Ellen DeGeneres: The Comedy Superhero Who Conquered the World

 In 2001, with America still concussed by the 9/11 terror attacks, the traditionally lavish Emmy Awards in Los Angeles finally went ahead two months late. The show had been canceled twice over concerns of insensitivity. When it began, organizers knew they needed to strike a somber but defiant tone. Enter their host, Ellen DeGeneres. 

After strolling through a few gentle jokes in her deadpan style, Ellen picked her moment to puncture the tension: “What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit, surrounded by Jews?” The room erupted. Applause thundered for a full 30 seconds. Ellen beamed. She’d set the tone. The show must go on, she said. And it did.

Watching that Emmys’ moment now is to witness the vivacious comedian, actress, writer and producer rocketing towards her peak. In 2015, Forbes named Ellen DeGeneres the 50th most-powerful woman in the world. She is now an LGBTQ+ icon and one of the most instantly recognisable faces on the planet.

By her own admission, however, she arrived here the hard way.

 

Ellen DeGeneres: The True Superhero of Comedy Who Conquered the World

Troubled childhood

Ellen talks often and openly about her childhood. She was born in Metairie, Louisiana in 1958 and raised as a Christian Scientist. “I didn’t see deep emotion from my parents,” she told Parade.com. “Because of that religion, everything was fine all the time. When I was 13 and my parents divorced it was a huge surprise to me because I was told everything was fine. It was very confusing. That’s not a healthy way to grow up.”

Ellen DeGeneres: The Comedy Superhero Who Conquered the World

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 In 2001, with America still concussed by the 9/11 terror attacks, the traditionally lavish Emmy Awards in Los Angeles finally went ahead two months late. The show had been canceled twice over concerns of insensitivity. When it began, organizers knew they needed to strike a somber but defiant tone. Enter their host, Ellen DeGeneres. 

After strolling through a few gentle jokes in her deadpan style, Ellen picked her moment to puncture the tension: “What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit, surrounded by Jews?” The room erupted. Applause thundered for a full 30 seconds. Ellen beamed. She’d set the tone. The show must go on, she said. And it did.

Watching that Emmys’ moment now is to witness the vivacious comedian, actress, writer and producer rocketing towards her peak. In 2015, Forbes named Ellen DeGeneres the 50th most-powerful woman in the world. She is now an LGBTQ+ icon and one of the most instantly recognisable faces on the planet.

By her own admission, however, she arrived here the hard way.

 

Ellen DeGeneres: The True Superhero of Comedy Who Conquered the World

Troubled childhood

Ellen talks often and openly about her childhood. She was born in Metairie, Louisiana in 1958 and raised as a Christian Scientist. “I didn’t see deep emotion from my parents,” she told Parade.com. “Because of that religion, everything was fine all the time. When I was 13 and my parents divorced it was a huge surprise to me because I was told everything was fine. It was very confusing. That’s not a healthy way to grow up.”

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Ellen’s mother, Betty, remarried and was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she survived. In 2005, the comedian said she was molested as a teenager by her stepfather, who used her mother’s illness as an excuse to touch her. “I had to kick a window out and escape and sleep in a hospital all night long.”

Tragedy followed trauma. In 1980, DeGeneres was 22 when her girlfriend, Kat Perkoff, was killed in a car crash. Struggling to process her grief and reduced to sleeping on a basement floor, DeGeneres wrote a comedy routine based on a phone call to God. “I started writing what it would be like to call God and ask why fleas are here and this person is not.”

Her ‘Phone Call To God’ sketch was a hit. She moved briefly into film work, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the star’s career took off with the sitcom Ellen. The ABC show was based on her own comedy career and became popular with viewers drawn to her dry, observational humor. Ellen gained a reputation as a ‘female Seinfeld’. But the show peaked, abruptly, unexpectedly and painfully with one of the turning points of her career.

Ellen DeGeneres: The True Superhero of Comedy Who Conquered the World
Ellen and Oprah Winfrey

Coming out

Ellen came out as a lesbian on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997. Her character in Ellen also came out to her therapist - also played by Oprah. The coming-out episode was a ratings hit but, after that, the show’s popularity plummeted.

