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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.'

Using Laughter to Deal With Grief and Loss continued...

Handler left little room for "if only's" with her mother. When the cancer took a turn for the worse, the comedian remained at her mom's bedside. She recalls how her father, who is still living, refused to accept the inevitable.

"My mom said, 'You have to explain to your dad that I'm actually dying, because he doesn't believe it.' And my dad is sitting right there, reading the used-car section, or whatever. I yelled, 'Do you hear what Mom is saying? She says she's going to die! You need to say goodbye to her.' And he said, 'I won't say goodbye. We'll just keep her alive no matter what we have to do.' And I said, 'No. You don't keep someone alive for you. You let them die for them.' That was the only time in my life I really had to be the adult."

The sorrow in her voice is clear as she relives the moment. A beat passes, then the comic in her can't resist: "Yeah, that lasted 3 weeks."

Chelsea's Health Regimen

Handler first moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey at age 19 to pursue an acting career. While she's appeared in the occasional feature film over the years, stand-up comedy was a better fit.

"I would go on these auditions, and I'd be surrounded by these actresses who were half the size of me. Fact is, everyone is still half the size of me!" she jokes. "Everybody [in Hollywood] has a little bit of body dysmorphia. I'm guilty of that. You're surrounded by people who look perfect."

But after years of living a comic's lifestyle -- late nights, alcohol-fueled tours, cigarettes, and maybe a few other substances -- Handler is committed to cleaning up her act. "I've gotten rid of a lot of bad habits this year," says the trailblazer, who is only the second woman after Joan Rivers to host her own late-night talk show.

"I don't smoke anymore," she adds. "I work out regularly now, play tennis, do Pilates. When I was in my 20s I would party whenever I wanted to, however I wanted to. That gets boring. I actually feel healthier now than I've been in a long time. Anything in my life that was causing me stress I've removed."

So what inspired the overhaul?  "I finished my [latest] book," she says. "That was a good turning point. I broke up with a boyfriend, and that was a good turning point. I just wanted to make that statement, to be healthy inside and out. My brain was there, but my body wasn't."

She's also prepping for a different kind of book and comedy tour. "I'm taking downtime now to physically prepare," she says. "I want it to be a healthy tour. When you go on the road, usually everyone's partying. I don't want to do that. I want to have sets that I remember and be there for the people who've paid for tickets to see me. I'm preparing myself, mentally and physically."

With five books under her belt, all based on her own life, does she ever worry she might deplete the fodder? "I'll never run out of material," she says. "Who would ever have thought I'd have more than one book? Not me. I never wanted to be a stand-up comedian, or a talk-show host either. I just wanted people to know who I was."

And then, the punch line: "I'll probably wind up being a senator. Because that's not something I'm planning on either."

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