If you’re ever about to defend a friend or loved one from groping accusations and are about to point out, “I mean, I’ve groped a ton of people too,” stop. Reconsider. In her Profile by BuzzFeed News interview posted Sunday, Chelsea Handler defended friend and former senator Al Franken, who resigned from Congress following allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, by pointing out how very many times she’s grabbed people too. “I would love for Al Franken to run again,” she told host Audie Cornish. Which, fine, but then she tries to parse how much groping she herself has gotten up to in the service of comedy.
“I don’t want to diminish anyone’s legitimate claim of feeling like they’ve been assaulted, because that’s your feeling, but I think there is a very big difference of a man putting his arm around you … he’s a comedian,” she explained. “I’m a comedian. I’ve touched people’s breasts and genitals, I can’t imagine how many times, in photos. That doesn’t excuse it, but that’s something that’s just, that’s not rape. That’s not sexual assault. That’s not repeated behavior over and over again.” Says Handler, “I think he can redeem himself.”
Of course, most of the misconduct alleged by the seven women who came out with complaints against Franken did not take place on a stage or behind a mic. The broader issue facing America would seem to be: How much unwanted groping and forcible kissing are we collectively still cool with from an elected official? If you ask her, Handler traces the origin of our new cultural conversation to the outcome of the 2016 election, without which we might never have had to hash these questions out. “If Hillary had won, I don’t think there would’ve been the #MeToo movement. I don’t think we would have had the Time’s Up movement,” the comedian and host said. “I think that we all realize what’s at stake, and so people are really willing to stick their necks out and fight.” So, in a sense … thank you, President Trump?