Thirteen years later, Ellen spoke about coming out in a revealing conversation with Oprah.

“I was getting attacked for talking about it so much, and I was like, ‘I am not talking about it, you are.’ And then everybody was hating me and ‘Oh, shut up already,’ and that's when the show went down in flames. You know, people say, ‘Why do you have to tell everybody, who cares, and why do you have to announce it?’  It's because it's your truth and the truth shall set you free.”

In the wilderness, in 2003 Ellen launched the daytime television talk show that would propel her back to stardom. The Ellen DeGeneres Show has won 30 Emmy Awards since its debut.

Charity and inspiration

Ellen is well-known as a generous Hollywood star who has supported numerous causes including the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. In 2016, she was named ‘favorite humanitarian’ at the People’s Choice Awards and donated the $200,000 associated with the prize to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She also  launched the Small Change Campaign with Ben Affleck in 2016 to encourage people to donate their small change to help end hunger. 

Charity is about much more than writing a check, however. Ellen has used her talk show to highlight issues such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and launch her Ellen for the Cure campaign. In addition to bringing in celebrity guests, Ellen interviewed survivors and those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. She has also used the show to address LGBT intolerance and awarded a $30,000 scholarship to Constance McMillen - the teen whose school canceled prom instead of allowing her to bring her girlfriend.

Ellen dedicated the entire Season 10 of the program to helping viewers in need including Kim Ledbetter, a single mother from Birmingham, Alabama, who is also raising her niece. All the family wanted was a replacement for their broken microwave but Ellen not only gave them a new one but also bought the family a new car and gave them $20,000.

Ellen DeGeneres: The True Superhero of Comedy Who Conquered the World
Ben Affleck and Ellen launched the Small Change Campaign to fight hunger

“Ellen isn’t afraid to take a stand either, and that’s what makes her such an important media figure. She’s an adorable agitator who can talk about bullying, the Boy Scouts of America and same-sex marriage to a huge mainstream audience,” said writer Bobby Hankinson.

In February 2022, Ellen officially opened The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund with plans to continue Fossey’s work in saving the gorillas. The  campus will raise funds and awareness, teaching gorilla science and responsible tourism. The Campus also supports Rwandan conservation efforts, and has been  a huge investment in the local community, with about 2,300 workers employed with millions invested in local people and local materials.

Ellen has a lengthy history fighting animal cruelty and supports the Humane Society and The Halo Pet Foundation where she sits on the board of directors. She also launched a Facebook game to raise money to help animals. “I’ve always said I like speaking for animals, because they can’t talk for themselves,” Ellen said. “I’m excited about how many animals we’re going to help.”

Bullying claims

In July 2020, Buzzfeed reported allegations of racial insensitivity, sexual harassment and bullying behind the scenes of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, based on interviews with former staffers. The story gained global attention. Three executive producers were fired. An investigation by Warner Bros found ‘some flaws in the show’s daily management’.

Ellen was not accused of toxic behavior, although she later made an on-air apology to viewers. Asked by Today host Savannah Guthrie about the allegations, DeGeneres denied they were behind her decision to end her show in 2022. She reportedly offered millions in bonuses to staff as her parting gift.

“I am a kind person,” she said. “I am a person who likes to make people happy.”

Ellen DeGeneres: The True Superhero of Comedy Who Conquered the World
Ellen and Portia de Rossi

The bullying claims and the fallout ‘broke my heart’, Ellen told People, adding she could not have coped without the love and support of her wife, the actress, model and businesswoman Portia de Rossi. The couple met in 2004, and married in 2008. 

“It was a horrible time in my life, and she was a rock. She kept me going and tried to help me put things in perspective.”

The curtain may be coming down on this chapter of her career, but for Ellen DeGeneres, the show goes on.

Ellen DeGeneres: True Superhero
Ellen received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, an honor for those who inspire America

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