Chelsea Handler is anything but conventional.
Ever since she made a name for herself as a standup comedian and host of E!’s Chelsea Lately, Handler has made no apologies for her brash, provocative sense of humor. But after seven seasons of being sandwiched between episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Handler is reinventing herself and the talk show format with the launch of Chelsea on Netflix on Wednesday, May 11.
Handler’s moved on from the whole late-night scene, revealing to ET she doesn’t miss the show that made her famous (“That’s done”) or feel like she missed out on an opportunity to join late-night’s boys club on the major networks. She met with CBS in 2014 when the network was looking for someone to replace Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show, but says she was never close to approaching a deal.
“I was never going to do it from my side,” Handler says of the show. (James Corden has since taken over.) “It was of no interest to me to do that. I don't ever want to step into somebody else's job. You know, if I'm in the position to create a job for myself, and create a show from scratch, I'm always going to choose that.”
That may be in part why the 41-year-old is ditching her sidekick (sorry, Chuy Bravo), gossip and reality stars, and the five-days-a-week rollout. Instead, Netflix will debut new episodes at 12:01 a.m. PT on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Most notably, Chelsea is more grown up, with Handler focusing her attention on weightier topics such as politics and human interest stories.
In the series’ trailer, Handler carries a piñata of Donald Trump through Mexico City, trains with tennis champion Maria Sharapova, and gets into “real” conversations with people on the street (or at the beach). “I’m treating the show like the college education I forgot to get,” she announces, promising something entirely different from her previous late-night experience.
Fans were given a glimpse of this change on her Netflix documentary series, Chelsea Does, which explored marriage, drugs, racism, and Silicon Valley. “I wanted to do something where I would be learning something and then also in an entertaining way,” she says of the series. Both Chelsea programs are part of Handler’s overall deal with the streaming network, which also debuted her first hour-long standup special, Uganda Be Kidding Me.
“I’m doing stuff I want to talk about -- all the time,” Handler says, but also cautioning that she’s not going to turn into Diane Sawyer. “I’m not that serious.” The goal is to have a more well-rounded show, which will include, as she told The New York Times, taking a Dick Cavett approach to her celebrity interviews.
And the premiere, which ET observed from the audience, puts her Cavett model to the test. Handler invites Secretary of Education John King and Pitbull to discuss the episode’s broader theme of education. After chasing Handler’s dog, Chunk, around the set, the rapper chats about a charter school that he’s opened while King gives Handler a short “Edumacate Me” quiz.
The most traditional moment of the new show finds Handler on the couch with Drew Barrymore, who is sitting down for her first major interview since the announcement of her divorce from husband Will Kopelman. The two crack open some Rosé for, as Barrymore declares, some much-needed girl time between two pals (and strangers in the audience).
Their conversation is full of headline potential, with Barrymore discussing her marriage troubles. In fact, the premiere week’s guests -- Gwyneth Paltrow and the Captain America: Civil War cast -- all promise to get the attention necessary to compete with Corden’s Carpool Karaoke and Jimmy Fallon’s nightly games.
While the taping of the premiere wasn’t without a few hiccups (a late rapper, a few missed cues), it’s nothing that can’t easily be smoothed out over the next two episodes. After the show was over, Netflix president Ted Sarandos looked pleased as Handler held court backstage with her crew and friends.
“It is my dream job,” she tells ET, reflecting on her new show, which she gets to do her way. “I’m having the time of my life.”
--Additional reporting from Brice Sanders, Cameron Mathison, and Lauren Zima