We are waiting outside Vista, the café at Taj Land’s End, Bandra, for American comedian and TV host Chelsea Handler (41). She’s in India to shoot the second season of Chelsea, her namesake chat show on Netflix. We are at the location earlier than the slot assigned to us. After all, we have already been asked thrice to “be on time. “She is very particular about it.” The assumption, somehow, seems to be that we might not be.
But that’s not the only assumption Handler has made. In October, 2016, she stirred a controversy among Indian Twitter users, when she asked actor Priyanka Chopra if she spoke English back in India. While the Twitterati trolled Handler (“I hope she asked Chelsea when did you learn English,” said one user), Chopra handled the question with poise, confirming that most Indians do speak English.
But she stands by it. “What was wrong with the question? I know Indians speak many languages, but I had no idea English is a prevalent language in India,” she says bluntly.
The unapologetic personality isn’t new. If her show on Netflix is any indication, Handler is not one to mince words. She sips vodka on camera, has slammed President Trump by calling him a “toddler in the White House” (in an interview to Variety), and has gone all out to blame the Kardashians for changing the way reality entertainment is consumed in America. “It’s mindless television,” she tells us.
Mind you, she herself hosted a Hollywood chat show on E!, an American channel, for seven years. It was a regular chat show - Handler would open with a stand-up comedy monologue, bring on celebrities to promote their latest films and then discuss viral pop culture phenomenon of the day. Think The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. However, now, with her Netflix show, Handler has made a conscious shift towards more socio-political themes, with a side of comedy: the women’s marches across America, Hilary Clinton’s political campaign, and there’s the English-speaking skills again -- this time, Melania Trump’s.
But there are many shows that follow the same model – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. What sets Handler apart is that she’s the only woman on the scene. In fact, Handler, is one of three noted women to have hosted popular talk shows on American television (source: ctvnews.ca), the others being Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey. It must have been tough, then, for a woman to break into the limelight. Handler disagrees. “You just do what you want to do. It’s as simple as that,” she says.
After her successful first season run, Handler is shooting for her second season now, and is in India to incorporate the culture in one of the episodes. After our interview, she says is headed for a self-defence class at Swarakshan Trust, with Mallika Sherawat, and then for a wedding in Delhi. Has the trip changed a few of her perceptions about the country? “Yeah, the food doesn’t make you sick. I now bear witness to that,” she says. Perhaps our cosmopolitan culinary scene isn’t well-known either.
Chelsea season one is streaming on Netflix.