Chelsea Handler Tackles Privilege and Personal Growth in HBO Max Comedy Special ‘Evolution’

A year after “Hello, Privilege, It’s Me, Chelsea,” her surprisingly moving Netflix documentary about white privilege, comedian Chelsea Handler continues to experience great personal growth, as is evident in HBO Max’s “Chelsea Handler: Evolution.” The stand-up special, Handler’s first in six years, explores weightier issues concerning her past and the current state of the country, as well as her famously active sex life.

While “Evolution” was filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic (her team assures us that the live audience followed social distancing and safety protocol), Handler only touches on the virus while discussing her sexual fantasies involving New York governor Andrew Cuomo. However, since 2016, it has been impossible for virtually all comics to tape a special without discussing President Trump, and Handler makes it clear almost immediately that she is no fan of the current occupant of the White House, whom she refers to as a baboon. Thankfully, she avoids retreading material put out by others in the past four years, instead focusing on her personal journey and how self-care has helped her ease her anxiety that stems from current affairs.

Handler starts off with a lighthearted segment on living in Los Angeles, a place where the privileged find solace in things like silent retreats and sound baths. Despite all her success, she wants us to let us know that she’s still that messy bitch from New Jersey underneath it all, and to her, a sound bath sounds like something that involves getting nude with deejays. One thing she has to offer her ritzy friends is her expertise on various over-the-counter and prescription drugs, as well as cannabis, and she apparently knows the correct pills and dosage for various ailments, including constipation and anxiety. Some viewers might be tempted to take notes, although Handler admits to making errors that have led to embarrassingly but hilarious situations, such as the time she ate an edible while watching a movie on an airplane and got up to leave afterwards, mid-flight.

The comic gets deeper when she discusses her experiences in seeing a therapist, Dan. Despite mocking pretentious California new age-types, she does give in to trying meditation on Dan’s advice. She admits to experiencing positive effects, to her surprise, and even says she no longer feels the need to pick fights with Trump supporters in places like the first-class lounge at the airport. While most of us will probably never set foot in a first-class lounge, her anger and inner struggle is certainly relatable.

Handler has a knack for seamlessly moving on from a joke to educating the audience on a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, white privilege, in this case. It helps that she speaks from her own experience, as he admits to recently having had an incident in which she was called into mandatory sexual harassment training after a Black woman reported her for slapping her butt at work. In the end, she says something that should be obvious to people but is not, and that is that no matter what one’s intentions were in a harassment situation, the feelings of the person affected are more important.

Handler goes on to open up about how therapy helped her deal with a tragic event in her childhood, the death of her oldest brother Chet when he was only nine years old. She starts off by telling a funny story about Chet, endearing him to us before she tells of how he died and her feelings afterwards. After discussing this tragedy with Dan, she came to learn how to better emphasize with people, even the man who sat next to her on a flight and continuously farted. If we’ve learned anything as a country in recent years, that’s that empathy is something we could all use a little more of.

Chelsea Handler: Evolution” begins streaming Oct. 22 on HBO Max.