellow cannabis fan Willie Nelson.
But when the peripatetic Handler brings her Little Big Bitch tour to Red Rocks on May 10 for the SeriesFest Night of Comedy closer, it’ll be the first time she will play — let alone visit — the iconic amphitheater.
“I have a lot of people coming to that show, a lot of family coming. My sister, she’s bringing a bunch of her sorority sisters. A lot of friends from L.A. are coming out,” Handler said during a recent phone conversation.
But it won’t be a first for SeriesFest. Set to mark its ninth season, the unique Denver-based gathering celebrating episodic storytelling began its annual Red Rocks event in 2015. That year — with the help of Denver Film’s then-Film on the Rocks impresario, Britta Erickson — SeriesFest hosted an opening night gathering that featured a screening followed by a performance with John Legend.
The successful screening-plus-headliner ritual has continued with the “Amber Ruffin Show” and its titular host; “Yellowstone” (before it was a thing) with actors Wes Bentley and Gil Birmingham on hand; and Stevie Wonder-ful.
“I’ll never forget having legend Stevie Wonder perform with a surprise appearance by Usher in 2019,” recalled SeriesFest co-founder (with Kaily Smith) Randi Kleiner via email. “That was an epic show!”
In addition to Handler, this year’s closing night is set to feature a screening of the Fox comedy “Animal Control,” with star Joel McHale as well as visits by comedians Jay Pharoah and Adam Ray.
Just because Handler’s appearance isn’t SeriesFest’s first rodeo doesn’t mean the night won’t be special. “Handler was our first pick,” Kleiner stated. “SeriesFest, being female-founded, I knew I wanted to bring a female headliner, and Chelsea is just a tremendous artist on so many levels: she’s authentic, pushes boundaries, and is just (expletive) hilarious. She also takes pride in uplifting emerging talent, which is at the core of our mission.”
The Post spoke with the Grammy nominee and (expletive) hilarious Handler about touring, the writer Judy Blume and workouts, among other topics. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Three of your favorite things are weed, skiing and reading. Colorado has an abundance of the first two, and we’re a pretty smart state, so the reading thing’s covered. Have you spent real time here? It seems like your kind of state.
A: It’s one of my positive states, that’s for sure. You guys led the way with legalization of cannabis. That was a very seminal moment in the history of our country. I’ve skied there plenty. I’ve done Denver Comedy Works when I was coming up. I’ve done the Paramount Theatre, tons of places.
Q: You’ve written six best-selling books and you’re a stand-up ace. How do you navigate those voices, those rhythms. Are they different?
A: I think that they bleed into each other. I get a lot of my material from writing my books, and I get a lot of material for my books from doing my stand-up. It’s a very reciprocal pathway. And my style of writing is very much the way that I talk. I go off on tangents. I tell a personal story, but within that story, there are, like, five other stories. And they all come back to me being a (expletive) moron.
Q: How do you balance your personal vulnerability and revelations with your political or societal observations?
A: Well, I have pretty strong opinions and I also feel like it’s important to be promoting nondiscriminatory behavior and acceptance. This is the world we’re living in. Gay people aren’t going away. Trans people aren’t going anywhere. Black people and immigrants are also not going anywhere. I just always feel like it’s a responsibility that comes with being a very front-facing public figure to make sure that you are discussing these things. And humor is probably the best way. A lot of people don’t want to think about heavier stuff, and that’s why they come to see your shows — to forget about it all. So, if you can put a little message in there without being heavy-handed, then everybody leaves with a little bit more.
Q: So, there was “Evolution,” “Revolution,” and now there’s …
A: … “Devolution” — that’s what the next should be. But the name of the tour doesn’t always end up being the name of the special. In my case, it’s never been.
Q: So Little Big Bitch or LBB; where did that come from?
A: Little Big Bitch has a lot of stories from when I was a little girl and how outrageous I was. I was just like this when I was 3. I spoke like this. I had a mouth on me. My dad didn’t know what to do with me, so he made me read major authors. When I was 7 and 8 years old, I read “Anna Karenina” and “Moby Dick” and Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. What his intention was definitely backfired because I was able to really dish it up to both of my parents by the age of 5. And they didn’t really have many arguments to come back at me with.
