Sex, sleep, and power: A conversation with Chelsea Handler and Arianna Huffington


Below is an unedited transcript:

Arianna Huffington

CHELSEA HANDLER: Hello, hello. I am very, very, very excited and thrilled to be doing this interview, because it’s finally something serious out of my life, and I would like to go on the record and say that I am a proud holder of an AOL e-mail account, and for the first time in my life not embarrassed to say it. (Laughter.)

We spoke last week on the phone to discuss what we would be talking about today, and first I want to talk about your passion for sleep.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. You know, I thought when I read your book, My Horizontal Life, I thought if I had written a book called My Horizontal Life, it would have been about sleep, not sex. (Laughter.) And I kind of came to sleep late in life. I basically — (laughter) — came to it because I fainted from exhaustion, and hit my head on my desk, and broke my cheekbone and got five stitches on my right eye. And that’s what started my love affair with sleep. (Laughter.)

Fortune’s Most Powerful Women

But in the course of doing that, I kind of discovered that we are paying a heavy price by being a sleep-deprived society, that if we actually could up our sleep portion every day, we would become wiser. You know, I feel that we are — we have so many leaders at the moment, in media, in politics, in business, who are incredibly smart, high IQs, great degrees, and no wisdom, they’re making terrible decisions. And I think one of the reasons is sleep deprivation. Bill Clinton said that some of the worst decisions in his life were made when he was tired. He didn’t specify which worst decisions in his life — (laughter) — but if only he’d gotten eight hours sleep, we would have missed all those months of impeachment hearings. (Laughter.)

CHELSEA HANDLER: So, how do you propose one gets a full eight hours of sleep every night?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I think first of all it’s prioritizing. Like everybody here is incredibly busy, you know, they could work 24 hours a day, but the reality is that once we look at the medical evidence, sleep deprivation leads to health problems. It actually reduces your sex drive, did you know that?

CHELSEA HANDLER: I have a great sex drive, so I don’t know anything about that. (Laughter.)

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, but I mean, if you — but if you are exhausted, isn’t your sex drive diminished?

CHELSEA HANDLER: Never, no. (Laughter.) That’s why I’ve been able to write so many books about it.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: She’s so sleep deprived that even her perception is kind of damaged. (Laughter, applause.)

But it’s also like I know that when I’ve had a good night’s sleep I feel more creative, less reactive, I enjoy my life more. And, you know, at my age, you know, I’m 61, and at my age I find that I don’t want just to be effective, I want to enjoy my life. That’s really important to me. You know, I want to enjoy every day, every hour. Even when difficult things happen, as they happen in each of our days, even when I have to face challenges and problems, it makes all the difference in the world if I’ve had a good night’s sleep. End of commercial.

10 most powerful women entrepreneurs

CHELSEA HANDLER: Can I ask, so what do you look forward to most throughout your day? Is it walking into work, is it your day at work or is it walking home at night and able to have dinner with your friends or family or what have you? I mean, what gets you going each day, what’s your favorite part of it?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, I’m lucky that no two days are alike. I’ve moved from Los Angeles to New York when AOL (AOL) bought the Huffington Post, and took down the cubicles on the fifth floor, brought editors and tech together. So, when I walk into our offices now — incidentally I also installed two nap rooms. I forgot to mention that. (Laughter.)


Chelsea Handler

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes. And because we also own MapQuest, and nap rooms are called Nap Quest One and Nap Quest Two. (Laughter.) Although I must say, Chelsea, that the other day as I was going by, I saw the door of one of the Nap Quest rooms opening, and three people come out of it. (Laughter.) So, I don’t know if we should rename it ménage a trois. But as long as people are happy at work, I’m fine. (Laughter.)

CHELSEA HANDLER: Well, you also have cocktail Thursdays, right?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, you have cocktails.

CHELSEA HANDLER: Oh, that must be me. I’m confusing it.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You have margarita Thursdays.

CHELSEA HANDLER: We have margarita Thursdays every Thursday at work, yes.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I thought maybe margarita Mondays would be better. It alliterates, and then like triple-shot espresso Thursdays to get through Friday.

