The Stunning Transformation Of Chelsea Handler

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From high school outsider to global star, Chelsea Handler has undergone a bigger transformation than most, and she's not slowing down anytime soon. It truly seems as if there's nothing Handler can't handle — pun intended. Maybe it's that she experienced hardship early in her life (per People). 

We all know her from seeing her on TV and laughing at her jokes, but we stay for her authenticity. Handler can make you cry with laughter and prompt you to do some soul-searching all at the same time. She might not have had the best start in life, but she's a living example that what has happened in the past does not have to define your future. Handler has carved out a place for herself in the entertainment industry and will most likely go down in history as one of the most resilient and tenacious women of our time. Follow along as we take you on a journey of Chelsea Handler's stunning transformation.

Chelsea Handler had a tough childhood

Born in Livingston, New Jersey, on February 25, 1975, Chelsea Joy Handler has a very fitting middle name: She would grow up to make the world laugh and inspire countless people with her life story.

Handler's childhood was not easy. The youngest of six siblings, she had to grow up fast. Her father, who sold used cars, and her mother, a stay-at-home mom, faced constant financial struggles. As a child, Handler noticed that they didn't have it all together, telling People, "My parents were great, and there was a lot of love in our house, but they were kind of hot messes."

Financial woes and the tragic death of her older brother, Chet, in a hiking accident when Handler was just 9 years old made life more complicated than any young child is ready to deal with (via People). She told People that, from the time she was very young, she acted older than her age. Growing up poor, however, inspired her to chase her dreams. Handler knew what it was like to experience rock bottom, and she didn't intend to stay there. She explained, "I just thought, 'I don't ever want to live like that. I don't want to worry about the phone being cut off, and I don't ever want to have people not be able to depend on me.'"

She dealt with rejection and bullying in high school

For most kids, growing up poor while also dealing with the pain of losing a sibling is hard enough on its own, but when Chelsea Handler went to high school, she faced a new struggle: bullying.

In an interview with Katie Couric for Glamour, Handler took a moment to speak out against bullying. She said she was bullied by older girls at her high school for a year who "didn't like the way I looked; I dated a guy that was a senior when I was a freshman." She added, "It was awful. But I think bullies just need to be taught by their parents how to treat other people."

In an interview with The Telegraph, Handler talked about how the very people who used to bully her are the ones who now come to her stand-up shows. Most of us would probably get a kick out of letting security remove them from the building, but Handler doesn't appear to hold any grudges. "I'm so over it now I don't even care. I'll always get notes ... Someone's here to watch a taping and I'm like, 'Who? The girl who used to chase me down the hallway?'" she told the Telegraph. "By the time you can have revenge and say, 'Haha,' you don't even care about them anymore."

The comedian entered the Miss Teen New Jersey competition

Chelsea Handler has rarely allowed the opinions of others to dictate how she lives her life, and it seems this is a trait she's had since high school. She entered the Miss Teen New Jersey pageant despite the bullying she faced. Beauty pageants can be brutal, and we're pretty sure young Handler knew this, but she went for it anyway. In 2017, she shared to Instagram a throwback photo of herself at the pageant, dressed like "a businesswoman." It's clear that her younger self had already set some big goals for the future. When appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Handler was asked about the pageant and jokingly suggested that her hair looked like the Lion King.

Vanity Fair also asked Handler about it during a lie detector test, and she said she had "fond memories" of the pageant. She didn't win but did end up in the top 15. When asked why she entered, she said, in true Chelsea Handler fashion, "For the recognition that I was beautiful, and that I could use an entire bottle of Aquanet on my head in one sitting, and go out in a prom dress or a gown or whatever the f*** I wore, and kill it." And, kill it she did, if that suit is any indication.

Chelsea Handler didn't go to college

If anyone is proof that you don't need a degree to be successful, it's Chelsea Handler. In an essay she penned for LinkedIn titled "My journey from an academic reject to a semi-respectable, self-educated adult," she explains how she "barely" graduated from high school and educated herself by reading a ton of books instead of going to college. Handler believes that life is the best teacher. "Secondary education more often comes from the classroom of life and we also owe ourselves a never-ending adult education," she writes.

Want to know one of Handler's secrets to sounding educated and intelligent? Just ask questions. "As it turns out in life, questions are often more important than the answers," she writes, "so if you can teach yourself (and your children) to ask good questions, you will have already impressed your boss, your friend, your significant other or your dog with your own healthy intellect."

She waited tables in her 20s

Chelsea Handler wasn't an overnight success. She started out like most aspiring artists in Los Angeles: by waiting tables for almost half a decade (per Women's Health).

