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For Chelsea Handler, the invitation to host the 2023 Critics Choice Awards came right on time. “I haven’t done something like this in a long time,” the comedian says of the event, which was anchored by Taye Diggs for the past four years. “My new attitude is to say yes to more things. It’s a nice change of pace.” Ahead of the event, which is set for Jan. 15 at the Fairmont Century Plaza and will air on The CW, Handler spoke to THR about her preparations and what is and isn’t off-limits.
You’ve hosted your own talk shows and stand-up specials. How does an awards show feel different?
I perform stand-up live all the time, but those are people who are paying specifically to see [me], and this is an audience of peers, and actors, actresses and directors. It’ll be a different vibe, for sure, but I try to take everything that I say yes to pretty seriously these days, and I want to be respectful of all the people who’ve worked so hard to be in this business and to receive nominations and make it a really fun, high-energy night.
Awards shows have been losing viewers and have been criticized as boring and out of touch in recent years. Does that add pressure to make the show fun and lively?
I feel slight pressure, but I like a lot of pressure. I do my best work when I’m under pressure. You want to challenge yourself. When you’re nervous for something, that means you care. My therapist taught me that, so I now look at nerves in a completely different light. You use that energy to fuel your performance and to also spread good vibes to everybody there. … My intention is just to have a great time and to make everybody feel comfortable and welcome — like they belong there.
How do you prepare for such a hosting gig, especially when it’s live and you don’t know what’s going to happen?
Well, I don’t know — is Will Smith coming? I don’t think anyone’s going to come up and slap me in the face. I think that trend is over. It was a one-hit wonder. I think everyone’s learned to control themselves at awards shows. Last time somebody was interrupted at an awards show, I think, was Kanye [West] and Taylor Swift, and that didn’t go over very well, either. So hopefully everybody knows to stay in their seats unless they’re presenting or win an award.
Is there anything that’s off-limits for you to discuss during the show?
I’m not going to make fun of anyone’s children or make fun of people for having children. I think that’s off-limits. It’s not going to be taking the piss out of people and embarrassing them. That’s what stand-up is for, that’s what your personal Instagram is for, if you’re into that. It’s not about making anyone feel uncomfortable, especially for me, since everybody’s expecting me to make people feel uncomfortable.
You hosted the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Did you learn anything from that experience that you are going to utilize for this gig?
To slow down and take your time — I’ve learned that over the years with everything, including stand-up and hosting shows. As you mature as a performer, you understand the actual cadence and the delivery of a joke better and to not rush to the punchline or not rush through anything.
Do you map out your entire show or do you take it as it goes?
On the night of, there will be some improvisation depending on what happens and who wins. I have writers who are working together to come up with ideas, and I’m in communication with them on a regular basis. … When you’re performing live, it really is your attitude that matters. When you’re confident and in a good mood, it shows and it spreads, and that’s the most important ingredient.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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