Q: Your book “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea” plays brilliantly off the title of the Judy Blume classic. Did that book have meaning for you?
A: Oh, yeah, I grew up with Judy Blume. All of it. I mean, that’s how I learned about my period in the woods with my best friend Jodi Safirstein. We were reading that book together. We were like, “Oh, my God, did you get your period?” So yeah, “Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret,” of course! She and Beverly Cleary were the books that I read when I wanted to have a good time. And then when I didn’t, there were the books my father gave me.
Q: What else will you touch on during the Red Rocks show?
A: I definitely sprinkled in some funny dog stories because I never forget that. There’s some good family stuff. And then there are some near misses I had with some real seminal figures in society, in celebrity culture. So, I discuss those in a very humorous way. People like Andrew Cuomo, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen. I’ve had personal experiences with all of those people, so I kind of dish it out on that front and just talk about how my dead mother must be watching over me from heaven, because I’ve really gotten myself out of a lot of sticky situations.
Q: Speaking of your mother (who died in 2006), do you do anything special for Mother’s Day?
A: Not on Mother’s Day specifically, no. I would say in general, my mother being gone, my relationship with her has probably strengthened even more than when she was alive. Every morning when I meditate, I think of my mother. She’s a daily presence. It’s not really like a Mother’s Day type of thing, as my sister would say. She thinks that my mom spends all of her time in heaven with me. I tell my sister that’s because I’m where the action is. Obviously, my mom’s not going to be spending my time with my sister in New Jersey. Her life is much more boring.
Q: Once you’re on tour, what does a day look like for you?
A: I get up. I work out. I meditate. And I usually spend the day reading or watching (expletive) TV unless it’s a great city that I want to get out and about in. But again, I’ve been to a lot of these cities so many times, and many times you’re just flying right in and flying right out.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I just finished a book called “Hello, Beautiful” (by Ann Napolitano). I’m reading “Kiss My Jagged Face,” by Isabetta Andolini. And I’m reading “Cuba: An American History,” by Ada Ferrer; that’s very good. Apparently, I have a lot of gaps in my knowledge.
Q: Says the woman who thought the moon and the sun were the same thing.
A: Exactly. Exhibit A.
Q: What do you discover about Americans when you’re on tour? Do have a tour perspective?
A: First of all, it’s important to remember that you’re bringing people together in a fun environment. And it’s important to remind people about togetherness, to remind people about humanity. To share laughter with a stranger who’s sitting next to you is kind of an unsung thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the giggles with someone that I didn’t know. And the connection that you feel. I take that part very seriously.
So, when I’m traveling throughout the country and going to these cities and meeting people or going out and about, I think the biggest reminder is that we’re all here together. So I just try to practice that and extol that wherever I go so that people feel seen. I think the most damaging thing you can do to a person’s personality is to not see them.
Q: How have you kept your career not just sustainable but engaged?
A: It’s second nature to me to constantly be evolving and bettering myself. It’s not put-on or strategic. Of course, there are ups and downs, but I understand that things aren’t permanent. Even the highs are never permanent, just like the lows are not permanent. And it’s valuable to get to understand that and be fine with whatever storm is coming your way and to not lose your marbles.
Q: In your taped special “Revolution,” you do a riff on lying to get out of school. You do the whole bit on your back, balanced on a stool. You look so relaxed it’s easy to forget how hard that had to have been. So, how did you get such good abs, lady?
A: Weightlifting. Weightlifting is the key to everything. Over 40, you have to lift heavy, heavy weights. And then you get smaller and smaller and smaller. (That) and I’m a strong little bitch.
IF YOU GO
“SeriesFest.” Pilots, podcasts. panels, May 5-10, at Sie FilmCenter, 2510 Colfax Ave. Plus, closing night’s A Night of Comedy with headliner Chelsea Handler at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. For tickets and passes, visit seriesfest.com.
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