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Women's Health

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Laughter: The Best Medicine for Chelsea Handler

The comedian, author, and talk-show host talks love, laughter, loss, and her new book 'Uganda Be Kidding Me.'

Truth Be Told continued...

So the double standard women often face when it comes to their sexuality doesn't sit well with her. "I feel like it's our duty as women to go out and get what we want," Handler says. "There's nothing wrong with thinking, 'That's a really hot guy!' And going up to a man in a bar -- which I actually did this weekend in New York City -- and giving him your phone number. It doesn't matter whether he calls or not. It matters that you put yourself out there and you don't really care about the outcome. I don't have any shame in that at all."

She's equally unguarded about her unplanned pregnancy at age 16, which she chose to terminate after pained reflection. While she doesn't joke about that memory, she doesn't hide from it either. Brokering in honesty, it seems, is Handler's business.

Dealing With Shame

Sharing experiences publicly and through a comedic lens is therapeutic, says Mary Lamia, PhD. Lamia is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA, and a clinical psychologist with a practice in nearby Kentfield.

"We all make mistakes and feel shame," she says. "But experiencing unrelenting shame is a dangerous emotion. It separates us from others and is the No. 1 cause of suicide. The antidote to shame is human connection. When we embrace the things that happen to us, we connect with other people. Acceptance from others is a form of healing."

That Handler critiques her history for laughs before a live audience is not lost on Lamia. "There are four clinical responses to shame," she says. "You can hide or withdraw. You can avoid, which is what drives substance abuse. You can attack others. Or you can attack yourself. When a comedian makes us laugh using shame, what she does is take those four responses and turn them around. Telling stories and using comedy to create pleasure in others is restorative. It's exactly what people do in self-help meetings or with their friends."

Anyone who follows Handler's writing knows she serves up self-mocking humor. How does she feel about goofing on other public figures, though? 

"People can say that I'm a bully. That's hardly how I look at it," she answers. "I think it's better to call people out on ridiculous behavior than to not say anything. I like people who have opinions. When I agreed to do my show, I said I'm not going to be a talk-show host who doesn't make fun of people who are making fools of themselves. It's not the most popular way of going about things. But it's certainly entertaining."

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