CHELSEA HANDLER: Well, that brings me to another point. I mean, I think creating a work environment as a female is or can be very, very different than the environment that’s created by men. So, can you speak to that, and how you feel about that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I do feel very maternal about our work environment. I love celebrating things. Like yesterday we launched two new sites, Huff/Post 50, our boomer site, with Rita Wilson as our editor. So, we brought Rita into the office with champagne to celebrate the launch of Huff/Post 50. We also launched Gay Voices, and today we launched High School and Weddings, which we launched a year and a half after divorce. We do things a little unconventionally. (Laughter.) Divorce was the brainchild of Nora Efron, who’s been here, and everybody loves her here.

25 highest-paid women

And one morning, I was staying with her in Long Island, and she said to me, you know what we must launch, a divorce section, because, she said, marriage comes and goes, but divorce is forever. (Laughter.)

CHELSEA HANDLER: How do you feel about creating the kind of environment — I know in my experience running television shows, which is different than obviously what you do, but it’s — you know, I have a business partner who’s a man, who says it’s okay, our policy needs to be that it’s okay for a woman to cry at work but not about work.


CHELSEA HANDLER: So, you can cry at work if it’s a personal issue, and I am a big proponent of that as well. I feel like everyone should feel like they have a place that’s safe, and when you come to work I want everyone to be excited to get there.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Absolutely, I love that. I cry a lot. You know, my friends here will tell you I love crying. (Laughter.) Almost as much as I love sleeping. (Laughter.)

The reason for that is that I like to sort of get it all out. I like to start the next day fresh, you know, to put it all behind me. I like to really be able to say I have no grudges and no regrets. And in order to do that, you have to cry about the things that upset you and get them out of you.

You know when people say I have a thick skin, I don’t let things upset you. I don’t believe that, and I don’t want to have a thick skin, because if you have a thick skin, you don’t let the good things in either.

So, I prefer to be permeable, like a child. Have you seen how children are? You know, they can be really upset, they can cry, and then five minutes later, you look at them and it’s over. And that’s how I like to be. You know, the older I get, that’s my ideal way of being, watching little kids and emulating them.

CHELSEA HANDLER: What is your relationship like with your daughters?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, that’s like the biggest thing in my life. That’s why, Chelsea, you know, you and I have just met but how much time did we spend backstage with me urging you to have a child? (Laughter.)

CHELSEA HANDLER: She said, do you want children, I said no, and she said, yes, you do. (Laughter.) I said I’m pretty sure I don’t, and she said, you’re wrong. (Laughter.)

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: She’s going to London with her boyfriend. I said London is a great place to get pregnant. (Laughter.)

So, I’m now going to be e-mailing her on her AOL account, you know, reminding her, a good time of the month, I found that out.

So, anyway, from — it’s just women here, right?

You know, I had my children late. You know, I lost my first child that was stillborn, my first pregnancy. My first child was at 38, my second at 40. And there’s nothing I love more than spending time with them. They are both at college. You know, one is 20, one is 22. One is an artist. You went to her website.

CHELSEA HANDLER: I went to her website, yes.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON:, a commercial for my artist daughter. And the other wants to be a journalist; she’s a senior.

And what I love — now, you know, as anybody here with adult children knows, they become your friends. They’re always your children, because you always mother them. And the reason why I keep saying that you should have children is because you are so nurturing. I mean, look at the tribe that you surround yourself with. I don’t know if you know it, but her brother lives with her and he’s her chef. You have your Pilates teacher living with you. You have a couple of gay friends living in your guesthouse. (Laughter.)

10 global women on the rise

Are you sure you’re not Greek? (Laughter, applause.) Because it reminds me of my life, my home. You know, there are days when I would walk into my kitchen and know half the people there, because my mother was like that. You know, whoever would come in, the FedEx man, my mother would say, oh, come and sit down, I just baked something. You know, she could not have an impersonal relationship. And I love that way of being, and I have a sense that that’s how you are. I mean, you are nurturing to younger comedians like Whitney Cummings (ph), whom you helped so much.

And that’s another thing. Mentoring has been such a big part of this conference, and whether you are mentoring like you all did yesterday — I just arrived today unfortunately — or the way you’re mentoring younger comedians, it’s just such an important responsibility for women whose lives have worked out.