As it turns out, working as a server has its benefits, and Handler even told Women's Health that she recommends everyone work as a server after college, because it teaches valuable life lessons you won't learn anywhere else. "Everyone needs to see what it's like on the other side, so they know how to treat waiters and waitresses," she explained.

Waitressing is also what helped her find her place in Los Angeles — she made plenty of friends, and the customers loved her. In an article Handler wrote for LinkedIn's #CareerLaunch, she explained that, although she definitely wouldn't win any waitressing awards, what made the work valuable to her was that she always showed up whenever she was needed, even when she didn't feel like it. "That gave me a sense of worth and reliability," Handler said. "It gave me something more inspirational to do than just going to work every day and trying to remember the monotony of the menu."

The comedian did stand-up shows for audiences of two

Working as a server provided Chelsea Handler with the grit and resilience that, in the end, kickstarted her career. She discovered the "power of showing up" and has used it as a tool ever since. 

In an article she penned for LinkedIn, she wrote about her early stand-up days and how she would sometimes do a show for a non-existent crowd. She would sometimes even hope the shows would be canceled so she wouldn't have to endure the humiliation, admitting she "hated doing stand-up in the beginning." But, after a few failed shows, she decided to take a stand. "I made an agreement with myself that I would show up, get up, and do my set, no matter what the circumstance," she said. And she kept that promise. "When there were only two people in the audience at the Comedy Store at the 9 p.m. show, I showed up and did 10 minutes of material every time I got the 9 p.m. slot. (It turns out that if you can make two people laugh, then you can make two thousand people laugh)," Handler explains.

She continued to explain that showing up for everything no matter what became a way of life for her, and she's never looked back. Handler credits it as the reason she was able to build the successful career she has today.

Chelsea Handler landed her own talk show at age 32

Chelsea Handler had some practice before she launched her own talk show at 32. Most notably, in 2002, she served as one of the hosts on the show "Girls Behaving Badly." When 2006 rolled around, Handler was ready to take the world by storm — and she did. First, she launched "The Chelsea Handler Show" on the E! Network — the show had people roaring with laughter once a week — followed by "Chelsea Lately," per Marie Claire.

Handler was a force to be reckoned with on late-night television, which, at the time, was dominated by men. In an interview with Marie Claire, she said that starting her own show on E! wasn't something she had expected to happen. "I never really saw that coming. I didn't become a comedian to work this hard," she said. She added that a friend, who later became her boyfriend, told her she needed her own show because of her "strong point of view." "But," Handler explained, "the only way I was going to be on E! was if I could make fun of E! and everyone on those shows. I thought, 'That would be a great job.'" And that's exactly what she did — and people loved it so much that "Chelsea Lately" ran for eight seasons.

She is a New York Times best-selling author

Chelsea Handler loves to read. In fact, NPR reported that, once, during an interview over Zoom, she appeared to be in what looked like a home library. And, while her reading list mostly consists of serious books, her own are absolutely hilarious. It's no surprise then that she's the author of six New York Times Best Sellers. Following her first release in 2005, "My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands," came 2008's "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea," a collection of hilarious essays, followed by "Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang" in 2010, "Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me" in 2011, and "Uganda Be Kidding Me" in 2014.

Her most revealing and, perhaps, most personal book to date is her 2019 release, "Life Will Be the Death of Me: ...and you too!" Her first memoir, it's a deep dive into her life and experiences as a child, documenting her journey to self-discovery. Of the book, she told USA Today, "This is the most real that I could get." Unsurprisingly, it topped the New York Times Best Sellers list.

The star has dipped her toes in the movie industry

It's pretty much been established there's nothing Chelsea Handler can't do, so few were surprised when she started working on films, most notably the 2011 Easter-inspired movie "Hop" and the popular comedy "This Means War" from 2012.

"Hop," featuring an animated rabbit, saw Handler as Mrs. Beck, and "This Means War" provided her with ample opportunity to use her talent for telling inappropriate jokes. In the film, she shares the screen with big names like Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon. Handler portrays Trish, who has her hands full giving advice to friend Lauren, played by Witherspoon, on how to deal with the affections of two CIA agents (per Deadline). In an interview with Collider, the film's director, McG, revealed that the crew had to cut some of Handler's jokes to get a PG-13 rating for the film, but that the full, unedited version is available on DVD.

Handler also portrayed the role of a mother in the 2012 teen comedy "Fun Size," alongside Victoria Justice. It tells the story of a teenage girl who loses track of her brother while taking him trick-or-treating. Other notable films of Handler's include "Cattle Call," "Steam," and "Call Me Crazy."

Time named Chelsea Handler one of the Most Influential People of 2012

We'd all be lying if we said we didn't expect Chelsea Handler to make it onto Time's "The World's Most Influential People" list at some point. After all, she was only the second female late-night talk show host in the U.S., following in the footsteps of Joan Rivers (per Forbes). While that's shocking, Handler has definitely influenced how people look at late-night television and is living proof there's a place for women in the industry.

