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'Life Will Be The Death Of Me': Comic Chelsea Handler's Year Of Self-Discovery

Chelsea Handler visits the SiriusXM studios in Los Angeles on May 23, 2019. (Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Chelsea Handler visits the SiriusXM studios in Los Angeles on May 23, 2019. (Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Editor’s Note: If you or people you know are struggling with mental health, trauma or the loss of loved ones, you can reach out to SAMHSA’s National Helpline — a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

You can also reach the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org. Its helpline is open Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.

With David Folkenflik

Stand-up comic Chelsea Hander gets serious about her year in intense therapy and her book and podcast, “Life Will Be the Death of Me.”


Chelsea Handler, stand-up comic, actress, writer and TV host. Author of “ Life Will Be the Death of Me,” which is also the name of her new podcast. ( @chelseahandler)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “Life Will Be the Death of Me” by Chelsea Handler

Chapter 1

Where Have I Been All My Life

I don’t remember the actor, and I don’t remember the movie, but I remember it was five o’clock in the afternoon and I had just taken a couple hits off my vape pen. I needed to load my Pix account, which held pre-released movies that I was expected to screen before a star of one of the movies was a guest on my Netflix talk show. I was sitting on one of my overpriced chaise lounges, the kind that celebrities and Russians purchase for their bedrooms, when I found myself once again unable to convert the TV that descends from the ceiling from Apple TV to Pix. Rich people have descending smart televisions. The idea is that they descend silently and gracefully from the ceiling, but because I am nouveau-riche rich, mine sounds more like a helicopter landing. I’d like to blame my inability to change the mode of my television to Pix on the fact that I was stoned, but that would be a lie; I’d be even less capable if I was sober.

I called my assistant Brandon at his house, to tell him to tell my other assistant, Tanner—who was downstairs in my house—to come upstairs and help me with the television. I hung up the phone. I looked down at the table and saw the vape pen. How many more hits of marijuana would I need to get through this movie?

I knew things had hit a new low—or high, depending on how you looked at the situation. I picked up the iPad that controls the TV along with everything else in my house—from the window shades to the exterior lights in my backyard, to my pulse, probably—and tried to pretend that I was troubleshooting, so that Tanner would think I had at least tried to figure it out on my own—as if that had ever happened before.

How did I become so useless? And how many assistants did I actually have? Answer: two. Brandon and Tanner. Brandon is gay and has an incredible attention to detail. Tanner is straight, and before he met me, he thought that the Four Seasons was a weather pattern. Before I met Tanner, I thought Venmo was an online liquor store.

Tanner was now upstairs standing behind the chaise I was sitting on. I wondered if he could smell the weed I’d just smoked, and if so, what did he think of me? Did he realize that most television hosts don’t even make the time to watch movies and TV shows to prepare for each of their upcoming guests? Did he understand that I was a consummate professional who went to great lengths to get ready for my show? Or did he think that I was just some rich, lucky, white bitch who continued to fall upward? No, that wasn’t quite right: I doubt he was thinking in terms of race. Two white people surely weren’t thinking about skin color. I was the one thinking that.

I didn’t want to watch another stupid f***ing movie that I didn’t care about. And I really didn’t want to interview another action star bloviating about his motivation for playing a half man, half mermaid. I just didn’t care, and I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by pretending that I did.

Did I ever care? The answer is yes. There was a time when all of this mattered to me. There was a time when being famous and having this kind of success and money and having a TV show was what drove me to want more and more and more, and now I found myself exhausted and ashamed by the meaninglessness of it all.

I remember coming home a couple of weeks before the 2016 election on a windy fall night—which for Los Angeles is rare. Anytime there’s weather in Los Angeles, even rain, it’s exciting—the constant sunshine can start to grate on your nerves. I went up to my bedroom, opened up my sliding glass doors, grabbed my vape pen, and turned on some Neil Young. I lay on my bed in the dark, watching the wind blow my bedroom drapes around, hearing the ruffling of the leaves, and watching the lanterns that hang from my backyard trees swinging into each other, thinking, If there’s an electrical fire, I hope the dogs will at least bark to wake me up, but overall, my thought was: This is f***ing awesome. This is exactly what I’d hoped adulthood would be.

No kids, no husband, no responsibilities—just a TV show on Netflix and whatever else I felt like doing, whenever I felt like doing it. Not trapped, not stuck, not dependent on a single person but myself—free to be you and me. I couldn’t believe how lucky my life had turned out, how many of my dreams had come true, and also my good fortune in being alive during this time in history—the year we were going to elect our first female president.

I suppose I could blame my state of mind on the election of Donald Trump—so I will. I have the Trump family and their horrifying personalities and veneers to thank for my midlife crisis. Along with more than half the population—of the world—I couldn’t grasp how, in this day and age, we elected a man who insulted Mexicans and women and Muslims and veterans and disabled people and everyone else he has insulted since. The contrast in decency between Barack Obama and Donald Trump was too much for me to bear—like electing Snooki to the Senate. Now people were seriously talking about Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson running for president. How on earth did we get here? Although, if I’m being honest, at that point in time—or at any other time during the entire Trump presidency—I would have preferred an actual rock.

From the book LIFE WILL BE THE DEATH OF ME by Chelsea Handler. Copyright © 2019 by Chelsea Handler. Published by Spiegel and Grau, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

iHeartRadio: “ This Is What A Real-Life Therapy Session Is Like With Chelsea Handler” — “Chelsea Handler keeps it very real, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she invited her actual real-life therapist to co-host episode three of her ‘Life Will Be the Death of Me’ podcast.

“Joined once again by her ‘platonic life partner/assistant/decision-maker’ Brandon Marlo, and her psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Siegel, Chelsea and arguably the two people who know her best, had a full-on therapy session while discussing her ‘journey’ in therapy, which is a major part of her book, also titled ‘Life Will Be the Death of Me.’

“Speaking of the New York Times Bestseller, the comedian began her podcast/ therapy session by talking about the feedback she’s received from those who have connected with the stories she shared in the book. ‘The responses I get on, on social media and all the direct messages from all these strangers about all their experiences of death and loss and grief has been so moving, and it was so unexpected. I mean, maybe it wasn’t unexpected, but I, I didn’t really,’ she shared. ‘I thought I was telling my own story, and I didn’t realize I was telling a lot of people’s stories.’ ”

Arizona Republic: “ Chelsea Handler on her new book: ‘It just kind of vomited out of me’” — “Chelsea Handler is not, strictly speaking, playing Phoenix on a book tour.

“But the show she’s doing will be based primarily on the subjects she addresses in her latest book, a memoir titled ‘Life Will Be the Death of Me: . . . and You Too!’

“It’s a book she started writing after undergoing therapy to deal with President Donald Trump’s election and finally coming to terms with the grief she was too young to process when her oldest brother, Chet, died on a trip to the Grand Tetons after promising the little sister who adored him he’d be home soon.

“She was 9 at the time and felt betrayed when he never returned.

“‘It’s a comedy show about the contents of the book,’ she says. ‘About going to therapy and the things I discovered about all the times you think you’re making progress and you screw up. It’s a lot about the grief I had not visited about my childhood, that I thought I could get through my life without having to deal with. And it’s about that kind of thing sneaking up on me after the election and finally feeling like, for the first time, I had to sit down and talk to somebody.’

“Some might find it challenging to turn that type of subject matter into comedy.

“Not Handler.”

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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