CHELSEA HANDLER: Yeah, I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I think when you can create opportunities for women — and not just women, when you can create opportunities for other people that are in your field, you know, especially women, because we all know those types of women that are out there that aren’t doing that, that don’t think there’s room for everyone, and to have the ability and the confidence to not be in the center of the spotlight at all times and to share the stage, which I think is a huge lesson for a woman, and I think it comes a lot from the way you were raised, and I know your relationship with your mother was obviously a hugely impactful one. Can you talk about her a little bit and maybe something that she said or an experience you had with her that’s stayed with you for a long time?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, she was the foundation of my life, because she — you know, growing up in Athens without any money, I literally saw a picture of Cambridge in England, and I said to my mother, I want to go there. And everybody around us said, don’t do be ridiculous, you’re never going to get in, you have no money, most English girls don’t get in. And my mother said, let’s make it happen. But it wasn’t let’s make it happen like a stage mother with pressure, it was more like let’s make it happen, and if you don’t make it happen, I won’t love you any less. You know, go for it, but my love doesn’t depend on you getting there.

You know, earlier, when the conversation turned around risks, you know, I really believe that we women especially are so afraid of failing, that so often we don’t try new things, because the chances of failing are always there. And my mother always kept saying that failure is not the opposite of success, failure is a stepping stone to success. That was one of her favorite things to say.

And the other one that you would appreciate was that angels fly because they take themselves lightly. So, it was all about humor and not taking yourself and your life too seriously.

CHELSEA HANDLER: I like that. My mother passed away as well, so I have a very —


CHELSEA HANDLER: Oh, thank you. And I feel, I don’t know if you feel this way, but I feel like I almost feel her presence around me more since she passed away than I did before. I feel very protected and I feel very close to her, which I think happens to a lot of people who had kind of close relationships with their parents. Do you feel that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Yes, I feel that, and I also kind of do believe actually that there is another dimension to life, and when we open ourselves to it, we do have these experiences, whether it’s through dreams or meditation, which I’ve been doing every day for many, many years.

CHELSEA HANDLER: You meditate every day?


CHELSEA HANDLER: What time of day does this happen?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I do it in the morning before the day starts, because if I don’t, I’m not going to get it done. The same with yoga or exercise or something, I’ve learned that if I don’t do it right away, I’m not going to do it.

And then all these things that nurture us are really important. I mean, shall we share our secret?

CHELSEA HANDLER: Yes, what is it? Oh, our facialists. We have the same facialist.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: We have the same facialist.

CHELSEA HANDLER: This woman who basically beats the shit out of your face so you look younger an hour later. (Laughter.) She calls it contouring; I call it something else. (Laughter.)

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: But she’s really great, Mila Moorse (ph). Let’s give her a commercial. She’s in Los Angeles. And she said to me that Chelsea and you are the two women who don’t stop working while you’re having a facial. We make calls, we sit there, and when there is kind of something noisy happening, we say, so sorry, we’re on the tarmac. (Laughter.)

Sherry Lansing (ph) taught me that. She said, if I’m blow-drying my hair, there are two kinds of people in my life: the ones to whom I say, I’m blow-drying my hair, and the others to whom I say, I’m so sorry, I’m on the tarmac. (Laughter, applause.) Because women, you know, are never supposed to have to take any time blow-drying their hair or doing anything, we’re supposed to be picture perfect getting out of bed. (Laughter.)

CHELSEA HANDLER: Can we talk about your father, too, because you had a different kind of relationship with your dad?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: You know, I kind of worshipped my dad. He was brilliant, he was an intellectual. He published an underground newspaper during the German occupation of Greece, and he was arrested and spent the war in a concentration camp.

So, when he — he actually met my mother in a sanatorium. She was recovering from TB, he was recovering from the camp. And she was told that she could not have children, and she got promptly pregnant before they were married, and that was me.

And he never kind of wanted to play by the rules. He was a huge philanderer. When my mother complained, he said to her, you should not interfere in my private life. (Laughter.)

So, I was kind of in awe of his intellect, but I also kind of resented how much pain he caused my mother. I actually kept urging her to leave him, because I could not stand seeing her so sad. And she did leave him when I was 11, but never really stopped loving him. It’s sort of ironic how —

CHELSEA HANDLER: So, what are your thoughts to obviously be as successful as you are? And I know you’ve been married. I mean, what are your thoughts on marriage?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Oh, I feel that for me having children sort of satisfied that desire to have a family. So, I’m not ruling anything out ever in life, but I’m not either looking forward to it in any way. You know, I feel that my life is — I feel very grateful for my life right now.