Before she made it onto Time's list in 2012, she had already made headlines landing at No. 33 on Forbes' "World's 100 Most Powerful Women" list in 2010. She also made it onto their "Celebrity 100" list the same year. In an interview with Forbes, she jokingly said that she went into comedy because she's "not responsible enough to hold down a regular job where you have to be on your best behavior." She also advocated for women in the industry, explaining that the time is right for them to enter comedy. "It's a great time for women because there are more of them now ... Seeing other women succeeding makes it more plausible that you could have or produce your own show," Handler said in the Forbes interview.

She says her greatest strength is her resilience

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013, Chelsea Handler was asked about her greatest strength. At first, she seemed a bit unsure of her response, while the audience could probably have shouted out plenty of character traits that would fit the criteria. However, seeing Handler take a moment to think it over was actually pretty relatable — she's one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and yet did not have a quick answer. After some prompting from Winfrey, she answered, "I think I'm pretty tenacious, I'm pretty resilient."

Handler continued to explain that she's someone who can handle bad news and bounce back from setbacks. She also admitted she doesn't read reviews about herself or her shows anymore. In fact, she doesn't spend much time on the internet at all, which is probably why she can be so laid-back about most things. Not having all the noise from what everyone says about you in the background is surely beneficial while you're in the public eye.

The author had her own Netflix docuseries

Before Chelsea Handler wrapped up her popular late-night talk show, "Chelsea Lately," she had already figured out what she was going to do next: a Netflix show (via Entertainment Weekly). She had previously expressed her desire to create a show where she does more than just make fun of celebrities. "If I was going to continue working in this industry, I knew I had to do something outside the box to keep myself interested," she said in a statement, via Entertainment Weekly, after the announcement of her Netflix docuseries, "Chelsea Does."

As it turned out, Netflix was interested in more than just a docuseries from Handler — the deal even included her own talk show, "Chelsea," which Netflix described as "the first-ever talk show for the global on-demand generation" (via Entertainment Weekly). And, just like that, Handler made history once again. "Chelsea" was different from her previous shows, a decision that was intentional. As Handler told Variety, "I wanted to break the format. I didn't want to do a format where I got up, did a monologue, sat down, had guest, guest and a band. I wanted it to be different."

"Chelsea" ran for two seasons (per The New York Times), after which Handler shifted her focus once again to work on another Netflix documentary titled "Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea," which explores white privilege and how Handler (and countless others) have benefited from it (via the Independent).

She is passionate about helping nonprofit organizations

Chelsea Handler is passionate about using her platform to help nonprofit organizations. She told NBC in 2011 that, although she's not particularly passionate about any one specific charity, she is very involved with those that look out for the LGBTQ+ community, such as GLAAD. "GLAAD I like to get involved with because I think it's important to be involved with charities that don't necessarily reflect what you're dealing with in your life," she said to NBC. "So, for the gay and lesbian community, even though I'm not gay I think [it's] really important to speak out for people that aren't necessarily dealing with the same circumstances you're dealing with and don't have the benefit of the health care system or the government that you do."

Her involvement, however, with Susan G. Komen is due to personal experience. Handler lost her mother to breast cancer and knows first-hand its effects on people and their family. This is probably why she was so outspoken on social media about Planned Parenthood's potential loss of federal funding in 2017 (per People). She was one of many celebrities taking to social media to speak out about the good work the nonprofit does, which includes cancer screenings. On helping out at events to raise money for these organizations, Handler told NBC, "I mean, obviously it's nice to give your time and especially when there is money being raised. It's rewarding."

Chelsea Handler found the love of her life at age 46

It seems the pandemic was good for at least one thing: It helped Chelsea Handler find love — real love, it seems, because Handler has referred to her new beau as "the love of her life" (via Today).

It's no secret that Handler's love life was rocky in the past. She even admitted to USA Today that she found it hard to trust men, so it's no wonder that romance seemed to evade her for years. But, at the end of 2021, she finally realized the man of her dreams had been right in front of her all along. Handler and Jo Koy had been buddies for years. As People reported, Handler had thought of him as a brother for most of her life, mostly because he reminded her of her late brother, Chet. After reconnecting right before the pandemic, though, their relationship began to shift. The second they had the opportunity to meet face-to-face, they did. Shortly after, Handler made her move. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Handler credits the hard work she's done on herself for finally being in a healthy relationship with an amazing guy. As she told Today, "I had to get myself healthy on the inside, and then you attract a healthy [person]. I was attracting 'unhealthies' because I wasn't ready."

Wow, isn't that the truth? Glad to see she's happy and healthy these days!