One of my favorite sayings is Collette, you know, the French writer, who said, “I had such a wonderful life, I just wish I had realized it sooner.” And I feel so many of us are very blessed. You know, there is no life that hasn’t carried problems and crises and challenges, but we are blessed.

I really, really want to recognize that every day. I tell my children, you can experience any emotion in the world you want, but I also want you on a daily basis to experience gratitude, because if we don’t, we just take far too much of our life for granted.

CHELSEA HANDLER: Do you feel proud of yourself?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: No, actually that was interesting, but my mother, whenever they would say to her, you must be so proud of your daughter, she said, no. Pride is not the way she related to me or to life, and it’s not the way I relate to it. I feel very lucky that I’m doing something I love, and that every day I go to work and I love it.

And what Sheryl Sandberg was saying about feeling that you can make a difference, and that we have all those ways available to make a difference, and that the world needs all of us to make a difference, it’s not like we can’t be spectators, we need to be involved and discover sort of the leader in the mirror. We can’t wait for somebody else to solve problems.

And that’s partly why I love what we are doing at work, because we are constantly bringing more and more people into the conversation and turning conversations into action.

CHELSEA HANDLER: I know we’re out of time already, but I would love for people to have the opportunity to ask questions. Is there anyone who wants to ask a question? If you do, please raise your hand like a civilized lady.

QUESTION: Hello, hello, hello.

CHELSEA HANDLER: Oh, there’s the woman right over here. Oh, I’m sorry, you work here. (Laughter.)

Nobody wants to ask — oh, here we go, sorry. Do you want to stand up?

QUESTION: I’m Kim with (She Dappers ?).

And it’s actually the same question I’ve been trying to ask most of the panelists all day, but just because you’re talking about family and mothers, and the theme kind of this afternoon has been around — you know, Gloria Steinem said, we’re not crazy, it’s the institution that’s crazy, and Sheryl talking about mothers leaving too early or women leaving too early, taking their foot off the gas.

So, I’d love to hear if you have thoughts, what can the business community do to try to encourage women, after they do have kids, so they don’t have to make that choice of all or nothing, stay at home or work?

There’s so many incredibly talented women who feel there’s no option and it’s one or the other, and I feel like business has the opportunity to lead in this area, not wait for governments, although I’d love governments to be involved, but not wait for policy but to say, you know what, business structure doesn’t fit our society anymore, we have to change from businesses to create a platform that’s more family centered.

So, do you have any thoughts on that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I think actually a lot of businesses are beginning to do that, and a lot of women are beginning to recognize that this juggling act is really ultimately about the decisions we make every day. It’s not about the big decision, are we going to work or are we going to have a family; it’s often about the little decisions like am I going to leave this meeting earlier to pick up my daughter from school, am I going to skip something in order to be present at something that matters to my child. And businesses need to acknowledge that, not just for mothers but increasingly for fathers.

You know, we just brought in, we just hired Lisa Belkin from the New York Times. She’s been writing a column there called Motherlode about parenting. And we are renaming the column Parentlode, because we want to acknowledge the fact that I work with many men with young children, and they’re also a big part increasingly of their children’s lives. And as a culture we need to acknowledge that. And when we acknowledge that, it’s going to be easier for women to be able to do the famous juggling act.

There’s a tremendous amount of redefining of success and happiness going on in the world, and I think we women are leading the way, because let’s face it, you know, men define success in a very unhealthy way, you know, working around the clock, having a heart attack in your fifties, and that’s the price you pay for the corner office, and we are saying no, we are going to do it differently. And as we are doing it differently, I think we are going to make a big difference for women who are following us. (Applause.)

CHELSEA HANDLER: Well, I would like to say thank you very, very much for sitting down with me, and that this was very entertaining, to say the least, and you’re a lot funnier than I am. So, thank you. (Laughter, applause.)

Check out additional coverage from Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit. For more transcripts from the Most Powerful Women summit, click here.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital